If Management is Happy, then Everyone Is Happy…Right?

On Saturday, I walked by my neighbor’s “Little Free Library” that is a block down the street from where I live. Because I am in the middle of moving, my intention was to drop off a few books that others might enjoy. And yet there was a book in there that caught my eye: “How Starbucks Saved My Life,” by Michael Gates Gill. As I am a sucker for any book/movie/story that reminds us that our lives are way too short, I grabbed the book. And the fact that I frequent Starbucks didn’t hurt, either!

Let me be clear that I have not yet finished the book. But it has already invoked all kinds of reactions within me: sympathy for a man who clearly didn’t know what he wanted from his life; anger at his haughtiness and privilege (and biases that show up in small ways throughout the book); and laughter at the ridiculousness of his fear of working at Starbucks.

But the thing that stands out the most (so far) is the ugliness of corporate America. The author worked for J. Walter Thompson (JWT) Advertising for over 25 years before he was let go. He talks about his experiences there and the expectations to drop everything – even on the most precious of holidays – to help the firm achieve wild success. Reading about that life makes me grateful that I’ve made different choices for myself – even though I pursued that lifestyle for a short period of time.

The author also shares the philosophy of top management at JWT: “If we’re happy, our employees should be happy.” Actually – no, it doesn’t work that way. What makes top management happy (stocks, bonuses, rubbing elbows with the influencers, etc.) doesn’t necessarily trickle down to the rest of the team – and it might not represent what is most important to those team members.

Gill’s book was published in 2007, so I don’t know if or how the Starbucks culture has changed over the past 9 years. But I do love the philosophy that they embraced back then: people – whether they are customers or employees — are truly valued. This outlook is one of the key ingredients to having a successful Corporate Social Responsibility program (CSR). A CSR program isn’t going to work if leadership mandates it, or insists that all employees MUST do [fill in the blank.] But a CSR program that asks employees what those words – corporate social responsibility – mean to them and engages them in brainstorming about how to be a better civic partner? Now that will lead to great employee satisfaction, and a true feeling of being valued. And that can be life changing.

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