Culture & Digital Transformation : The Power Of Connections at Starbucks Canada
Starbucks is, without question, one of the most admired and coveted organizations’ on the planet. Much has been written about its iconic founder Howard Schultz, its incredible history of social activism and community involvement, its award-winning culture and, of course, its remarkable stores and coffee.
Canada is actually the location of the first international Starbucks location outside of Seattle and, since 1987 when that very first Vancouver store opened, the Canadian operation has grown significantly. Today it operates over 1,400 stores and employs over 19,000 employees from head office to the famous green-aproned baristas. It has also garnered numerous Canadian awards for Social Responsibility, Corporate Governance and, not surprisingly, Most Admired Cultures. I had the privilege of sitting down with Lisa Mazurkewich, Director of Marketing and Digital Experience at Starbucks Canada to talk to her about Digital Transformation at the organization and what its like to work within a globally-admired Culture.
HB: Lisa, a real delight to chat with you. Your title suggests you have a dream job at Starbucks. Tell us a little bit about you, your background and your current role.
LM (laughs): It absolutely is. I’ve been at the organization about six months coming from a history of CPG, Retail and Beverages companies. I jokingly say I’ve got to trade cocktails for coffee but my role at Starbucks is the perfect meld of my previous assignments. My role spans marketing communications, our digital experiences and, critically assisting our partners at the store level. At Starbucks we are totally committed to being the best moment in every customer’s day. It’s a perfect environment for a marketer to play. I am very lucky.
HB: That sentiment of “being the best moment” absolutely rings true when I think of the barista experience and your store environment, talk to me about how Digital plays into delivering that at Starbucks?
LM: It is absolutely a pivotal part and digital goes much further than just delivering on moments. It goes back to one of our core values of human connection and putting our customers at the centre of everything we do. Whether that means allowing customers to personalize their orders, to review new menu items through our app, or giving them the ability to pre-order and skip the line when they’re in a hurry. And, of course, the ability to deliver customized offers based on their preferences. Interestingly, we’ve even seen how digital can free up our barista’s time which means they can make more of those great human connections that are so much a part of visiting our stores. Digital allows us to do all those things amazingly well.
HB: Global initiatives, like an integrated mobile app, can sometimes be difficult to modify for local markets because there’s a desire for consistency and efficiency in the technology. How does Starbucks balance that tension in their digital efforts?
LM: There is definitely a balance to be found (between global and local). The benefit of being so well connected with the global team, the team responsible for our amazing mobile app as well as our mobile payments, partnerships and innovation, is that we have an opportunity to participate early, and often, as ideas are being discussed and formulated. Pragmatically that means Starbucks Canada really has the latitude to either adopt, adapt or even create local initiatives that we believe will have a distinct impact.
Most recently our small and mighty Canadian team launched the “Starbucks Road Trip” Game to celebrate Canada150. It was the perfect opportunity to launch something uniquely Canadian within our mobile app and it was done with the full support of the global team. That’s just the most recent example of finding that balance.
HB: How do you make the decision on what becomes digitally-enabled in your operations or in how you service your customers?
LM: It is perhaps a little easier making those decisions at Starbucks because everything we do goes right back to our mission and values. That genuinely is how we evaluate the ideas that bubble up across the company.
I didn’t quite appreciate how central our Mission is to the entire organization until I joined, but it really is. It is embedded in our structure, in our DNA. It absolutely guides how we make decisions.
That Mission — To Inspire And Nurture The Human Spirit, One Cup, One Person, One Neighbourhood At A Time — is best exemplified by the connection between our Partners and our Customers. Everything has to respect that filter, so determining what to make digital — or not — becomes easier. How will this impact our Customer? How will it impact our Partner? How will it impact the Connection between them? Ultimately, being very clear on those simple questions meant we didn’t fall for the desire to add all sorts of bright shiny objects to our (digital) experience.
HB: Ahhh, Mission. I was wondering when we were going to discuss that. Does it really drive how Starbucks, here and in the US, manages the business?
LM: Absolutely. I’m relatively new to Starbucks but it is been fascinating and inspiring to see it first-hand.
What I think many people sometimes forget is that Starbucks is a very entrepreneurial, results-oriented business. Look at our values and you’ll see that one of them is explicitly about driving business results ( “Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.” but equally, one of our values states “Crating a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome”. The two are truly balanced when we say “We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.“ It makes for a very powerful motivator internally.
Our leaders, from Howard to our new CEO Kevin Johnson and our Canadian President Rossann Williams, all do an incredible job of reminding all of us that driving profit in our business is delivering on our Purpose. You can’t separate them.
Being successful is what allows us to support our partners and to support our communities. We honour our commitments to provide youth with life skills and job training, dedicating 10% of all our jobs to opportunity youth. We have commitments to hire refugees and veterans, to pay our growers a fair and equitable price for our amazing coffee. And it benefits all Starbucks employees too through the “bean stock” and leading benefits we all receive.
Our Mission isn’t just a feel-good exercise, its central to what drives all of us here.
HB: I get the connection between results and Mission but the entrepreneurial angle surprises me. Talk to me about this entrepreneurial part.
LM: I actually see this notion of entrepreneurship and ownership frequently, particularly in how our local Operators have embraced the move to digital here in Canada. We constantly have Operators running their own digital tests and trials at the store level, trying new elements and feeding ideas back to us. That’s where our entrepreneurship really comes to life.
Across the entire organization there is such recognition that our Operators, our Partners and our Stores are where we win and that goes back to the very start of the company. When Starbucks first started, Howard Schultz and his executive team would literally meet with store-owners at the end of every day to discuss how to improve the business. That desire to learn — and that deep connection to the store — has always fuelled the entrepreneurial edge we have. It is why we have such a capacity to try new things, to keep pushing for how we can be better. Again, as a new employee, it’s been a real eye-opener to see it up close.
HB: Connection is one word I’ve heard repeatedly through this interview. Is that the real Starbucks secret?
LM: (Laughs) Funny you should say that, we often say we are in the people business serving coffee. At the store level the connection between the partner and the customer is absolutely central to our reason for being. And our success. But that commitment to connection happens at every level of the company. There is a tremendous emphasis on working collaboratively across the organization and making connections with all parts of the company. It really is how things get done here. Quite simply, Starbucks culture of human connection really makes our company a very special place to work. Connectivity and building those relationships with your colleagues is definitely integral to how we work and succeed. Ultimately we believe that we win together.
This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the intersection of Culture and Digital Transformation — and the challenges organizations face when those two forces meet. This challenge will, I believe, shape the business agenda for the next decade so we all have a lot to learn.
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Find the rest of the series here: