EDITORIAL: Internal comms is key ingredient to growing Starbucks worldwide

Analyses of top companies tend to focus on whether they deliver good results for shareholders, their financial solvency, their productivity and innovation. The more enlightened measures also look at the value of brands and a firm's ability to attract staff. Internal communication is rarely, if ever, considered. Yet it is a bedrock of many of companies that have performed consistently well, and particularly of those that have shown an ability to operate successfully across diverse regions.

Analyses of top companies tend to focus on whether they deliver good results for shareholders, their financial solvency, their productivity and innovation. The more enlightened measures also look at the value of brands and a firm's ability to attract staff. Internal communication is rarely, if ever, considered. Yet it is a bedrock of many of companies that have performed consistently well, and particularly of those that have shown an ability to operate successfully across diverse regions.

We're not talking about one-way, handed-down-from-the-top, propaganda, but about lines of communication woven into a company's fabric so that management can motivate employees and get a good read on the market at a local level. Look at FedEx or UPS, for example, whose strong lines of internal communication have allowed them to get a consistency of service from employees that customers experience firsthand every day. Take GM, where CEO Rick Wagoner has cited internal communications as a top-three priority, and where dedication to giving employees information on the business structure and goals has been credited with vast production and safety improvements. Take Sears or Wal-Mart, which made dramatic shifts away from one-size-fits-all stores with identical products regardless of location, toward tailoring inventory to specific locations. In part these successful shifts in merchandising strategy came about because there was strong feedback from store employees that these changes were necessary. Perhaps Starbucks might look to some of the internal communication models of these corporations as it tries to make the leap from US business sensation of the '90s to global success story. BusinessWeek made Starbucks' growing pains its cover story just two weeks ago. What looked to be a PR coup - an in-depth feature on its obvious success so far and its huge potential as a global powerhouse - turned out to be one of those stories that needs careful explanation to the boss. The article suggests that the obstacles to Starbucks' continued rapid growth are the need to attract younger consumers, threats from local activists who resent the coffee retailer's aggressive real estate tactics, and "slumping morale and employee burnout." The fear, of course, is that the latter will impact customer satisfaction and, therefore, sales. All three "threats" may be minimized through internal communication. The servers and coffeemakers, or "baristas" as they're known, do get training, but do they get enough new information about the company to make them feel that they are at the center of the Starbucks experience? Better staff dialogue would not only increase customer satisfaction, it would help attract young customers on a local basis, as they are more likely to be swayed by word-of-mouth among their peer group (of whom the staff form a part) than they are by any above-the-line marketing strategy. Equally, by putting in place strong lines of internal communication, Starbucks would increase its chances of showing the right degree of cultural sensitivity as it spreads its beans further afield. BusinessWeek didn't mention internal communications in this piece - it's still an underrated field - but perhaps five years down the line, it'll earn a paragraph or two in the Starbucks success story. -Jonah Bloom

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.