Nov 7, 2010

Would I get fired from Starbucks? Company culture according to CEO of Starbucks and my bad memories

By now you probably know that you can be not only in a wrong job, but also in a wrong company. I tried both.

''It just did not work out. You know, like a marriage, for example. Although you did involve yourself in different projects….blah, blah...'' I was told when I was let go (also know as ''fired'') from an organization after 5 months of pure hell.

It was a job in an organization I rather would not remember now, and I was not going to stay there forever, but I know was fired for not fitting in, which I see as a compliment.

Whatever I had to offer to that organization was in a shadow of norms I did not accept or admired. Office politics, arrogance towards people who were polite or trying to mind their own business, verbal aggression, backstabbing, looking out for colleague's mistakes, gossiping about anyone who is not in the room, raising your voice at junior staff (position of less power) were not only practiced but thoroughly enjoyed.

Laughing behind people’s backs, looking for their weaknesses or mistakes only (just for kicks and daily) were things that made me stay alone in my office even at lunch time.

I didn’t want to be asked again, ''Why are you not saying anything? Do you think you are different/better than us? ''

I did not know how long I could cope and then, of course, I was fired for the first time in my life. (I was fired once again from the small company 2 weeks before I meant to resign. I never looked back, and they are out of business and out of reputation anyway.)


  • You can (like me) get fired from a company whose culture you don’t fit or appreciate. That can be a blessing in disguise, (like in my case) or it can be a shock for you, your ego or your family budget.
  • You might be staying somewhere where you are unhappy, they are unhappy with you, it's not going anywhere ''just like a marriage that doesn’t work out, for example.''
  • The job, companies, company culture are not invented to make us happy but if culture is strong—people do things because they believe it is the right thing to do, even without extensive procedures and bureaucracy.

Organizational culture has been defined as "specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization."

If the company happens to be yours, or you are running it, you would like to have people do things not only when you are watching them or telling them what those things are again and again.


Starbucks is one of the companies famous for its culture.

Some people also did not succeed in Starbucks as they did not fit in the culture. That is what CEO of Starbucks said in his recent interview in New York Times.

''People who succeed at Starbucks are going to demonstrate a healthy level of respect and understanding of the culture of the company and the people who have come before them. There have been great people who have come into the company who haven't succeeded because they have not embraced the culture and values of the company.''


Howard Schultz articulated the Employee First philosophy which has since become an integral part of the Starbucks company culture.

Schulz said that Starbucks built their brand first with their employees and believes employees that are treated well, will in turn, treat customers well.

To treat its employees well, Starbucks offers all full-time and part-time employees the opportunity to receive full healthcare benefits, stock options/discounted stock purchase plans, and other benefits.

''That created an unbelievable connection, and we still do it.'' explained Schultz and I described how being a poor kid influenced his values, leadership style and sensitivity about those people who didn’t get respect in ''How a poor kid became famous business leader.''


People have come to me over the years and said, I admire the culture of Starbucks. Can you come give a speech and help us turn our culture around? Schultz said for New York Times recently and explained it further.

''I wish it were that easy. Turning a culture around is very difficult to do because it's based on a series of many, many decisions, and the organization is framed by those decisions.

I would say that everything matters — everything. You are imprinting decisions, values and memories onto an organization.

In a sense, you’re building a house, and you can’t add stories onto a house until you have built the kind of foundation that will support them. ''

In the internal memo Howard Schultz's wrote in 1986., he outlined beginnings of Starbucks Employee First philosophy.…

''The attitudes of managers towards their people are of primary importance. Employees should be able to trust the motives and integrity of their supervisors. It is the responsibility of management to create a protective environment.....etc.’’

(According to MIT professors, culture is the most difficult organizational attribute to change,outlasting organizational products, services, founders and leadership and all other physical attributes of the organization.)


If you are creating new business you may again want to consider advice of Chairman, President and CEO of Starbucks. I know I would.

''New businesses are formed in the imprinting stage and organizations have a memory.

I think many start-ups make mistakes because they are focusing on things that are farther ahead, and they haven’t done the work that has built the foundation to support it.''


You might be working in organization where you have no HR, or that function is hired long after all others were set up. I even think some established HR just so they have it, too. Some hired nothing more than elegant administrative assistants without much experience in business or life, who walk around looking cute and it’s not their fault if no one is really taking their existence seriously.

Here’s what CEO of Starbucks thinks about it.

''People ask me what is the most important function when you’re starting an organization or setting up the kind of culture and values that are going to endure.

The discipline I believe so strongly in is H.R., and it’s the last discipline that gets funded. Marketing, manufacturing — all these things are important. But more often than not, the head of H.R. does not have a seat at the table. Big mistake.''

To answer the question from the title, I think I would not be fired from Starbucks.

Now, if you work in, or lead organization with the strong culture you enjoy, I am happy for you, and if not - I hope at least you understand the problem. In both cases I know how you feel. I hope you are in a great job and great company. Are you?

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