Leadership lessons from the story of Frappuccino

Leadership lessons from the story of Frappuccino

I read the autobiography of Starbucks’ CEO Howard Shultz recently. Even though the book was published in 1997, it was clear to me that Shultz was ahead of his time in his management thinking.

I learned and gathered many lessons from the book, but the story of Frappuccino intrigued me. Sharing what I learned about it.

It is one of the Starbucks’ most popular and iconic drinks. It contributes almost $2 billion to Starbucks revenue.

Yet, it almost got rejected by the company.

Starbucks had previously declined requests for blended cold drinks. CEO and Chairman Howard Schultz was hesitant to introduce a blended drink that didn’t involve traditional espresso shots. He was worried it would dilute the company’s coffee-focused brand image. The initial recipe for the Frappuccino was a simple blend of coffee, milk, and sugar. Shultz found this blend awful, as it had a chalky, pasty taste.
Obviously, he opposed it.

Yet, as a good leader he was open for ideas and agreed to let the team test it with customers. After few experiments Frappuccino was launched in the summer of 1995 as a seasonal item in Starbucks stores in California. The drink became an instant hit and was soon offered year-round at all Starbucks locations across the US and later to be distributed bottled by PepsiCo.

Leadership lessons:

1. Brand and quality matters:
Shultz was right to be apprehensive.

His apprehension about the drink reflects his commitment to maintaining Starbucks’ brand identity and upholding the company’s high standards for coffee quality.

2. Trust:
Shultz trusted his team, and the employees trusted the management team.

This trust was the reason that a barista thought of creating a new drink and cared for what customers were asking for.

He could have done his 9-5 job.

3. A culture of safety:
A few store employees had started experimenting with the drink long before they reached out to Shultz with the new drink idea.

They did not ask for permission.

Employees knew that it was okay to make mistakes.

4. A culture of innovation:
Customers asked for a cold drink.

Employees listened to them, tried a new blend, and management supported.

Frappuccino’s success shows the innovation and adapting to changing consumer preferences.

In his book “Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time” Shultz wrote:
The drink’s success is a testament to the collaborative efforts of the company’s employees and their dedication to creating new and innovative products.

Their culture has been a key factor in Starbucks’ growth and success over the years.

This post is still a work in progress. I need to refine it further. So don’t get annoyed that it has come to an abrupt end. 🙂

How a neighbour taught me a quick lesson in divergent mindset, and gifted me 12 books too

How a neighbour taught me a quick lesson in divergent mindset, and gifted me 12 books too

I learned a great lesson from my neighbour (and got these books as gift).

You will enjoy this story. Read on!

Last night on my evening walk I stopped by to say hello to a retired, wealthy neighbor.

As we chatted, he asked me if I read books. He seemed quite pleased when I said that I read a lot. He then invited me to come inside and see his library, which he seemed very proud of.

It was a big library. He showed me some of his favorite books and as we talked more, I noticed that he was happy to talk to someone who had the same thought process. He ended up giving me a gift of 12 books, some of which were on Donald Trump.  And that is what I found interesting!

Curious, I asked him if he was a Trump supporter, to which he said that he was not. Obviously, I asked him then why he read books on Trump.

Then came a good advice…

He said that to understand someone’s mindset and to form an opinion about them, you must learn about them first. He then went on to explain that while he did not agree with everything that Trump did or said, he felt that it was important to read about him and his ideas before he placed a judgement on him.

As I left my neighbor’s house with my stack of books, I felt grateful for his generosity and the lesson he had imparted. This conversation made me realize that it is easy to form opinions and judgments about people without really understanding them or where they are coming from.

Reading books on a variety of topics and perspectives can broaden our minds and help us to see the world in a more nuanced way.

I might take long time to read these books, or might not read some of them at all, but I am grateful for the reminder that it is important to keep an open mind and to approach things with curiosity and a willingness to learn. Although, I am excited to dive into the books especially the ones on Trump, to learn more about the former president, what his thought process was and how he formed his policies.

You never know what you might discover when you take the time to truly understand someone else’s perspective.

I wrote a post about perspective and perception recently. Have a look if you wish to learn more about what these terms mean.

If you liked this post, then don’t forget follow me and share it.

Perception and Perspective

Perception and Perspective

“Hey Rajesh, there is a perception that you don’t do <X>!”

The consultant that the company had hired told me.

“Oh! Who in the team think that I don’t do <X>?

“Mate, I can’t tell you that. But perception is reality.”

Only after few years of leaving that place I found out that it was him who created a perception. He wanted more influence (and more business) and I used to question things. Well!

In that case, I did not receive any useful and actionable feedback. This is unfortunate that such scenarios are far too common where people receive vague comments instead of actionable feedback.

At Microsoft, we use the word “Perspective” to get our colleague’s point of view about how one is performing, what they are doing well and where they can improve. This mechanism allows people to receive all-round feedback and not just someone’s perception.

So, what’s the difference between perception and perspective?

Can you define each of those clearly? Most people find it hard to explain what they mean by perception and perspective.

Yet, both of these things are important for us to understand the world around us, assign meaning to what we observe and then decide whether to act or not.

You may hear some people saying that perception is reality, but I find that unintelligent. Saying that is only an excuse for not thinking clearly and critically.

What is perception and perspective?

Perception is the interpretation of things that we see, hear, smell or feel. It is what we ‘believe’ we understand after receiving a sensory input and then define a meaning that we apply to a situation, person or a thing.

For example, look at the cartoon above. Depending on how you look at it, you can easily perceive number six (6) to be number nine (9). You may even fight with someone about being right.

Perspective comes via and after perception. In other words, perception leads to perspective. It is our point of view that we build based on our perception.

If you are thinking that both perception and perspective will together in determining how we interpret things and build a point of view, then you are right.

This cartoon that I found on internet is also a good example of how perception of a given situation creates a point of view (perspective).

The image below is a good and powerful example of how perception and perspective play an important role in building our PoV.

  • What will you perceive if you only look at the first part of the image?
  • What will you think if you only see the last part of the image?
  • What is your point of view about the situation?
  • After seeing the full image, did your perspective change?

Note: The above image was created by Ursula Dahmen. Find the details here: https://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/manipulierte-bilder-fotostrecke-107186.html

What was surprising for my own interpretation of the above image was to discover that the soldier on the left wasn’t pointing the gun at the other soldier’s head. It was strapped to the soldier’s back.

Even that interpretation might not be correct until we hear the truth from the horse’s mouth.

Perception and perspective in work scenarios:

Passionately debating is quite common in some cultures.

It is also natural to have debates and discussions at work. A person who is only an observer and noticing the arguments, all the back and forth from both sides and sometimes the treated voices out of passion might perceive the debate as a fight.

This observer might build a point of view that the people debating are causing trouble at the workplace and might decide to complain about them to their seniors.

Based on this observer’s complaint, the senior folks might build a perception too and decide to take punitive action against the people who were merely debating a topic related to their work.

So, while perception is not reality, it may manipulate the reality. Unless one seriously pays attention, find all facts about a situation and critically examine them, perception may turn into a belief.

As managers, leaders, parents or friends, it is our responsibility that we learn about our perceptions and do not let them affect our perspective merely through quick judgement.

That is not easy, but at least we can try.

Are You Making Career Transition Easier or Harder?

Are You Making Career Transition Easier or Harder?

In my 25+ years of career, I have made many transitions to different roles, jobs and industries. Career transition can be nerve wracking, but if done well, it can be very rewarding.

Here are a few tips on how to successfully transition your career.

1. Validate purpose

Check why you want to transition to a different <role, job or industry>

If you have good enough reasons, then move to the next step.

Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

Also, the grass is always greener on the other side.

2. Plan

A well though-out plan can reduce risks of unknown in a new career.

Add a timeline to your plan. A timeline can make your plan measurable and can give a direction to your goal.

Remember that plans are nothing, planning is everything.

3. Get a mentor

A good mentor can make your career journey smooth by sharing their experience and by exposing your blind spots.

They can drive, guide and inspire you.

A mentor can also help you stay afloat when stress and anxiety try to pull you down.

4. Get skilled

Read, study, learn!

Take classes, attend webinars, watch videos, listen to podcasts, read books,…

Do everything that enhances your skill level in your aspired career.

While you won’t become the best in short term, you’ll become really good.

5. Note your current skills

When changing careers, people worry that they don’t have skills.

We all have transferable skills. You may be great at networking or speaking, or writing or collaborating etc.

Employers need these skills in their staff. Add these to your resume.

6. Get experience (while in transition)

Here are some ideas:

– Do side projects/ freelancing

– Do pro-bono work for a friend

– Find an internship

– Offer free work to a start-up

– Join a crowdsourcing group

Add these to your resume.

All of these show that you’re passionate.

7. Network like hell

They say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”

Ideas for networking:

– Go to local industry events (meetups, conferences, exhibitions..)

– Attend online events

– Join online forums (must add value to those)

– Connect with experienced folks online

8. Be open and ask for help

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

What’s the worst that can happen? Someone would say no to you. That’s it!

Harry Potter book was rejected numerous times too.

Ask for entry level roles, internships or paid projects (depending on your situation).

9. Last, but not the least, be patient.

Changing career direction can take time. It’s a slow process.

Effort, perseverance and patience with good planning are the right ingredient for success.

Leading Change: A Story of Organisational Culture, Reward and Reprimand

Leading Change: A Story of Organisational Culture, Reward and Reprimand

This is a story from an organisation which I hated working for, but stayed for a couple of years because my then manager was a kind person and we both disliked the place equally. We were also comfortable with each other in talking about the incompetent people, who made the majority of that place and the organisational culture.


This place was a model organisation for all the wrong reasons. There were trust issues, toxicity, bad culture, nepotism, questionable management competence, lack of integrity, lack of empathy for employees as well as for customers among many other dysfunctions.


In simple words, it was a clusterfcuk. (A friend suggested that I replace it with “omnishambles”, which sounds more posh and sophisticated. Nah! doing so would dilute the effectiveness of this post. And more importantly, if I do use that fancy word, I will not be happy.)


Leading to win (that’s what I thought):  

At one point of time at that place, I was leading a digital transformation team. Even though the whole thing was completely screwed up, and the consultants were screwing it up even more, I am thankful for all the lessons I learned there. Plus, the bonus was that I got all the stories to share like this one.


The people in my team were part of the same system. Some of them were new, and  some had fused the organisation’s DNA with theirs. The environment was so bad, that all new people got influenced within weeks and became political quickly. If you don’t know how cults work, you can get an idea here.


Anyway, long story short. I was in the role for just a couple of months before I went for my planned leaves for about three weeks. The team was delivering the outcomes and I was doing my best to enable the achievements of those goals. I was coaching them, mentoring them and at times, holding hands to get work done.


Look, the problem with being too focused on your objectives is that sometimes you fail to read the room. People can be two faced and if you don’t realise that soon enough, they will do good enough damage. 


Airlines teach pilots situational awareness. Which is about being aware of one’s surroundings, and not just rely on the instrument. Not being situationally aware can cause trouble and that was the mistake I made too. I should have been more diligent in keeping an eye on environmental factors. It is like product companies keeping an eye out on subtle feedback coming out on Twitter and fixing problems before they become issues.  


Anyway, back to the story of the screwed up project and place.


Hoping for a reward:


When I returned from the leave and joined the work back, the CTO called me in his cabin.


The CTO was a nice person, but he wasn’t a charismatic leader and he lacked conviction (I was going to say ‘he lacked balls’, but that wouldn’t be nice, right?). His demeanor was of a person who is trying hard to stay in his job and not ruffle any feathers. But you know what, an appease-all policy makes your position weaker. In my opinion, stronger and assertive people command more respect and have better chances of staying or growing in their jobs than others.


So yeah, he called me for a quick meeting in his office.  


“Recognition time!”, I thought. 


Yes, you guessed it right. I was not going to get recognition. I was there for a reprimand. 


With a serious face, and a deep tone, he said that the team told him that Rajesh was gone, and no one noticed. It seemed that I wasn’t making an impact. And that I did not have control on the team. In his opinion, the team should have been dependent on my leadership.


Honestly, I felt betrayed by the team. I treated them as friends, and they behaved like grade 3 kids who tell on you to the teacher. I also felt bad that the team couldn’t see the bigger picture. They had much more freedom than other teams. 


So, when I replied to the CTO, he was instantly remorseful. 


I said, “I am actually quite happy to hear what the team said to you.”


He looked confused, and said, “What do you mean?”


I continued, “It seems that I was able to achieve my goal much earlier than expected. If the team believes that they were able to function without having someone guiding and driving them, then they have become a self-contained, self-organised team. They have learned much more about delivering innovative products than anyone else in the entire group. I know that there are many other organisations and teams that try their best to achieve self-organisation and never reach there. We should celebrate that we are doing the right thing.”


There was a long pause.


Then the CTO said, “I should have thought that, and I should have said that to the team. You are right. Sorry that I didn’t manage it well.”


WHOA! I never expected that I would ever hear those words. While there was no formal recognition, at least he understood what I was trying to do.

Culture change is hard: 

You might be wondering what happened next. When I tell this story to people, some assume that there was a happy ending with rewards, awards, recognitions, and a case study of organisational improvement.


No, nothing of that sort happened. Culture problems often have deep roots and resolving them takes time, courage, integrity, congruence, openness and willingness by the leaders first. I think it all starts with accepting that there are problems.


In this case too, culture problems were deep rooted.


To me, it was clear that trust was an issue. It was broken.


I did have an open discussion with the team and we discussed having honesty meetings. Someday I will write about that too. 


Most of the team members understood what they had achieved and that I was there to help. Yet, some of them were not onboard. They were laggards. After leaving that organisation many years ago, I came to know that the laggards were still there where they were.


Not long after that incident, I left that organisation. I knew that I was a square peg in a round hole. 


One can only try to change a system. Most of the time you can only influence a small part of a system and there is a high likelihood that this small part will go back to its old ways due to other parts of the system. 

When you try to change a system, not all parts of the system will react the same way. But that doesn’t mean that we stop trying.


I tried, I succeeded a little, and then I failed.


Change takes time. Effect of change can take even longer. And recognition and reward will not always be part of the process.


As change agents, we must be patient while remaining pragmatic.