Note: This article was written and originally published in advance of Starbucks’ half-day closure last week for anti-bias training.
Wasn’t there a movie called Training Day? Well, we could make another one today as Starbucks closes 8,000 stores to “train” employees in unconscious bias.
An article on MSN quoted the consultant who developed and will deliver the training as saying “’the real work is for employees to apply what they learn in their everyday lives.’ She likened it to exercising a muscle.” I’m glad at least the consultant understands that one half day of “training” will not necessarily change behavior.
What about the leadership? Do they recognize that the cultural infrastructure also must change? What about the employees hired tomorrow and beyond? Will the urgency of the Philadelphia situation fade over time, and everything go back to “normal?”
What about a different approach?
What about developing the skill of leadership to hire, observe, coach and, if necessary, counsel their employees about appropriate behavior in front of customers. After all, every situation is different, and every situation has the chance of going south as the unfortunate situation in Philadelphia went south.
Behemoth companies use massive solutions to address problems that no one really knows are organization-wide. They have to; stakeholders and the media demand quick and public flogging. But the variables that may trigger a poor decision on the part of an employee are complex and varied. The one-size-fits-all training may help for a short time; or it may not.
A localized solution
Local problems need local solutions and the best way to deliver localized solutions is through leadership. Consider a neighborhood coffee shop. The owner is present and visible. She sets the tone and culture through her system of values. She hires workers who demonstrate understanding of those values and sets up store processes accordingly. The teaches those processes within the context of the values to her employees. She intervenes personally if a situation arises. She deals promptly when the values are maligned. She owns the problem and the solution. She has to. Her livelihood depends on it.
How could a behemoth company localize their solutions?
It’s all about leadership and infrastructure. Here are ways to work through leadership and infrastructure to create localized solutions for local problems.
Values — Be clear about the organization’s values and the behaviors to be exhibited. Go beyond the marketing buzz to really understand how the values must be exhibited in each and every encounter with customers. Bring them to life.
Leadership — Hire, develop and hold leaders accountable for leading in alignment with the values. Look for critical thinking and judgment rather than compliance. Help them understand how their local culture can and should fit within the organizational culture, and where they have wiggle room. Teach them to look at their local store critically within the context of the values.
Engage local leadership in setting organization-wide policy — Only those on the front lines know if the policy can realistically survive.
Hold leaders accountable — Tell leaders what is expected of them and provide the tools to execute. Create an infrastructure of local ownership; being held accountable as a local business owner would be for revenue and expenses, planned and unforeseen. Perhaps if the Philadelphia store manager recognized that she was responsible for employee behavior and local policies that matched Starbucks’ values, she might have observed with a different lens. Perhaps she was working the counter and didn’t have the opportunity to observe because she was short-staffed? Should that not be her decision as well, rather than a staffing model from Seattle?
Hindsight is great, isn’t it? It would be interesting to take the expense of the training program – the lost revenue, pay for training time, consultant expenses – and invest it in developing leaders who can run their business like it was the best local coffee shop in the nation.
Even if the unconscious bias is uncovered and acknowledged, Starbucks still doesn’t have leaders who can take overall accountability for running their store in alignment with its values.