Growing Big, Staying Small

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.

~Henry Ford

In his book, It’s Not About the Coffee, Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks International, recounts a fascinating story about attaining the kind of culture every company wants. Behar says one concept that he learned and developed from Howard Schultz was, “The fundamental task is to achieve smallness while growing big”.

It almost sounds like a contradiction upon first glance. How does one actually go about achieving smallness? What does it look and how can it improve the culture of any company? How could it improve yours?

Behar relates one custom that became part of Starbucks culture. The writing of cards. Each month he would write birthday and anniversary cards to everyone in the organization. It started with about sixty cards a month. Behar says that by the time he retired he was sending out more than five hundred a month.

In a time when company culture and employee engagement are the buzzwords and people are trying to figure out what it means, is it possible that we are simply over thinking it?

Maybe it has nothing to do with how big we are thinking and the grand schemes and plans of making improvements. Is it possible that employee engagement and company culture is not working as it should because we are not thinking small enough?

At the end of the day here is what we must remember: it’s all about people. Call it company culture, employee engagement, call it whatever you wish- but it all boils down to people and how you make them feel. Do they feel appreciated? Do they feel valued? How are you showing it?

An article in Talent Culture revealed that employees who “feel valued by their employer are significantly more likely to be motivated to do their very best (93 percent vs. 33 percent).” In addition, it said that “those who do not feel valued are significantly more likely to seek new employment within 12 months (50 percent vs. 21 percent)”. Look within your organization. How many people are motivated to perform at their very best? How many people do you suppose are looking for new jobs?

Growing big and thinking small is not a mutually exclusive goal. But it will require intentional thinking and action on your part as a leader. Here are a few ways you will have to do it.

Think small relationally
It makes no difference if your vision or goals are big or small, it only comes into existence through the dedication and hard work of your people. Every leader should take the advice of John Maxwell who said, “Always touch a person’s heart before you ask for a hand.” You must connect relationally before you can ask people to help you reach your goals.They must first buy-in to you before you can expect them to buy-in to your vision.
Think small serving
It was a brilliant quote I still remember from the late Sam Walton who said, “The bigger we get the smaller we have to think, customers still walk in one at a time”. Whether it’s your employees whom you are serving or the customer base your organization caters to, the way you treat each individual makes a world of difference. Too often we worry about pleasing the masses and forget we still serve our employees and customers one at a time. If you do right by one, you will do right with many.
Think small growing
Intentional smallness is what Behar modeled by writing hundreds of cards a month. It happens with random acts of kindness in recognizing your people. It’s being intentional about building relationships. It’s about ensuring that your people feel valued, respected, empowered, and trusted. It’s about writing that card.

Growth big happens when you take care of building a powerful culture of smallness that gives you the momentum to become a big organization that held true to its most sacred values along the way.

Are you thinking small enough?

Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickersonhttps://www.dougdickerson.net/
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences.
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Ken Vincent
Ken Vincent

Excellent points, Doug. How many companies have we seen that lost their “smallness” as they grew. Look at what happened to Sears vs. Walmart.

Interesting that Baher sent birthday cards to all Starbucks employees. I started doing that in 1976 and also found it meant more to them than anything else I did to show them that they were important and valued.

Chris Pehura
Chris Pehura

Totally agree with all points. To add, I find “definitions” and words being very crucial to doing these things. If there is any vagueness on what the words mean, the best laid plans fall apart. Though a common management practice is having “common business words” across the whole company, it seems this approach is practiced less and less by our clients each year.

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