In late May, Starbucks closed 8,000 stores across the United States for racial-bias training. It involved nearly 175,000 employees. Think about that for a moment. It is the equivalent of the entire city of Fort Lauderdale heading out for a day of classroom training. The intervention came as a result of a Philadelphia-based Starbucks store manager who, on April 12, called the police after two men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, refused to purchase anything. The police subsequently arrested the men and a public backlash ensued.
The full-day training class was— somewhat coincidentally—conducted on the same day TV star Roseanne’s eponymously titled sitcom got cancelled by ABC. Due to a vitriolic, racist tweet by Roseanne—aimed at former Barack Obama aide Valerie Jarrett—the company chose instead to put values ahead of profits. It boggles the mind why specific clusters of people erect stupendously moronic, racially biased walls in their lives. People are people, let’s move on. It’s 2018.
Back at Starbucks, Bloomberg estimated the cost of lost sales due to the one-day training event was $16.7 million. Adding insult to injury, Apex Marketing Group suggested Starbucks suffered the equivalent of $16 million in negative press as a result of the incident against Nelson and Robinson. This was on top of what Starbucks had to invest to develop and deliver the training itself.
After the morning commute and human rush for caffeine, most of those Starbucks shops placed a sign on its front door that read as follows:
At Starbucks we are proud to be a third place — a place between home and work where everyone is welcome. A place where everyone feels that they belong.
Today our store team is reconnecting with our mission and with each other. We are sharing our ideas about how to make Starbucks even more welcoming.
We look forward to seeing you when we reopen at 5 a.m.
One can argue Starbucks had no choice in the matter. In an enormous public relations nightmare—instituted by a singular manager in a singular location—the company had to act. For its CEO, Kevin Johnson, and its chairman, Howard Schultz, to do nothing would make them complicit. It is tantamount to ABC president Channing Dungey deciding to take no action on Roseanne. Thankfully she didn’t, Dungey acted swiftly, and the rest is history.
In the case of Roseanne, perhaps it’s a singular and sweeping act that needs no follow-up. Time will tell if there are other racist employees or cast members at ABC to terminate.
Is the single day of racial-bias training enough? Does it materially move the needle on racial-bias?
You have to tip your hat to Starbucks. It did something. It cost the company millions, but they acted. Kudos to everyone behind the decision to take action.
Some who work in the training profession, however, will look at the day of learning that Starbucks provided its employees and name it “spray and pray.” Some will coin it a “one-and-done” session. Others might refer to it as a “sage on the stage” exercise.
The good news? Starbucks employees are more knowledgeable about racial-bias than they were at the beginning of the week.
I hope the company is keeping in mind that skill development and behavior change only occurs when an employee’s new-found knowledge gets reinforced over and over again. It’s performance development 101.
Put simply, if Starbucks desires racially-sensitive and unbiased employees going forward, a one-day course is but the first step in the journey.
What else is required? Here are a few suggestions:
- Job aids: whether physical or online, racial-bias and sensitivity job aids can be created for employees to refer to as needed. (e.g., a card or poster found in the backroom)
- Online learning nuggets: available off the Starbucks intranet (and accessible through mobile devices) these are short reinforcement options such as videos, audio interviews, and podcasts.
- Gamification: why not put employees in certain racially sensitive situations through an online game that further develops empathy, understanding, as well as dos and don’ts? Racism is not a game, but gamifying the transfer of behavior change could do wonders.
- Huddles: store managers could start each shift with a 2-3 minute huddle—perhaps done two or three times a day—that reminds everyone about the company’s intolerance for racism and so on. It builds off of the one-day training class that was conducted.
The critical component is time. Starbucks employees are baristas. Their job is to serve the customer, so they cannot spend hours on end doing things contrary to this function. However, like with any call center environment, the time has to be booked into an agent’s calendar for learning to occur. But many call center agents not only learn in face-to-face situations, but they are also given tools—like those mentioned above—that allow them to reinforce the learning, thus the knowledge acquisition.
It does not have to be another full-day of classroom training, rather short bursts of learning, perhaps in 10-15 minute blocks.
If I were the Starbucks CEO, I would be demanding the development and delivery of a racial-bias learning plan, not just a one-day event. In academia, it is referred to as the pedagogy or curriculum That learning plan must consist of formal, informal and social learning components. It must illustrate how vital reinforcement is to actual behavior change.
While the company did publicly post the training guide and associated videos that were used in the one-day training plan, there was no evidence of a full-blown curriculum.
Some might suggest that the one-and-done, all-day, face-to-face training session that Starbucks held stands a good chance at being forgotten by its employees as quickly as it was for ABC to (thankfully) fire Roseanne.