Karen has over 30 years’ experience leading, training, and coaching high-performance teams of staff and executives in rapid-growth environments. Most recently, as regional director of licensed operations at Starbucks Coffee Company, she built a consistent track record of growing the number of retail stores along with the continuous improvement capabilities of people.
As Team Leader, Karen oversees Operations and Personnel at LEI.
At Starbucks, Karen made recommendations on the creation of an operating system model line, then led the first application in a working store and provided feedback necessary for a broad, global implementation. She also led a team of coaches responsible for teaching problem solving and mentoring skills to regional executives, directors, and district managers responsible for implementing the lean operating system. Karen led the growth of Starbucks’ New England market, adding 20 new stores annually for five years while hitting profit and return-on-investment goals.
Previously, she held management and executive posts in operations, marketing, and training at large restaurant chains, a retail consulting company, and a technology startup preparing for an initial public offering.
Do you find yourself surrounded by uneven workflows? Of course you do, it is natural. Almost everything has ebbs and flows. And when it comes to customer demand, it is impossible to completely control the real rate of demand.
The story shows how learning and experimenting locally can be successful and enables self-organizing teams to trigger fast solutions (or “plays” as they are called in the book) to meet the ebbs and flows of demand.
The peaks and valleys of demand from customers do not coincide with even the most flexible workforce. This is especially true in situations where employees are treated inhumanely and simply as puzzle pieces to be added in and taken way. Happily, this was not the case in Karen’s Starbucks stores. Steady Work's plays go far beyond just scheduling creatively and actually can adjust the work based on demand.
Karen explains how the plays allowed the team to not just adjust to the daily and weekly demand shifts, but also to dramatic shifts due to totally unknowable external events that both drove demand over the top and also deeply shook the very workforce that needed to provide immediate services to the customers. These plays were based on improvement work that was done at the store level to deeply understand how each of the work elements (expresso machine, ovens, cold drinks, etc.) would be performed and stabilized. Workers could then build their capability to perform those components as a team.
Steady Work is a perfect title. It does not imply steady demand. It suggests meeting the demand without stress, anguish or panic. The workers in each individual store (though many work in multiple stores) develop the plays built on shared values and principles and also launch the plays as needed due to shifts inside the stores.
The book has beneficial insights not only for retails stores—though there are plenty of those— but really for all of us workers in all parts of our companies. We can learn about creating plays at the local level. We can learn about managing in a new way. We can learn about respecting and engaging all workers.
An associate of mine once said, “I wish our team could flow to the work rather than routing work to individual specialists. Then they could self-organize around the actual work that is needed each day.” This is the book that shows it is possible to do just that, and I think along with the many insights on how to improve work, it will inspire you as well.
Chairman, Lean Enterprise Institute
I don’t often suggest reading an entire book to colleagues and learning partners. Because most with whom I work are very busy, with little spare time for optional reading, I more typically recommend articles or postings, or perhaps a book chapter. This book warrants an exception. Steady Work by Karen Gaudet is by far one of the finest Lean thinking books I’ve ever read.
Storytelling is known to be a strong and engaging method for teaching and learning. Many can more easily make their way through a good story than through a technical presentation or text book.
Steady Work is a short (97 pages), very easy to read, compelling, powerful, first person story about how Karen and her Starbucks leadership partners began practicing with intention to create learning conditions for developing thinking problem solvers. Karen’s story emphasizes the importance of standardized work, how standard work is not at all the same as best practices, and how over time, that standard work helped employees (who in Starbucks are called partners) deliver better products and services for their customers, and increasingly experience better days at work for themselves.
Further, Karen’s story shows how extremely valuable the practice of standard work is when the unexpected arises. In this case, the unexpected was the need for Karen’s team to immediately and capably respond to changes in their workplace to support community needs on December 14, 2012 following the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT.
If you have it in your budget to do so, I encourage you to purchase this book for all leaders at every level as well as coaches. It strikes me that formally following up somehow would be of value and importance. Perhaps you could have a discussion in a monthly staff meeting, or convene brown bag lunches? Reflective questions might include: How might this story connect with any of your more recent unexpected issues? With the current COVID-19 crisis? For what is yet to come?
Some may wonder what a former Starbucks leader’s story has to do with their organization. What I can say is it’s a powerful learning story filled with important teachings for all regardless of the industry in which any of us works.