April 8, 2021

TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #62 – How a Recipe vs. Rules Mindset Promotes a Culture of Peak Performance

By Rob Andrews

With paraphrased content from Howard Behar, former President of Starbucks 

About an hour after my post on The Reticular Activating System went out, I got an email that read: “Rob, It seems like a million years ago I experienced The Pacific Institute and Lou Tice. The words Reticular Activating System brought back all of those wonderful memories. Thanks for reminding me. Warm regards, Howard.” It was from Howard Behar, former President of Starbucks. I made a warm (It’s not a cold call if you’ve done a bit of homework and have a legitimate reason for reaching out.) call to Howard a few years ago, and after a few telephone conversations and reading both of his books, It’s Not About the Coffee and The Magic Cup, he’s become one of my favorite people. Of course, I fired right back and within fifteen minutes we were on the phone for another fabulous conversation.

The joy of conversing with Howard and others of his ilk is one of the many reasons I truly love what I do. Learning from exceptional leaders who have blazed their own trails and built amazing peak performance cultures is a privilege for which I am eternally grateful. Speaking of gratitude, it is an essential attribute that every single one of the leaders I’ve examined for our Total Performance Leadership architecture possess. Like Don Gates, Eric Claus and many other rock stars I’ve observed, Howard does not come out of central casting. When he went to work for Starbucks, at age 44, he had no college degree and no multi-unit foodservice experience, both boxes that Starbucks was trying to check. What Howard did have was a tremendous sense of gratitude for his love of people, purpose, hard work, self-awareness and servant leadership.

Hailed as “a hero of conscious capitalism,” “a passionate advocate for leading with purpose,” and a devoted student and teacher of the Servant Leadership Model, Howard Behar’s motivational message inspires everyone to be a servant leader and to lead with their values first. Like Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, Howard hates rules. In addition to being an evangelist for purpose and servant leadership, he teaches leading with a recipe rather than a rigid set of rules. Purpose, says Behar, combined with a clear sense of vision and values, enable organizations and individuals to innovate, create and excel without having to conform to a three-binder policy and procedure manual.

In our consulting and coaching work, we’re often asked: If I develop a truly diverse workforce, how am I to lead with clarity without rules? After all, I’m leading a team of people with different thought processes, different political views, different generational perspectives, and different world views. Howard articulates how to navigate these waters beautifully. In his book, It’s Not About The Coffee, he speaks of an earlier time in which he wore many hats, each worn for a different situation. Later he determined that knowing one’s true self and wearing only one hat is the key to fulfillment and effectiveness. The same is true of organizations. The leadership in each company must first determine, and then unite around its purpose, mission, vision, and values. This combination becomes a recipe for the company’s success and drives its strategy. Peak performance cultures are found in organizations who wear one hat.

Peak performing organizations are so passionate about who they are and why they exist that everything they do is driven by purpose. With a clear sense of purpose, subordinated by mission, vision and values, they clearly articulate the behaviors they revere, and figure out ways to measure them. They recognize and reward people for behaviors that support their purpose, reflect their values, and move it toward their vision. This combination, the company’s recipe for success, its peak performance culture, lessens the need for rules. Howard says that well intended, yet overly rigid rules and policies stifle creativity, suppress the company’s spirit and promote poor decision making. When individuals within a company are as passionate about its purpose and recipe for success as its leadership, they feel enabled and are compelled to act in the best interest of the organization. In these organizations, you will never hear a frontline worker make excuses to a customer or recite company policy. Frontline workers who are aligned and enabled around the company’s recipe for success, won’t needlessly lose a customer or hold back on a meaningful contribution because of a rule or policy.

True diversity, which has always been an important pillar of a great strategy, is only possible when all stakeholders are aligned. Peak performing organizations like Starbucks, who always outperform their competitors, usually by 35% or more, are painstaking about hiring only those people who fit their culture and their recipe for success. True diversity becomes doable and extremely beneficial when employees are aligned and truly passionate about the company’s recipe. The obvious implication is that many people will not fit, and leadership has an enormous responsibility to hire only those who fully aligned. Howard says, and I agree, that alignment of this type is usually binary. One either is or isn’t.

The purpose of this blog is to share what we’re learning about building cultures of peak performance. In future posts, we’ll dig further into how leaders who have undergone reinvention are building companies that dominate their sectors. These are organizations that practice the nine principles we’ve observed in organizations that outperform their peers: Unified Leadership, Disciplined Hiring, Leading with Purpose, Stakeholder Engagement, Cost Leadership, Measuring Everything that Matters, Customer Experience, Clarity in Everything, and Staying Ahead of the Curve. If you’d like to talk about how we can help your organization, or if you’d like a thought partner, please give us a call.

Warmest Regards,

Rob Andrews
Allen Austin
Consultants in Retained Search & Leadership Advisory