Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Failing at Success

Even before the economic bubble burst in the fall of 2008, signs of trouble had already appeared on Starbucks' horizon.

For decades Starbucks' shareholders and partners had prospered, but by 2007 Starbucks had begun to fail itself. Obsessed with growth in the US and around the world, the company took its eye off operations and became distracted from the core of their business.

As CEO Howard Schultz recounts, "No single bad decision or tactic or person was to blame. The damage was slow and quiet, incremental, like a singe loose thread that unravels a sweater inch by inch. Decision by decision, store by store, customer by customer, Starbucks was loosing some of the signature traits it had been founded on."

The company's internal problems were compounded by external circumstances as the world went through unprecedented change on several fronts:
  • The economy was hurtling toward a financial crisis that would destroy trillions of dollars in personal wealth; spur a credit crunch; cause a housing bust, and trigger high unemployment
  • Consumer behavior was shifting; people were not only becoming more cost-conscious, but also more environmentally aware, health-minded, and ethically driven
  • The digital revolution was ushering in a new age of information and content delivery; the news cycle was 24/7 and instantaneous - both good news and bad
Taken together, these challenges became a "perfect storm" that almost capsized the Starbucks' ship.

For Howard Schultz - who since acquiring the original Starbucks in 1982 and setting in motion the people, processes, and places that would forever revolutionize how we experienced community - it was time to step back into the leadership and responsibility of the CEO.

Let's hit the pause button: What are the implications for what happened to Starbucks for ChurchWorld?

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to insert ChurchWorld in most of the above comments and find a disturbing reality for leaders like you.

Could my church or organization be facing the same sort of crisis - even in the middle of apparent success?

To help understand this a little better, I want to run some parallel thoughts with Jim Collins' great book of a couple of years ago, "How the Mighty Fall." Based on years of research and validation, he posed an interesting observation:

I've come to see institutional decline like a staged disease: harder to detect but easier to cure in the early stages, easier to detect but harder to cure in the later stages. An institution can look strong on the outside but already be sick on the inside, dangerously on the cusp of a precipitous fall.

For a summary of Collins' "Five Stages of Decline", see this post for an introduction to Stage 1: Hubris Born of Success.

Now for the critical question for you to ponder:

Do you see your church in this place?

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