Book Review: Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul by Howard Schultz


Onward"It is my job to make windows where there was once walls" (M Foucault)

This book is brilliant! It is one of the best, if not the best, management/ leadership books I've read and should be required reading for every management course. A bold statement I know, but it is an excellent overview of organisational change, how an organisation can reinvent itself and the steps taken to deliver a successful change programme.

It is really the story of how Schultz re-took over his own company and steered it through the current recession as much as an autobiography of Starbucks. Schultz describes the background behind how he originally joined a small coffee shop, built up an empire and then took a backseat once he'd created the coffee giant it became in the 1990s. He describes his passion for the company and its product before going on to talk about his growing frustration at the way the organisation appeared to be losing touch with its core values and the increasing sense of disenfranchisement felt by its employees in the way it was responding (or not) to the social and economic environment.

He then, in effect, provides a manifesto for organisational guerrilla warfare and explains how he began taking back his company. He discusses how he planned and gathered support for his comeback, organised and rallied his troops and the strategy he used. As a strategic change manual, Schultz gives us an insight into how massive organisation change can be effective, the need for a focused, clear and comprehensive "change plan", the steps needed to implement the plan and the drive and commitment necessary to deliver. He shows the power of communication, engagement and the impact (and courage) of the "big, bold statement".  For example he publically closed every Starbucks coffee shop down for a "re-training" session as a message that he was "going back to the basics". Don't get me wrong this is not an "apple-pie and motherhood" vanity book; Schultz does talk about where and how he got things wrong and how he had the courage to admit it and change tack.

Having regained control Schultz goes on to explain his tactics for turning the organisation round, how he empowered various members and actions within the organisation behind a shared vision and common goals.

He describes how he used the launch of new products to get the company behind him and the power of simple, but heartfelt, communication and structure.

At the top level it is an enjoyable read. However, hidden within is one of the finest books on leadership in action and a manifesto of how to implement major organisational change, told from the heart.

Book review by John Fisher