Analyzing the Purpose of Starbucks Training

Dan Pontefract gave a good rundown of the recent continent-wide racial-bias training that Starbucks developed and delivered in record time. Starbucks reacted in an exemplary manner, but has the training achieved the goal?

Unless we tacitly agree that the actual goal of Starbucks was to stomp out the public-relations wildfire, their expensive exercise has not changed anything. Not exactly a knee-jerk reaction – but far from being effective in resolving the actual problem.

Here’s what I would consider – if Starbucks want to live up to their image of the “third place”.

Update your mission statement.

Your mission statement is more important than you may think. This is your overall Goal, your Purpose. It drives your staff, so it better be clear to them. I would leave the second, the “neighborhood” part of the Starbucks current mission statement – but would definitely clarify the first half in such a way that it becomes meaningful to their staff AND customers.

Align regional and individual store KPIs with the new mission.

How would you measure your progress otherwise? So far, there’s nothing better than revenue and cost of sales. No wonder that the only available “indicator” of the recent nation-wide training effectiveness was the estimated cost of lost sales. How do you know if the situation has improved?

And Starbucks NEED to monitor the situation now because many scientists openly state that Mandatory Implicit Bias Training Is a Bad Idea. Even the founding fathers of the approach, psychologists Anthony Greenwald and Brian Nosek are very skeptical because there is no scientific evidence that these programs work and make a lasting positive impact on behaviors. Indeed, the impact of such a ready-made, one-size-fits-all training may be harmful. It is more complicated than SJWs would like to admit.

Even if we assume that the training has some positive impact, it is far from what Starbucks needs in the longer run.

If you train your child saying “Hi” to your neighbor, it will not automatically make him gentle with his sister and respectful with Grandma. Instilling behaviors that deny racial differences will not correct other problems like sexism, ageism – basically all “-isms” – that will inevitably manifest themselves and cause further problems to Starbucks, now that the company is in the spotlight.

What will work then?

Whether we like that or not, our unconscious biases are the core of our survival mechanisms that so far helped us survive as a species. They are in our genes. Being earthly creatures, we will not eliminate them because they help us process the incoming information through patterns etc. In fact, you are using your unconscious biases while reading and understanding this text.

We may be able to bypass or at least tone down some of our biases naturally. For Starbucks, that will mean creating the right environment within the shop teams. These teams must be aligned (a) internally and (b) with their immediate neighbourhood (where most of the customers coming from). Internal alignment and the appropriate cultural, gender, racial, age mix will decrease the subconscious, or implicit, reaction to all ‘outgroups’ as psychologists call them – i.e. people who are “not like us” – as we gradually adapt to our immediate work environment.

It is a long and tedious process. It needs to be initiated by the corporate leaders as it starts with a clear company mission.