Starbucks – Time to do the hard thing

There was an outcry over the recent actions of Starbucks team members. In one instance the barista called the police on two men who were waiting for a friend and in the other case the barista refused to issue the bathroom key to a man. In both instances, the men were identified as black.
Starbucks immediately responded. The leadership apologised and shortly thereafter team members from 8,000 stores attended racial bias training.

From these events I conclude Starbucks leadership empowers frontline staff. They trust the staff to make decisions and to act on decisions made, without seeking permission. As a result, the baristas made decisions about who were allowed access and who were not. Why? Because that is the way that Starbucks does things. It is its culture.

By extension, I conclude that if two separate employees can authoritatively discriminate against two different black males, with no fear of recourse, in two distinct circumstances, then at Starbucks, this is the way that black males are treated. It is its culture.

Company culture is reflected in what is done and deemed acceptable at the very lowest levels of an organisation. Culture is demonstrated by the actions of the persons whom are away from the mikes, away from the glitz and glamour and who will never grace the cover of the Forbes and Fortune 500. These are the people who tell the world exactly what your company stands for and its core values.

A well written apology in sincere tones and  racial bias training sessions are great first steps for the leaders to say to staff that this is not whom we are. Yet we know that words have no meaning without context, and that if leaders do not reinforce the training then it goes to naught.

Starbucks’ leaders have done the right thing, now Starbucks’ leaders need to do the hard thing. Leaders at all levels of the organisation need to self reflect, to be honest in admitting the current culture and to determine how the company should move forward. Whatever the decision, leaders need to ensure that the operations are realigned to actively support what is espoused.

I offer Starbucks leaders the following questions to begin the process:

  • Where are black males In Starbucks?
  • How do we treat with black males in the Starbucks?
  • What are the things that are said about black males in Starbucks?
  • What are the things that are not said about black males in Starbucks?
  • What sort of jokes are made about black males ?
  • What is the our policy and procedure for reporting discrimination?
  • What does the data from these policies indicate to us?
  • Are we satisfied that the policies work or are easy to use or are being used?
  • How do we discourage micro-aggression?
  • How do we educate non- POC (people of color) about micro-aggression?
  • What are the black voices within Starbucks saying on this matter?
  • What conversations do we have on race?

For the rest of us leaders, the the lesson is clear – Culture is what our staff does. What  our staff does tells the world what our culture is..

What is your company’s culture? What does your staff do that isn’t aligned to your culture? What are you going to do about it?
If you want to change your company culture and ensure that staff behaviours are aligned to your core values then drop me a line. I can help.

(photo credits :Trinichow)


Getting that Tick in the Box

I’ve been watching the events over the last week, the refusal of apologies, the claims of being right and the analyses and responses to it all and I asked myself, “What does it mean to be right?”

When I was a kid,, it was really important for me to tick the box and get it right. I genuflected to my elders and did and said the right things. I gloated as other kids got in trouble, or didn’t have the right answer or didn’t do the right thing. I was smug in my self righteousness because I lived for adult adulation.

As I grew older, I lost interest in pats and ticks. My need to explore, to make my own rules and to do my own thing were larger than the need to be right. My relationships changed as I listened less to elders, as I opened my mouth to question, challenge or answer back, and as I sought the truth behind the inconsistencies that I saw and experienced.

Being right was no longer part of the equation, in fact, it kept me back.

The challenges of adulthood and the choices that I made meant that I lived in a parallel universe to my peers. As they ticked their boxes and settled down, acquired properties, tightened their social circles and cemented their careers and social status, I took a hiatus and explored the type of life that I wanted to lead.
I was often told that I was wrong to leave my accounting career and cautioned to get back on the right track. I was admonished to do the right thing and honour myself and my intelligence by regaining my ambition of being a highly paid Executive.

I never thought that I was wrong. I understood that my path could only be wrong if I determined that another was right, I knew that my path could only be right if I considered another wrong.  I learned to exist in the neutrality of being neither.

Being right does not exist by itself, it exists because there is something else which we deem wrong. There is only a right answer because there is a wrong one, there is a right way to live because we consider some other way wrong. We can only believe that we are right because we believe that another is wrong.

As I deviated from the one right way, I discovered multiple paths, each with consequences and so I confirmed that I could not get it wrong.
I am aware that this is a personal belief, because as the world turns, people are denied human rights, cultures are deemed savage, countries are lambasted and sometimes blasted because their beliefs, their actions and what they stand for are deemed wrong – Why? Because another way is right.

This rightness also lives in our organisations. We see it in leadership that tells people what to do and how to do it, and in leaders who believe, “It’s my way or the highway.” We see it when there is conflict and both sides are not heard, when change is resisted because,“This is the way that we do things here.” It is reflected in company policy and and procedures that reflect some ancient or one off circumstance that is no longer valid.

We may not be able to change the world; but we can change the world that we live in, and our organisations are a great place to start.

Next time you are right and you think that another is wrong ask yourself, “What makes me right and the other wrong? What am I willing to give up to be right?”

If you need help exploring these questions as a leader or with your team, then drop me a line. I can help your team explore the multiple paths, where no one gets it wrong.

Words have Meaning

I love words. I doodle with them. I take them apart – shredding bigger words into smaller pieces. I appreciate the art of double entendre and I get a kick out of homophones. Words are a load of fun.
Last week I held my breath as two creative minds dabbled in word play over my blog post. I thoroughly  enjoyed their arguments and marveled at their wit.
It’s not with any stretch of the imagination that this week I am thinking about words and how we make meaning of them.

We communicate with words in organizations. They share our Vision and Mission. We hang them as core values on our office walls and they become performance yardsticks ( or big sticks) as we evaluate behaviors.

Organizations spend a lot of time and money crafting these words, yet, when I work with leaders and teams and ask, “What do these words  mean?” The responses are never loud, the answers are never certain.

The meaning of words is constructed daily, deconstructed and reconstructed to bring new meaning and nuance. Words are also contextual, they shift shape and take their forms from us.  Think about it – in the 1960’s the word gay expanded its meaning to include sexual orientation and bling was entered into the Oxford dictionary in 2002.

While dictionaries provide definitions they often do not indicate how words play out in our everyday life. It is you, it is I, it is we, who through our interactions, our experiences and the tapestry of our lives who give words life.

When I think of the word share, I understand how organizations get words wrong. Share is defined as inter alia “have a portion of (something) with another or others” Oxford Dictionary.

Families A and B both agree with this definition and have decided that they want their families to share. They believe that it is a value that will lead to a Happy Household and make the Living Easy.
As a member of Family A if I want to borrow my sister’s dress, then I can use it. If I see a piece of chocolate, and I want it, then I can have it.
As a member of Family B If I want to borrow my sister’s dress, then I ask her permission. She can grant or deny permission, and  I will abide. If I see a piece of chocolate and I want it, then I find the owner, and ask  permission. The owner can grant or deny permission, and I will abide.
Both families have successfully instilled the virtue of sharing within their households and both families are happy with the outcome – Happy Household and Easy Living.
Both families share and each shares differently.
In Family A sharing is based on the need of the commons. Once the resource exists within the family you are free to share in it.
In family B, sharing is permission based. If you are not the owner of the resource  then you need to be granted permission to share in it.
Neither family is right or wrong, each has constructed a contextual meaning of sharing, that serves the family well.

It’s not a problem for the rest of us either, until the day that members from  both families work in an organization that espouses Sharing as a core value.

Then what?

I love words. I know their power. I know how important it is to establish one shared meaning of the words that we use in our organizations.

What do the words in your organization mean? Are you certain that the meaning is shared by each and every one?

If your organization needs help defining its core values, and establishing shared meaning among team members, then  contact me. I know words and I can help.

Sorry Folks, I can’t multi-task

This is my first blog for the year.

For the first three months of the year I was working on a research project that involved reading, writing and thinking. As a result, I did not have the energy nor focus to think about and write blogs.
I know that some of you are excellent at multi tasking, but alas I am not so skilled. Instead I do one thing at a time, giving each my all and my focus, in each and every  moment. The bigger the thing, the higher its priority, the less I deviate. I spend all my time and energy completing the one thing that I want to do.

So now that I’m completed I’m announcing my return.

During the next 9 months, I will share my experiences of my first year of working on my own or self employment and I will share some of the leadership research that I have conducted.
I will spend most of 2018 working on my third book which will take me in a completely new direction. I expect to share some of that – writing process and outcomes – with you as well.

Welcome me back!

Registration form for 2018 Leadership Seminar

Registration form for Lead Your Team To Win – The Power of Collaborative Leadership: March 15, 2018. Kapok Hotel Trinidad

Name and Role _________________________________________________________________________


Name and Role of Registrants______________________________________________________________


My company’s leadership challenge is _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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3) ____________________________________________________________________________________

Other areas of leadership that I am interested in


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  • I am interested in Group Rate at TT$675 per person for (5 or more)_____ persons. No deadline date.
  • I am interested in Early Registration at TT$675 before January 31 2018 for ______ persons.
  • I am interested in Registering at TT$750 per person for _______ persons

Copies of Lead Your Team To Win will be on sale at a seminar price of TT$120 per copy.
I/We are interested in reserving _____ copies of Lead to Your Team To Win at a total seminar price of $______.

I am paying by Cheque/ Cash/ Paypal . Total Payment ( Seminar and Books) ____________

Cancellation clause : Unexpected stuff happens. If the registrant cannot attend, then, we will be happy to accommodate a named alternate representative. If cancellation is made 7 days prior to event, we offer a full refund.

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Return registration form to
Invoices will be forwarded on receipt of registration form. Send new vendor registration forms if applicable with registration.
For further information or clarification call / Whats app/ Maxine Attong at 1 868.724.7642 or email.
We look forward to engaging with you March 15th at KAPOK Hotel. Seminar ends at noon.

A Review of Lead Your Team To Win

A review by Catherine Da Silva of Silva Publications Creating Safe Spaces .A brief review of Lead Your Team to Win .By Maxine Attong Published by River Grove Books .

In her new book Lead Your Team To Win , local author/ Management Consultant Maxine Attong sites the advantages of managing strategically by a certain keen consciousness for the holistic well being of the employee .This takes into account creating the necessary outlets and inlets for team expression, exchange ,innovation and sharing in a positive -safe space, As home is where the heart too the office is where we strive to achieve our professional and life goals .

The Safe Space is the ” happy place” within the organisation where team members should not be ostracised or criticised for venting , self expression, formulating solutions and inventing new ways to enhance processes and projects. Quite apart from the traditional top down ,linear type of management techniques ,safe spaces advocates for collaborative team efforts ,facilitated with inclusiveness and sensitivity for all involved ,towards achieving “optimal performance ” says Attong.

The 226 page book is a variable manual for those wishing to look at leadership from a different point of view. Chapters like The Concept of Caring,Trust, Decision Making ,serve to navigate the reader cleverly and with great honesty.Attong incorporates case studies , personal experiences and check lists for ease of reference and recall. It’s relativity to real life is formidable and down to earth and would be as instructive to anyone interested in establishing and maintaining conscious and creative spaces for success. “When I was solely focused on the results ,by any means necessary,the space could not be safe. ” This is one of my favourite quotes from the book,for we must go gently to and move fluidly in the spaces which are dear to us , and which dare us to think and create.

Lead Your Team To Win, available on Amazon is the second in her continued works to provide a unique approach to managing teams. Change or Die her first book occupied Amazon’s best seller list for six weeks in its category, and is readily utilised as a teaching and reference tool for Attong’s Team workshops and guest lectures at key regional and international events .

3 facts about Difficult Conversations

As leaders we often need to have difficult conversations with our staff and it’s never an easy task. Sometimes these conversations happen at planned times – the disciplinary meeting, the performance review; sometimes they evolve – a simple matter erupts and we’re in the middle of a difficult conversation.
These conversations are not unique to the organisation, they occur in our personal lives as well – with our spouses or our kids or the contractor who has not yet competed the job.
The content of the conversation rarely makes the conversation difficult. The three factors that make the conversation difficult are:

  1. Our role in the conversation – Usually it is our beliefs about the topic, our own feelings, our history and our emotional investment that makes the conversation difficult. We  bring ourselves to any conversation, which means there is a possibility for us to be triggered by what the other person may do or say at any time during the conversation. The same can be said for the other person.
  2. The relationship we have with the other person – We tend to resist and dismiss ideas, or opportunities from people we have labelled as irritating, or lazy, or rebellious, or bad worker. Whenever these people approach us we brace ourselves for confrontation.
  3. Our perception of the outcome  – When we believe that the outcome of the conversation can change our relationships or personal status the more difficult the conversation becomes. The more we believe that we or the other person may lose, whether real or perceived,  the more we will deem the conversation as difficult.

Based on this I define a difficult conversation as : one in which you feel vulnerable, where the outcome is unsure and you believe that the risk of the conversation being terminated is high.

What’s your definition of a difficult conversation?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.


Leadership in a VUCA World

This article was published in pwc’s 2018 Budget Review on October 3, 2017

System theorists have long proven that external societal impacts affect an organisational system. When we map the correlation between societal stress levels caused by an increasing crime rate, and infrastructural deficiencies, to reduced productivity levels; we can attest that our organisations are a microcosm of the larger society. What if we can reverse this? What if our leadership can deliberately impact on the larger Trinidad and Tobago society?
We live in the VUCA ( volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, in which the butterfly effect is our new reality. Change on the world stage is felt faster and in larger proportions, leaving us with little time to react. The drastic reduction in oil and gas prices and the trickle down effects have affected all that we considered normal – access to foreign exchange, spending patterns, job stability and economic recovery. When we consider the sobering effects of climate change that have left our Caribbean neighbours devastated and the viability of social media as a platform for change, we realise that we need to review our leadership priorities.
In 2013/4 when tax revenues were at $57.2B, we could easily isolate ourselves from world trends but in 2017 when tax revenues are estimated at $38.7B ( a 31% reduction) we are forced to pay attention. Our economy has flatlined and the government’s capacity for projects has diminished. What is the role of each of us in this new scenario?
If we accept HInd’s* argument that, “on the political and governance front, we are seeing the near collapse of almost every institution of governance and service delivery by the State” then, we also accept that leadership needs to emanate from the other enterprises that constitute the business community in Trinidad and Tobago.
An unemployment rate of 4.4% (2016 Central Statistical Office) means that most of our citizens are employed in establishments where we interact and interrelate with internal and external stakeholders. We belong simultaneously to families and communities, to work teams, and to management and leadership teams within various industries that are nested in the wider Trinidad and Tobago. We are part of multiple systems, that create harmony or tensions within the workplace.

Beisser in his 1970 essay, Paradoxical Theory of Change reminds us that, “change does not take place through a coercive attempt by the individual or by another person to change him, but it does take place if one takes the time and effort to be what he is …” No longer can we fold our arms and wait for the government, there is a need for a new remit from all of us who consider ourselves to be leaders.
The experiential learning experience of systems is important for our leaders to truly understand the possible far reaching impacts of his/her leadership.We need to be aware of the wholeness of “each part ( of our organisations) the dynamic relationships between the parts, the whole (higher-level) entity they form together, and the interdependence among the parts and the whole,” Stevenson** (1970, p.114).
When we deal with a team member we become conscious that we are no longer dealing with an individual, we are dealing with his family and his community. Therefore by our leadership we can make a difference that will redound to the wider Trinidad and Tobago.
The old paradigm of the maximum leader that thrived in an environment devoid of social media, with an inability to follow international trends or without the presence of  millennials needs to make way for a new remit, where we embrace the ideas of the collective. As the volatility of our external world increases, and as we are still guessing the effects of changed international policies ( Brexit, Trump administration) there is need for more collaboration in the co-sensing of our next move. The leader who makes decisions on his own or with only his leadership team is making decisions from a position that only considers the impacts on the systems that he/ they belong(s) to, with many assumptions about the impacts that will be made on the collective – the families, the communities and the wider Trinidad and Tobago.
More than ever, the call is for leadership to harness the creativity and intelligence of the people with whom we work so that we can make a positive impact on the wider Trinidad and Tobago. We can no longer wait on the economy to get better or for the price of oil and gas to recover, or for a new gas/ oil reserves to be developed. The call is urgent and the response has to be made now. Our economic situation has changed and our world has shrunk.

*Ronald Hinds address T&T Chamber of Commerce & Industry address Sept 2017

*Stevenson, H., 2010. Paradox: A Gestalt theory of change for organizations. Gestalt Review, 14(2), pp.111-126

Who do you impact with your leadership?

What are the possible far reaching impacts of your leadership?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

How to Fire a Client in 5 steps

When I decided to walk away from the client, my intentions were clear – I wanted to remain in right relations with the client and I wanted to extricate myself from the contract. With those two thoughts in mind I set about ensuring that my actions did not expose the client or myself to any bad press and that are the end of the conversation we could walk away with little acrimony between us. I realised that some of the things that I naturally put in place with every contract served me in good stead to take the necessary action.
1) Plan an exit strategy – I emphasise to clients, that they have choice in service providers and can exercise their options at any point during the contract. This is documented in the contract terms and conditions stated as “either party can terminate the agreement with x amount of days notice”. A list of reasons for termination may be provided as well as the carte blanche statement “for any reason”. This establishes that the service provider has the same rights to terminate as the client.

2. Ensure payment terms leave you cash neutral – I can’t imagine under what circumstances a client will willingly cut a cheque for a service provider who has decided to walk. As a result, when I terminated the contract, I issued the client a final invoice that showed that the money received was the money worked for and that he owed me nothing. All contracts state payment terms which include a mobilisation fee with balloon/ milestone payments. In this way. the client never owes me (too much) money if I have to leave.

3. Document the reason why you are leaving – When leaving the client, prepare a termination letter with the final invoice. The letter refers to the termination clause as stated in the contract, and one of the reasons as stated under this clause is quoted, hence the need for “or any other reason”. Set a meeting with the client and hand the client the letter, explaining your reason for leaving. Sincerely thank the client for his business and apologise for your departure.

4. Offer the client a bone – You can sweeten the leaving for the client, by extending a free gesture of goodwill. Offer written recommendations for the business, or a free training session for the staff or a report that is relevant to his business. Chances are that the client wants little/ nothing to do with you when you leave so he will hardly take up any offer that brings you on his premises.

5. It is about me – When I decided to leave the client, it was my decision. Therefore I took responsibility and ensured that the client remained blameless in the matter. What I thought of his business practices or his associates were my personal opinions and therefore I kept those to myself. The client did not hire me to make these assessments, he contracted me to do a job. It is I who decided that I did not want to complete the job, under the existing conditions. Therefore I cannot make statements that are judgemental, or inflammatory, or accusatory or derogatory about the client or the client’s business to the client or to anyone else.  I also took responsibility for the tone of the meeting, and ensured that I treated the client with dignity and was compassionate in the delivery of the news.

Have you ever fired a client? What would you have done differently?


Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.