Starbucks’ Organizational Culture & Its Characteristics

Starbucks Coffee Company organizational culture, corporate work culture, human resource core values business analysis case study
A Starbucks café in Singapore. Starbucks Coffee Company’s corporate culture (organizational culture) is a success factor in the coffeehouse chain business, especially in supporting competitive advantages against other food-service firms. (Photo: Public Domain)

Starbucks Corporation’s organizational culture (company culture) is one of the most distinct characteristics of the firm. The company’s organizational or corporate culture influences personnel and business performance through values, customs, traditions, and behavioral expectations in the business organization’s context. In Starbucks’ case, the organizational culture permeates all aspects of the business, including the operations of franchisees and licensees. Coffeehouses are where Starbucks’ work culture is most easily observable. The way café employees work with each other and how they interact with customers are indicators of the company’s corporate culture. The warm and friendly ambiance in these coffee shops is part of the company culture’s distinction from competitors, including coffeehouses, like Tim Hortons and Costa Coffee, and food-service companies that sell coffee, like Dunkin’, McDonald’s McCaféWendy’s, Subway, and Burger King. This organizational culture supports Starbucks’ mission statement and vision statement and related goals through cultural influences for successful brand development and the global growth of the franchise and licensing network, despite challenges tied to economic fluctuations and industry-specific trends.

Starbucks’ organizational culture is a key success factor in the business, considering that the company sells not just its food and beverage products, but also the experience of buying and consuming these products. In this way, the firm uses its corporate culture as a distinction in the coffeehouse chain market. Starbucks’ organizational structure (business structure) enables the optimal application and observance of this company culture throughout the business and its subsidiaries, such as Ethos Water, despite the diverse managerial approaches and business cultures of franchisees and licensees.

Starbucks’ Company Culture Type and Traits

Starbucks’ organizational culture is a culture of belonging, inclusion, and diversity. These key characteristics combine to make a work culture unique and specific to the nature of the coffeehouse chain business. The internal cultural situation is reflected through the company’s human resource development programs and baristas’ interactions with customers. In this regard, the features and values of Starbucks’ corporate culture are:

  1. Servant leadership (“employees first”)
  2. A relationship-driven approach
  3. Collaboration and communication
  4. Openness
  5. Inclusion and diversity

Servant Leadership. Starbucks has a servant leadership approach, which characterizes the behavioral manifestation of the company’s organizational culture among leaders, including corporate leaders and team leaders. In this approach, leaders, managers, and supervisors emphasize support for subordinates to ensure that every employee grows in the business organization. This feature of the corporate culture translates to the employees-first approach, which aligns with the human resource development objectives linked to Starbucks’ corporate social responsibility (CSR), ESG, and corporate citizenship goals. The company highlights the value of caring for employees as a way of optimizing human resource morale and customer satisfaction. Former Starbucks President Howard Behar developed this feature of the firm’s work culture because he believed that workers who are cared for are the ones who care about customers.

A Relationship-driven Approach. Starbucks also has an organizational culture that supports warm and friendly relationships. For instance, at the company’s cafés, baristas exhibit warm and friendly bonds with each other. This feature of Starbucks Coffee Company’s corporate culture extends to customers, who are also treated with warmth. This work culture enhances business competitiveness and the core competencies discussed in the SWOT analysis of Starbucks. Through this emphasis on relationships in its corporate culture, the business organization develops the global coffee culture that drives consumer demand for the company’s specialty coffee products.

Collaboration and Communication. The corporate culture of Starbucks encourages collaborative efforts through effective communication. At Starbucks cafés, baristas clearly communicate with each other to fulfill orders. Also, they collaborate as teams to make the order fulfillment process efficient. Thus, the organizational culture supports efficiency in business processes and the effectiveness of Starbucks’ operations management. The corporate culture contributes to quality of service, positive customer experience, and business cost-effectiveness.

Openness. Openness is among the values included in Starbucks’ organizational culture. In the company’s early years, employees had a traditional and old-fashioned work culture of hesitation in speaking up to their superiors. To address this issue, former Starbucks President Behar introduced open forums to encourage staff members to ask questions and communicate with superiors. A company culture of openness developed as a result. Through this cultural feature, Starbucks empowers employees and facilitates innovation in product development and service provision.

Inclusion and Diversity. Starbucks has an anti-discrimination policy that shapes its work culture. This policy prohibits any form of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, cultural backgrounds, and life experiences. Through this feature of the corporate culture, Starbucks facilitates information sharing and positive rapport among employees, as well as innovation based on diverse ideas. This cultural facilitation supports worker motivation and helps minimize turnover. This aspect of the company’s organizational culture also makes customers feel welcome at Starbucks cafés. Such an extension of the work culture to include customers represents business efforts that value consumer preferences and the related sociocultural trends discussed in the PESTEL/PESTLE analysis of Starbucks.

A Note on Starbucks’ Culture

Starbucks has gone through significant changes in its organizational culture. These changes are based on issues and problems that leaders, like Howard Schultz and Howard Behar, identified in the early years of the specialty coffeehouse chain business. As a way of enhancing business performance, Starbucks instituted reforms in its corporate culture. Today, the company’s work culture is a distinct characteristic that builds competitive advantage and develops a consumer population of loyal Starbucks fans from which the business derives stable financial performance. The main corporate strategic management challenge lies in the effective implementation of this company culture in the human resources of the coffeehouses of franchisees and licensees, as these business partners have their own core values and approaches to human resource management and organizational culture development.