The Age of Loyalty

We may be witnessing the dawn of The Age of Loyalty.  Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company has written a full-page letter to Americans published in the New York Times.  He calls on Americans to work with him to restore the American dream, to “set in motion an upward spiral of confidence”, and to pledge together to “put citizenship ahead of partisanship”.  While Schultz’ primary objective is to demand that Washington get over its petulant, dysfunctional behavior, the deeper objective is to say to America that we need to be loyal to each other, and to the dream of individual and collective improvement.

Discontent with, and embarrassed by Washington politicians, Schultz hopes his call to action will energize the citizens of the country.  Schultz is exhorting us to get involved, to respect the American motto E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). This is because only together will we be successful.

While the letter is addressed to Americans, it speaks to larger social trends that threaten the viability of our future. Schultz is, I believe, articulating an important ingredient of social life that we need to pay attention to – loyalty.  With loyalty we are connected, empathetic and supportive.  Without it, individualism trumps compassion, disconnection triumphs over cohesion, and social solutions become impossible.

Schultz is telling us that we need to take responsibility, individually and collectively.  In the face of the decline of individual and corporate responsibility and the growth of litigiousness, Schultz is exhorting us to step up to the plate of responsibility, if we want to improve how we live.  Blame is not the solution; we need to understand that we are all complicit in the problem and makers of the solution.

This is doubly true because the social issues confronting us are too complex and complicated for any one agency, or agent, to drive effective change.  Governments, corporations, communities, individuals really do need to see that successful solutions will be the result of honest debate and collaboration.  

To spur us into action, Schultz calls on the contemporary approach to social change – crowd-sourcing.  He asks people to submit their pledge to  Leveraging the tool of social loyalty, Schultz is calling on us to be more loyal to each other.

One could argue that it is precisely intense parochial, or ideologically-based loyalties, that are part of the problem. The intransigence that comes from intense loyalty is the source of the bankruptcy of American politics. 

Loyalty is both the problem and the solution.  And perhaps that is our eternal conundrum.  We are individuals who crave and need to be loyal to others and to purposes greater than our individual selves. 

What is interesting is that a significant corporate leader is standing up and asserting the need to overcome dysfunctional loyalties that are preventing us from living the lives we can.  Corporate leaders recognize the power of loyalty. 

They have learned that loyalty is good for business.  Providing social purposes that employees can get involved in improves the pride and performance of employees, turning them from employees into ambassadors.  Offering customers loyalty programs encourages tighter consumer bonding.  And offering social programs that encourage crowd involvement improves permission to operate, and has the potential to make a positive difference in communities. 

As CEO of Starbucks, the company that turned coffee drinking in a social activity, Schultz understands the power of the marketplace to drive social change, because he understands the power of social loyalty. 

We are living in the Age of Loyalty.  Characterized on one level by loyalty marketing and loyalty networks, and on another level by involvement in purposes that are greater than individual self-serving consumption, loyalty can be the source of business success and social improvement.