Devil is in the Detail

I love “Onward” by Howard Schultze. The book tells the story of Starbucks’ rapid drop of sales and failing stock prices during 2007-2008. The company was slowly starting to descend into mediocrity after years of focusing on rapid expansion. Howard Schultze, who had stepped aside as CEO almost eight years earlier to become chairman after growing Starbucks from 11 stores to thousands, quit his job of chairman and returned as CEO in 2008. Howard Schultze return to CEO wasn’t just about bringing up sales to their pre-2007 levels, he desperately desired to transform the company by refocusing on core values and reigniting the innovation within all levels of the company.

“Onward” is a fantastic read. I would recommend it to everyone. I’m currently in chapter 12 and loved what Schultze said about paying attention to details. Check out this excerpt:

In any well-run business there is, by definition, a maniacal focus on details…Young companies must produce results every day or risk closing their doors. The quality of each item, every customer interaction, the attitude of each employee, every dollar spent is attended to with steadfast concern. In 2008 I felt very strongly that many of us at Starbucks had lost our attention to the details of our business…Like a doctor who measure patient’s height and weight every year without checking blood pressure or heart rate, Starbucks was not diagnosing itself at a level that would help ensure its long-term health. We thought in terms of millions of customers and thousands of stores instead of one customer, one partner, and one cup of coffee at a time.

Howard Schultze

The devil really is in the details. How often do we as individuals, organizations, institutions, etc. get sidetracked from success and stop paying attention to the very details that got us to the place of success? I think its fairly easy to be blinded by the accomplishments. We can miss glaring deficiencies because our head is so far in the clouds. This certainly was the case for Starbucks; for nearly three decades, Starbucks could seemingly do no wrong. The company enjoyed a storied history that few organizations could rival. Then all of the sudden sales started sliding and their stock plummeted almost 50% at one point.

Schultze passionately pleaded to his top executive staff:

When you start a business, you do not operate from a lofty place, because you cannot afford to. It is so vitally important that we get back to the roots of the business, that we get back in the mud!

Howard Schultze

Reading this challenges me and I hope it inspires you to get your hands dirty! Don’t be blinded by temporary success. Are we paying attention to the details in our work? Are we setting out to prove ourselves with excellence and great deliberation? There have been plenty of times in my career where I have floated in the 30,000 foot view and basked in past success when I should have been on the grind and had a sense of urgency. Whether you’re college student, young professional, or have been in the workplace for decades I think the principle of paying attention to details is vital to continued success.

Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men.

Proverbs 22:29

Many people fall into the malaise of success; they grow comfortable and eventually settle instead of applying greater scrutiny to their performance or organization. I’m inspired to focus on the details and get back to core values that put me in the current place that I am. Let’s adopt a spirit of excellence and expectation in our workplaces and never settle because of past accomplishment.

I’m Harold Dorrell Briscoe. Thanks for reading.


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