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Leading Through Change: A Conversation with Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson on Transparency & Trust

Marc Benioff and Kevin Johnson on a video call

What it is: This week on Salesforce’s Leading Through Change series, CEO & Chairman Marc Benioff welcomed Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson to discuss Starbucks’ resilience through COVID-19, its strategy for safely reopening, and its connection to communities.

Why it matters: With 82 markets worldwide, Starbucks is tasked with making hundreds of quick and agile decisions daily to prioritize workers’ safety, while creating back-to-work plans both relevant and appropriate for individual regions.

What we learned:

  • On shared principles: Because of Starbucks’ global presence, Johnson and his leadership team thrust into COVID-related decision-making as early as mid-January. The key was setting three shared principles that would guide the company’s efforts through the crisis.
    • 1) Prioritizing the health and well-being of Starbucks partners (what they call employees) and the customers they serve.
    • 2) Supporting government and health officials as they work to contain the virus.
    • 3) Showing up in a positive and responsible way in the communities they serve.
  • On transparent communications: Like Salesforce, Starbucks knew they didn’t have all the answers at the start of the crisis. The north star was communicating to all of their stakeholders — customers, partners (or employees), what they did know, what they didn’t know, and the broader implications of that. From Johnson: “Maybe we know some of them [implications], maybe we don’t others, but we are going to stay true to the mission and the values that built this great company, and we are going to be driven by principles.”
  • On distributed leadership: Johnson discussed Starbucks’ distributed leadership model which has enabled leaders across Starbucks’ 82 markets to make agile decisions, core to the company’s mission and values. “When you believe in people, people will do the right thing,” says Johnson.

Learn more: Watch the full video here.


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