Case Study: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR)

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) is a specialty coffee roaster located in Waterbury, Vermont. We view profit as a means of achieving a higher purpose to do good for others around the world. Our focus on making a difference in the world comes from an understanding that business and communities are dependent on each other for long-term successes. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters strives to offer an “ultimate coffee experience” for all people from Tree to Cup – a supply chain that reaches around the world. For stakeholders the “ultimate coffee experience” includes quality coffee, great customer service, sustainable processes, effective business relationships, and much more.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, through the leadership of Bob Stiller, is using the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) methodology to increase GMCR’s Positive World Benefit Through Phenomenal Sustainable Growth. This basically means that the company wants to continue to do increasingly more good worldwide while making a profit. We understand that we have to grow our business in innovative ways while staying true to our values and building on our strengths to reach this goal. Appreciative Inquiry, which is being used at all levels, is providing employees with a process that fits with the ideals of Bob Stiller and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Each GMCR employee, over time, has the chance to participate in the organization-wide AI Summits; add value to AI team-building events; use components of AI in their jobs; and create individual career development plans using AI questions. 

Our growth journey, which started in 1981 when the company was founded, was re-affirmed at an Appreciative Inquiry Summit in June of 2003. At this 3½ day event, 161 GMCR employees and 40 business partners came together to plan for our future growth and focus on the sub-topics of: 1) Profit with a Purpose; 2) Shared Success for All; and 3) Leadership at Every Level. The overall objectives of this first Summit were to:

• Articulate GMCR’s purpose and principles.
• Identify the strengths that GMCR wants to keep and build upon to realize its purpose and principles.
• Identify projects and actions that support the purpose and principles.
• Develop a process to widen the circles of the engagement between employees and business partners.

The excitement following this event was motivating and rewarding to the team who had been involved in planning the first Summit. There were opportunities to improve the planning process, but the team’s biggest focus was the post-summit follow-up. The follow-up work was essential because it included the collective dreams of many GMCR employees. We learned through this process that employees from all levels in the organization had to have the opportunity as well as the responsibility to fulfill GMCR’s dreams. 

Teams were formed and action plans were developed, both at the Summit, and following the Summit. Long-term and short-term goals were set and new team participants were identified based on interest and skills. Ideas were prioritized and teams identified resources to move projects from design to destiny.

An example of an objective that was accomplished following the summit is: Articulate GMCR’s Purpose and Principles. A cross-functional team of 30 employees from across the organization gathered over the fall of 2003-2004 to draft a Purpose Statement and Principles using the Provocative Propositions that were written during the June 2003 AI Summit. After gathering feedback from many employees, the Principles were finalized in 2004. The Purpose Statement and Principles provide a framework for how we conduct our business and how we interact with our stakeholders. We believe the Purpose and Principles reflect the best of who we are as a company and as individuals. 

This is just a piece of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters’ experience with Appreciative Inquiry. We have held additional Summits where 100 or more employees and external stakeholders have come together to focus in depth on topics surfaced at the first Summit. We have hosted small Summits where project teams or departments dream and design their future. At new hire orientation, we use AI to build mutual commitment to our Principles and to clarify expectations between new employees and managers. Appreciative Inquiry is a tool all GMCR employees are encouraged to incorporate into their work, projects, and team events. It helps each individual focus on how to bring our best to GMCR.

This summit was led by FLI's Strategic Advisor David L. Cooperrider.  For more writings, reports, or information on this case example feel free to email David at

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