A People Laboratory within a Franchise Coffee Model – Where’d that Come From?

Category: Build a Life You Love

In 2014, BIGGBY COFFEE co-CEO Michael McFall encountered a man in the woods of Northern Michigan who changed the course of BIGGBY COFFEE’s history.


That man’s name is Nathan Havey, and for all intents and purposes, he has become the workplace culture shaman of BIGGBY Nation.


I don’t believe the Life You Love Laboratory would exist without Nathan’s global perspective and thoughtful guidance over the years.


Before 2014, the idea of “good” workplace culture at the BIGGBY Home Office was really centered around surface level “goodness.” It revolved around being happy and having fun. Nothing wrong with happiness, but the culture did not allow for going deeper with people. There was no intention placed on allowing someone to bring their true, whole, complicated, emotion-filled self to work. At the time, only the happy self was truly welcome.


At the start of 2015, we asked Nathan to conduct an in-depth audit of our company culture and provide recommended changes. The goal was to kick-start a positive culture change in our company, and boy howdy, it did just that.  The reading of the first cultural survey at a staff meeting was a shocking eye-opener to the unspoken sub-culture within our company, riddled with water-cooler talk, looking happy at all costs, and a general atmosphere of working from a place of fear and uncertainty. Not at all the culture that Bob and Mike (our co-CEOs) dreamed of for our organization. Thankfully, Nathan had some fantastically progressive recommendations for us to consider. One of those recommendations was to establish a leadership institute by the year 2021.


Hitting the fast forward button by a year, Bob and Mike returned from a walking board meeting (these two gentlemen really don’t sit very well, so they walk instead) and shared their idea for a company reorganization that included the creation of a new initiative surrounding people and culture, with the eventual idea of forming that leadership institute. The BOOST team was born—as an unfunded but fully endorsed program—to take on furthering BIGGBY COFFEE’s people, leadership, and culture practices.


With the help of some purpose-driven Home Office team members, the newly formed BOOST team that were meant to support our newly solidified company purpose of supporting you in building a life you love. We set up a coaching program to support our Home Office employees, by offering them a place to take their thoughts, dreams, or frustrations. BOOST Coaching allows someone to work things out with someone who isn’t personally involved in their team’s work, which allows for exploration without pressure to get to a solution quickly. It is a beautiful program that we still run today, with about 90% of the company fully participating.


The BOOST team also began dreaming up a personal development program directly connected to what we call our foundational elements for building a life you love. This program was piloted within our office, and then taken system-wide as a complimentary offering to members of BIGGBY Nation. Today, our Life You Love Workshops are rocking and rolling as we welcome Home Office staff, Franchise Owners, and Baristas to do the work towards building a life they love.


Somewhere during the workshop development process, the members of our BOOST Team had the opportunity to fully step away from our Operations roles and has since additional team members to join in this human development work! The team has now grown to 5 full-time members, representing a combined 50 years of BIGGBY experience, which is not bad for a company that is only 27 years old. All of us are former baristas and graduated into the BOOST team via the BIGGBY Operations team, which allows us to build programs and practices that nest directly into the BIGGBY COFFEE franchise system.


As this evolved into a properly funded program and after getting some of our big initiatives off the ground like workshops and coaching, we realized that we needed a name that represented the work we were doing beyond our traditional department name of BOOST.


What we do every day is inspire and integrate human solutions for traditional business problems. We put our Purpose into practice. And putting Purpose into practice happens by way of research, creation, experimentation, development, and implementation. It’s a people practice laboratory!


And so, the Life You Love Laboratory, LifeLab for short, was fully established in 2020, one year ahead of the 2021 leadership institute goal set back in 2015.


I can’t say the journey to where we are today, as a company or more specifically, as a team, has been easy or smooth. But the challenges, tears, and setbacks have made the Life You Love Laboratory what it is today and will inform what we do next. Our vision is to improve workplace culture across America by 2028 and we are well on our way.


If you are inspired by the idea of improving workplaces in America, we want to be friends with you. Send us a message at lifelab@biggby.com if you would like to talk more.