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  • Melissa Libertini

Reflections on "The Culture Code"

I’ve recently begun reading Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code. While I am only three chapters in, I have gathered so many takeaways and started to reflect on the multitude of work-teams I’ve been apart of since the age of 15. Coyle introduces simple, yet difficult for some to implement, concepts and attributes of robustly successful teams. Now when I say successful, or rather Coyle says successful, he is not talking about recruiting a team full of MBA’s or star performers - he pushes back on this false assumption in the first chapter when he recalls an experiment between kindergartners and lawyers in which the kindergartners crush the competition - yes, seriously. He introduces the differentiating factor: belonging cues. These are verbal and nonverbal signals we give to our team members that send the message that we are all safe and all ideas are welcome and appreciated, though not always pursued or evaluated to be the best. People who send these belonging cues are the “culture creators” who help to create space and capacity for change to occur. They can shift the power and destructive effects of any sardonic or change-resistant employee, and inspire the group to perform highly because they want to do well for their team members. This is where buy in is created, as the work group, team, and/or organization adopts traits which now resemble a healthy family dynamic.

It’s such a simple concept, yet I can recall just one work experience where I felt these belonging cues were subconsciously present: Starbucks. Starbucks has taken a lot of heat recently and I am not here to defend nor persecute. As a corporation they have their issues. Shout out to Starbucks, Reframe Conflict is here to help! Specifically, I am highlighting the effect one store manager had on a team I was a part of for over the three year period I worked for him. As a 21 year old college student, Starbucks was simply supposed to be a job that allowed me to receive health benefits and enough money to maintain my spaghetti and vegan meatball lifestyle while I was in college. Thanks to Mr. Manager, it became much more.

Mr. Manager employed what I now can call belonging cues to inspire his team--my team--to work at their highest potential day in and day out. He was open about corporate bureaucracy and always welcomed new ideas for reaching sales and promotional targets. He also worked really hard. He wasn’t like every other manager I would go on to work for throughout my Starbucks career; managers that hid in the back office when the frappuccinos hit the fan. He was on the floor busting his butt to maintain the shift--as you likely know, Starbucks can get pretty busy around 7:30 am on a weekday. Because he was willing to stand side by side with his hourly employees he built trust and slowly started to cultivate a team that had very few call-offs or “slacker” types.

He took the time to build rapport with every Partner, even the difficult ones. He spread all the knowledge he collected about his team members, and soon we were referring to everyone with a personalized nickname and knew more about them than just what kind of car they drove to work or what their coffee beverage of choice was. He fostered what felt like an authentic family. We cared deeply for each other and we worked harder for each other, for the family, as a result.

This culture he created came with profit increases as well. Our store became one of the highest in the district for daily “peak” transactions and we always exceeded any promotional target we were given (“Would you like a pound of Christmas blend today?”). Our store ranked in the top 10 stores in the country for Clover coffee sales (super good, super expensive reverse French pressed coffee). He also promoted a handful of baristas, myself included, to shift supervisors and our store received consistent positive customer feedback scores. Creating a culture rooted in belonging cues is more than just getting everyone to sing kumbaya - it comes with dollars too. He just managed one store. Imagine what he could do with an entire district?

I never came across a better work environment in my life (until Reframe Conflict, of course). It has become easy for managers and employees to get caught up in the daily grind of completing tasks and chasing the next dollar. Employees are more often than not resistant to change. Often they are not prepared by belonging cues, which are shown to empower individuals and groups to more willingly try new approaches and take on new tasks. The individual is emphasized over the well being of the team. It is not easy to let your guard down and be vulnerable, especially with a coworker. But, with the right culture and leadership in place this can change. I never would have thought at this point in my career that my best work environment would have been Starbucks (specifically the first store I worked at). And just like every cup of coffee has its sweet spot - the right ratio of cream to sugar, or however you like it - so does each work team. Don’t take it from me though, read the book: The Culture Code, and call Reframe Conflict to help you build a team of people oozing with belonging cues.

*Note: As I continue to work my way through this book, perhaps I'll have some more thoughts to share...

By Melissa Libertini

Partner at (re)Frame Conflict

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