On Tuesday, Starbucks announced the closing of 8,000 stores for one day in response to an incident of discrimination in a Philadelphia store. In response, Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, apologized publicly and accepted full responsibility for the situation. In addition, he took the extreme action of closing all these stores and losing profit so employees could partake in anti-discrimination training.
I am for the CEO taking full responsibility over the situation and acknowledging that extreme measures need to be espoused; this is indicative of good leadership. Starbucks’ mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” If they truly believe in their mission, then they do need to take an extreme enough action to resolve this mess and bring humanity back to the people they serve. My beef with this response lies in the supposed solution of training.
When a plan goes awry, a strategy fails to meet goals, or people live in alignment with the company mission, many leaders erroneously jump to the solution of training. This is the oldest trick in the book. Come on Starbucks, one-day training is not the answer!
You can’t stick someone in an 8-hour pep-rally and expect that the lens through which they view the environment and their perspective on situations will automatically change. People know the right way to behave, the reason they choose not to is for reasons deeply rooted within them. A resolution for the issue needs to be embedded in your company values, team behavioral commitments, and core messages to prevent these events from brewing long before an incident occurs. Companies should be hiring, firing, and evaluating performance on behaviors that align with the type of culture you want to grow and shape.
Assuming that screening individuals for cultural fit has been already come up during interviews, anti-discrimination training and messages about the company’s expectations should be explicated on day 1 before they serve their first latte. My recommendation is there needs to be regular conversation at every level from executive to barista about the kind of behavior that employees should exhibit to their customers and all of humanity.
Before indulging in a training solution, I would ask two questions:
1. What’s the goal?
Is the organization’s goal for training to teach people new behaviors, tasks, processes, or techniques? Is it to simply check the “diversity and inclusion” box? Is it to create a culture where we celebrate diverse perspectives and eliminate our own micro-biases? Ideally, the goal should be for the organization to acknowledge bias and commit to creating a culturally inclusive environment based on changing perspectives, beliefs, and prejudices of the employees and leaders. This authentic approach will require long term effort and commitment to sustain appropriate changes. Diversity and inclusion must become integrated in the way of life for the company and every person has a role in the movement.
2. Is this training comfortable?
Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Brene Brown speak and she stated that individuals must get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Her point, in my opinion, relates perfectly to this issue with Starbucks. Comfort can create an illusion that issues such as discrimination, biases, and racism are not as bad as society is making them or that this isn’t about “us.” Comfort, in this regard, is remaining in the safe zone by not including the voices of the oppressed or being politically correct and not going below the surface to the meat and potatoes of the issues. When people think, “Wow, I may have done or said that before” and reflect on their behaviors, they can recognize how their actions may have negatively impacted someone around them. To make big changes, we must get uncomfortable. Create an environment of intentional discomfort because only then can we solve challenges in our culture, leadership, and the way we serve our customers.
What are your micro-biases that are not allowing you to work at your maximum potential? Until we develop a perspective of how our actions affect others around us, whether that’s our colleagues, customers, patients, leaders, or direct reports, we continue living in a world that continues to be divided. It’s the responsibility of all of us to be better and more human to one another. Starbucks proactive approach is commendable but let’s take a moment to consider the quick-fix training method and start early in organizations to prevent these kinds of situations from happening before it’s too late.