Starbucks and DH Join Forces: How Internal Culture Supports the External Brand

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Danny Brooks, VP of Culture at Starbucks and DH CEO Jenn Lim

We enjoyed talking to Starbucks' executive culture team to hear why they chose to work with Delivering Happiness and what they learned. Danny Brooks, VP of Culture, and Annie Richmond, Director of Innovation, wanted to design a culture that would support their aspirations and higher purpose as an industry leader. They worked very closely with DH CEO Jenn Lim.


"DH is highly personal. They approach problems like a friend of yours would. Jenn's willingness to make things uncomfortable is not common from consultants. Consultants are usually looking to not get fired, and at best, get a change order and extend a project. Jenn is looking to provoke. There is a level of challenge inside of it that other consultants would shy away from." - Danny Brooks, VP of Culture


Since its inception in 1971, Starbucks has been a purpose-led company. They have always challenged the status quo.


Danny says their biggest takeaway from Jenn was that a brand consists of two sides of a coin. There is the external expression of that brand, and then there's the internal culture that supports that expression.


Annie Richmond Director of Innovation says, "Working with DH has really impacted our team and the way we work together, and the way we see ourselves as individual components but of a larger vision. Our team has really oriented around purpose and purposeful work. We make sure that everything we do, we find purpose in it, and that we are pushing the organization forward to be a leader in the industry."


Starbucks Headquarters, Seattle, DeliveringHappiness
"What you do is provocative and audacious, and it's blended with love and patience and I think that's really unique."  Danny Brooks, VP of Culture



Danny Brooks, Annie Richmond, Jenn Lim, Starbucks, Delivering Happiness

Watch the full interview:


Read the full transcript: 

Karissa: Thank you so much for joining. We have Danny Brooks, who is VP of innovation, culture, and methodologies. 

Danny: I spend most of my time thinking about articulating who we are as a company, what we value as a company, who we serve, whether that's customers or partners or shareholders or farmers, what those people need. So, through the lens of people and why they need it. That's really the scope of my role, and then trying to connect those five questions together and everything that we do. 


Karissa: Awesome. And then Annie Richmond, director of innovation and design strategy, can you tell us a little bit about what you do as well beyond that.

Annie: Sure. So I'm just laughing because I think titles just for our team don't always really make sense since we're like always a jack of all trades and always subject matter experts, which is just a really fun balance. I, what I do, and I think why Danny and I are just like so perfect in our working styles are, Danny kind of paints the vision and the big picture and uncovers the needs. And he has a lot of expertise in human-centered design and pulls together kinds of research stream streams that help us identify needs. And then I feel like my work almost kicks off after I get all of that rich information to then go and make sure that it is operationalized in the company. Built through strategic processes and majorly, ensure that it's invested in and resourced. So that vision can come to life. We paint the whole picture together. Yeah, design and strategy, in the same team. 


Karissa: What was the number one challenge you were struggling with that made you want to work with Delivering Happiness?

Danny: I would say, for us, we thought, we think we initially before we met Jenn, thought about the brand as, an external expression of our mission and values, which are really clearly articulated at Starbucks. And what Jenn answered for us was how might we design an organization to support our aspiration for how we express ourselves. And so, before I met Jenn Lim before I worked with Delivering Happiness, the brand was far more externally centered. And Jenn really made me understand that a brand is two sides as two sides of the coin. Yeah, external expression, the internal culture that supports that expression. And so that's, I don't know that we called her for that. I know that we knew that we needed help thinking about helping to design a culture that would support our aspirations. And I think we called for that. 


Karissa: Yeah, it makes sense

Annie: To our team is naturally interested in connecting our work to a higher purpose. We're all naturally motivated by something that's bigger than ourselves or the decks that we make every day for meters. And we're really trying to influence the organization to see themselves in the organization as a change-maker in industry or in society as well. So, I think just naturally, we have a ton of overlap with Jenn and DH's philosophy, right? So, we're like we should work together. There's something here that seems interesting, but I think, like Danny said, what we've learned from Jenn is so much more scientific and technical, even more than the philosophy that we share. So, you had all these discoveries as you were going. Yeah, given us so much language, in general, to use, like how we understand brand and brand strategy and how we understand the culture and showing up purposefully in our work. That's yeah, we didn't even know we were asking for that, right? 


Karissa: Yeah. You don't know what you don't know. What hesitations did you have in working with us, If any? And why did you choose us in the end? 

Danny: My hesitations were that I associate in general the words, purpose, and culture with trust falls and fluff. I, we chose Jenn and DH in the end because there's a system, a systematic approach to it. And Annie and I, one thing that we have in common is systems. And measurement and the idea of understanding progress on a quantitative level. And, I think that DH approaches something that is very traditionally motivational speakers and team-building ropes exercises, and really turns it into a scalable systematized way to think about transforming culture, right?


Karissa: So it's not this abstract thing anymore. Now there's a system. 

Danny: No, I don't react well to the other one. 

Karissa: Did you have anything to add? 

Annie: No, I agree. I think Jenn's worked with a lot of different teams in the company too. And I think just having a common approach, and a similar framework that she's using with all of the teams is helping them to speak. A common language and understand that system referring to, so right, it's so broadly applicable. 


Karissa: Awesome. Okay. What results did you see after working with Delivering Happiness? Please share any specific results you've seen in the organization that demonstrates how the work we've done together is alive and thriving so whether it's a story or a stat. 

Danny: Let's invert. Annie, you answer first. 

Annie: We've been thinking a lot about achievements and how our work is impacting downstream and rippling across the enterprise. So, we've been thinking about this a lot, and I think, most tangibly like the, there's an org design team, and we were literally, I was just on a call with them the other day. And you were using our slides. And Jenn helped me with these slides in this storyline, and we were starting with like there, the first slide is literally "start with the why" that's like a Jenn's here in this moment. So, I think like really translate some of the organizational design and philosophy has come through. But I think it's the working with the DH that has really impacted our team and the way we work together and the way that we see ourselves as like individual components but have a larger vision. And I think our team has really oriented around purpose and purposeful work and making sure that everything we do, we all individually find purpose in it. And then we're pushing the organization forward to be a leader and a purposeful leader in the industry. Because I see it every single day and just how we speak to each other and what we talk about and what we prioritize. That's amazing. 


Danny: Yeah, I think the only thing I would add to that is, we, our team because we work differently than the culture, the established culture at Starbucks, the tools that we've got from DH, have given us like Annie said the ability to build that within our own team and model it. And so I think a lot of teams aspire to work differently, aspire to challenge the status quo. And I think our team represents that in some respect. I think there's a lot of teams like that, too; I think we're one of them. And, I think DH has set us up to do it again in a way that we could say here is specifically how we do that rather than, rather than, feeling our way, that's number one, number two, I think our team is really clear on what we value.

And so, for example, we've done, we did a number of exercises with DH in the beginning. We know how important to us, for instance, rigor is, and the ability to articulate that to other people. Both in show and tell have had a real impact on the way that we communicate with people, their expectations of our communications, and then the way they communicate back to the organization.

So, just the ability to do a, like a happiness heartbeat exercise and know that rigor is something that we value has made it much more focused on how we share our work. And so I think that's, a really tangible way to think about how DH has helped us. 


Karissa: Awesome. I love that. Do you have any specific stats that you could share? I know this is a little bit trickier because sometimes you have to tie it to sales or whatever that looks like. Is there any kind of numbers? 


Danny: I think we do. For instance, we have the highest partner engagement we've had in the history of the company internally for non-retail partners. My reluctance is I believe that has been a real collaborative effort from many different organizations who have used many different inputs for us; DH supported our small impact on that number. But, I wouldn't want to sell short the fact that many organizations have addressed that same problem with different techniques and also found success. We're so big that it's uncomfortable for me to take credit for any statistic. The statistic starts measuring thousands of people. And so it's the work of a lot of different teams. So, I just want to be respectful of that. 

Karissa: That makes perfect sense. Okay. If you could summarize the time you've partnered with Delivering Happiness, what were the top two to three ways that DH has impacted your team and Starbucks as a whole, Richmond?


Annie: I'm just thinking about this morning. So, we just literally our team got off of a DH purpose workshop at 11. Yeah. Pretty exciting. So, a couple of things that came out of that, for our smaller team, were one just having some awareness and understanding of what each individual's kind of life purpose is starting to help each other articulate that. And then how that connects to each other on the team and then how that connects to our brand and our mission. So, we got like all the way through somehow in two hours, some individual reflection all the way to, like my individual purpose, it really centers around connection. And our brand promise is about uplifting the everyday of other people. So, just trying to make linkages between how I wake up, how I show up at work, how my team supports me, how I support my team, and then how collectively we try to achieve that brand promise is like the through-line is really clear. Yes. I really like just having that step by step. And the whole team is just outrageously energized today. We had a couple of criers. We had some people like getting, all feeling in the moment. And they were like, this is not a typical workday, at Starbucks. And especially for people who haven't been on our team were like a feeler, lovey team, anyway, some people are coming from other organizations that have never done anything remotely like this.


Karissa: So, it's pretty cool for them. I saw some photos, and it just looks like it was just such an experience for everyone.

Annie: Yeah, it was great. 

Danny: And I would say Starbucks as a whole, my answer would be rather than just assuming the words on the wall are the words that we live by just, respectfully questioning them. Are those really our values? Do we live by them? Did we miss something? I think that Starbucks, like a lot of great companies, has a cultish is the wrong word, but there's definitely, an incredible pride in being a partner at Starbucks. And one of the shadow sides is not questioning the structure that you work in. And I think that DH has helped us find some safety and respectfully questioning that. And I don't think that we've, I think we're at the beginning of that road. I don't think that we've gone down that road yet, but I think that the door got opened to wonder if we're being clear if we're being honest, if we've covered all of our bases when we think about what it is that we value and how we talk about it, and I think just opening the door to the conversation and not with the tone of indictment, but with the tone of curiosity and desire to grow and evolve. I think it is actually even bigger than getting down all the way down the road. So, I think that's where DH has impacted us. 

Karissa: That's awesome. So important. Okay. Let's see. In your mind, what differentiates Delivering Happiness's services from other consultants and external companies you've worked within the past?


Danny: I feel like we're definitely on the same wavelength. Yeah. It's really hard to tell what each other, I think DH is highly personal. DH does not approach problems, they approach problems like a friend of yours would. There is a lack of fear. We've just, obviously, this we've predominantly worked with Jenn and, Jenn's willingness to make things uncomfortable is not common from consultants. Consultants are usually looking not to get fired and, at best, to get a change order, an extended project. I think Jenn is, looking to provoke, and I would imagine that others, that the rest of DH feels that way as well. And it doesn't always work. She's aware of it. We're aware of it. DH is aware of it, but then there's a level of challenge inside of it that I think most other consultants would shy away from because I don't think it would be thought of as best practices for managing executives. And I don't think DH gives a shit about that. And I think it's a strength. It takes a certain kind of person. Don't you think? Certain kinds of groups. There's a boldness to it that, even if you get halfway after that, a DH consultant has blown the doors open. Even if you get halfway to honesty, vulnerability, and transparency, you're further than you've ever been. And so I think that Jenn, particularly our experience with Jenn, has been upright. Make Annie cry or make daddy mad, or I don't know, but there's no fear around, raw emotion. And I don't, I, I'm from a consultancy background. That is the goal, that's the point. I actually think DH's goal is to provoke it.


Annie: That is a great way to put it. My word was going to be accountability. So, I think we're circling around the same thing. But to your point, Danny, earlier about like the gap between stated and lived values, and then calling you on your bullshit and, really putting a mirror up to your face, I think is, yeah, it's just something you don't really, it's not common in the workplace. And I think there's usually this boundary of that stuff, we leave at home, or we don't talk about outside of our inside of work. And blending the lines between who you are inside of work and who you are outside of work, and then challenging you to show up that way. Sure. Yeah. Then she doesn't mess around. She's probably made me cry four or five, six. I felt many times and how it runs Zoom calls. So, then I'm like by myself in this room over here, and it's been like damaged, there's all kinds of crazy techniques like starvation. Yeah. That was my first thought was that was one of the differences you deprive, you get someone in a room for a long time, and you deprive them of food in order to get them to tell you the truth.


Karissa: Yeah, it's the human aspect of it, 

Danny: It's really, yeah. She's a culture keeper for you, and that's our experience. She's been our consultant. Raw is definitely one of the top five words that I would bring about Jenn Lim and DH. Yeah. Raw. Yeah. 


Karissa: Perfect. Awesome. I love that answer. So, how has Delivering Happiness played a role in how Starbucks has adapted post-COVID if any?

Danny: I think it's been really clear how we tie our purpose to our actions during COVID. We're not in post-COVID, so I can't tell you that, but, in COVID, I hear comments like it's never been so easy to make hard decisions. And I think largely that is because of how easy it is to connect our purpose to our actions right now.

It's, in crisis that's when you see it, are you, what are you, what are we gonna cling too? Which boat are we going to cling to the money boat? Are we going to cling to the people boat? Are we going to cling to the purpose boat? And this has been a purpose exercise for us. And, that has impacted positively our people and our business. So, money and people boats have been kept afloat by leaning into the purpose piece. So, that's what I see during COVID. And again, I think that it's unique to this company, and I think DH helps just to point that out. So, one of the things I like about DH is it doesn't, I don't feel like DH is trying to take credit for building something as much as it is for uncovering something that's there.

And I really appreciate that because it's humble. We're talking about a 50-year-old purpose-led company. That's always been purpose-led before we worked there. And before DH consulted there, what DH has helped is to say, remember, this is what you value. This is what's important to you.


Annie: And so it's not been about building something new and taking credit for it. It's been about reminding us that this is when we're at our best. I think as a team, and then I think that ripples out like someone was saying earlier, just the, our smaller team is looked at as, models for kind of new ways of working for lack of a better term. But the way that we have worked throughout this time of crisis is really just getting super clear on our priorities and our values and doubling down on those. And I, that kind of ripple effect, I think a lot of teams are taking a step back and saying, yeah, we have 500 ideas we could go after, we could resource in the hopper, but what's really important. And the organization is making really difficult choices around what to invest in and what to prioritize, and they're choosing people. And it, like Danny said, like that's always been part of our mission and our values, but when put to the test, we're really actually living them instead of just stating or having them on the wall.


Karissa: Yeah. That's major. Awesome. So, one more bonus question, and then I'll have you guys add whatever else you think we should know about you or about the team. What do you see happening in 2021? Where do you see the team growing and adapting? Anything that you foresee now deliberately by design? 

Danny: No. We are a team that thrives in ambiguity and uncertainty. It's a really nice tension between how systematized and organized and punctual and obsessive Annie and I are, by design, creating space for uncertainty and ambiguity. And one of the places that we do that is deliberately not knowing where we're going and being able to be ready to react to anything. And so that's been successful for us over the last few years. We bat, we blend, being planful, and leaning into it is a strength. Yeah. What about you, Annie? 

Annie: Yeah, I was going to have a similar, just kind of reaction is I don't think we're, it's more about an embodiment of the work or like an approach or a style versus the tangible, physical work that we do together that I think DH has had such a hand in, designing with us in our smaller team. And then again, like rippling out to the organization, but I think, yeah, I think it's just it's more like part of who we are and how we approach problems and how we think about things and how we coach others and new people to our team that is just, you can't really take that away. It's not project-specific, and it's not something that could even be captured necessarily. It's just like, how we work now, right? Like we can't unlearn the brand and culture are two sides of the same coin, and we can't unlearn that like purpose can show up in your daily work. It's just embodied that.


Karissa: Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much. Was there anything else you want to add?

Danny: I had something, I think what I have to add is what DH does, it challenges the core of any organization. And when Annie and I have learned over the last two and a half years is how fraught with objection, defensiveness obstacles inside of that. And, one of the things I really appreciate about DH and Jenn, in particular, is the patients and lack of judgment around that. The understanding that saying, are you sure this is who you are? And this is who you want to be, is going to be met with force often. It's a lot of people hear those questions, like who do you think you are? And, Jenn is not afraid to live through that initial reaction in order to get to the next part of the conversation. I think what you do is provocative and audacious. And I think that it's blended with, really love, I that's, what I feel particularly love and patients. And I think that's really unique.

Annie: Yeah, beautifully said. I would double down on the love piece. Like Jenn, I don't know how long we've known Jenn. Yeah. But yeah, like just genuine care. And I'm sure you're all, it seems like you really, truly care about your clients in their individual success and then their professional success, but right. That comes through it's extremely authentic and noticeable. And really special. 


Karissa: Awesome. Thank you both so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

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About the Author

Karissa Barcelo

Karissa was born in New York City, raised in Miami Beach, and she currently resides in Las Vegas. For 10+ years she worked as a script supervisor, producer, and copywriter for various commercials, TV shows, films, and more. She helped produce buzz-worthy content for the entertainment news show Dish Nation and interviewed celebrities at major award shows such as the Oscars and the MTV Video Music Awards. She also managed marketing campaigns for high-end luxury brands. Producing compelling content with a killer marketing strategy behind it is her passion.

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