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Then and Now: Starbucks Lives Its Values

NOTE: This is the first of a series of posts featuring earlier content from the Vital Integrities Blog along with updated information and opinions.

In June 2004, I wrote the following about Starbucks:
Starbucks Coffee Company epitomizes the principle that companies should Live By The Values They Profess. One example is in the way the company purchases coffee. Last year, when prices of commercial-grade arabica coffee sold in commodity markets for 55 to 70 cents per pound, Starbucks regularly paid negotiated prices averaging $1.20 per pound directly to coffee farmers. The practice helps improve conditions for farmers in coffee producing communities and helps maintain long-term customer relationships on which the growers can depend.

At Starbucks, the values listed in its mission statement define the company's culture and guide the behavior of its employees. According to Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz, "If people relate to the company they work for, if they share an emotional tie to it and buy in to its dreams, they will pour their heart into making it better." The employees, or partners as Starbucks refers to them, seem to agree: 78 percent of the company's partners say the organization's values provide meaningful direction in their jobs at Starbucks.

Starbucks takes commitment to its core values to a higher level. Employees are encouraged to hold their leaders accountable by expressing their opinions on whether or not the organization's practices are consistent with its mission statement. All concerns are shared with Starbucks leaders and employees can expect a response. In addition, the company publishes a Corporate Social Responsibility Annual Report, listing initiatives, programs, and activities that demonstrate how Starbucks provides social, environmental, and economic benefits to the communities in which it operates. It takes the added step of hiring a certified public accounting firm to verify the report's contents.

Why are company values so important? Job candidates are less likely now than ever before to select an employer based simply on financial rewards. The emphasis now is on values. Today, people seek out employers with values consistent with their own, and look for ways to satisfy their interests and needs by aligning with the mission of an enterprise. Those organizations that recognize the role of values in leadership, and who Live By The Values They Profess, will win the war for talent, both in attracting and retaining the best workers.

Some things have changed at Starbucks since I wrote that post. Most conspicuously, a sluggish economy has impacted the company's sales, leading to announcements of intentions to close nearly 600 stores and eliminate almost 1,000 jobs. But despite its financial struggles, Starbucks has not forgotten its values. Believing that "coffee farming must be profitable to be sustainable," Starbucks continues its practice of buying directly from growers. In 2007, the company paid an average $1.43 per pound for its coffee, compared to a commodity-market price average of $1.14. Back in 2004, the company paid twice the market price, a greater spread than in 2007. However, while commodity prices fluctuate constantly, Starbucks gives farmers steady and predictable increases. As for its reputation as an employer, Starbucks' is still topnotch. The company has appeared in Fortune's list of "The 100 Best Companies to Work For" an impressive nine times, including in 2007 when it ranked fifteenth overall.

In Starbucks' Corporate Social Responsibility Fiscal 2007 Annual Report, Howard Schultz writes, "Although we haven't always been perfect, we have always been dedicated to being the kind of company that is trustworthy and authentic. Even during this time of change for our company, one thing that will never change is our long-standing commitment to conducting business in a responsible and ethical manner."

Now, as then, Starbucks' leaders Live By The Values They Profess.
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