It’s unlikely that you haven’t heard about Starbucks and the recent scandal that erupted when two black men were arrested inside a Philadelphia store while waiting for a friend. With big brands come big responsibility and nobody embodies this in the restaurant industry like Starbucks.
Starbucks plans to close all 8,000 American stores on May 29th to train employees on implicit bias training, costing the company an estimated $12 million in sales.
Whether this is the right action for Starbucks to take has been a point of contention for many people following this issue, but not here. Keep reading to understand what they’re doing, why, and how to avoid similar issues in your business.
Why is this a big deal now?
In the wake of hashtag-fueled cultural movements, such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, businesses are finding themselves having to navigate cultural issues in addition to food quality and customer experience. While it may not be necessary for your company to publicize a social stance, it is important to notice how quickly this kind of news can spread thanks to camera-equipped smartphones and social media.
If something similar happened at one of your locations, would your company culture be equipped for the backlash? While Starbucks is losing $12 million to address employee training, this is most likely a small amount compared to losses they could incur now that movements are mobilizing the customer’s ability to vote with their wallet, not to mention the overall hit to their reputation.
What is implicit bias?
Implicit bias is made up of the underlying attitudes and stereotypes that affect our thoughts and behavior in an unconscious way. As humans, our brain automatically uses cognitive “shortcuts” – noticing patterns and making generalizations to help make decisions faster. The concept was popularized by Project Implicit, a collaborative research project where people can take an online test to discover their implicit bias.
Basically, pretty much everyone has some level of unconscious bias due to how our brains work. It only becomes a problem when it affects how we treat our customers.
Does bias training work?
Google and Facebook started sharing their bias training programs in 2015. In tech companies that can affect our society on a mass scale, this level of awareness is important. But here’s a secret: research has shown that bias training can actually lead to more discrimination due to the backlash, especially when the training is mandatory. What actually has proven to work is making sure that employees work alongside people who are different from them. The best way to avoid a discrimination scandal is to bake diversity into your hiring system.
What can we do now to prevent similar issues in our organization?
Understand that Starbucks is addressing this incident in this way because this particular upset threatens their whole business model. Starbucks has built their customer experience on the concept of their location as a “third place” between work and home. So it is important to them that customers feel safe coming to Starbucks even if they are just having a meeting.
Ensuring diversity in hiring can be a long process. Here’s what you can do in the short-term to avoid discrimination issues.
Use “If-Then” checklists.
In terms of your staff, it is important that their training includes checklists made up of “if-then” statements that help them address customer situations that might be uncomfortable. For example, what is the brand context of your business? If your brand is established as a place where customers can hang out, then employees need to understand that a purchase is not necessary for customers to take up space at a location.
So the guideline here might be, “Our business model is to establish our locations as a place people can feel comfortable at away from home and work. If someone is at your location and hasn’t made any purchases, then leave them alone, unless they are bothering other customers.”
Another if-then statement you can establish is “At what point should your staff call local law enforcement?”, so “If someone is bothering customers or staff and refuses to leave, then you should call local law enforcement.”
Obviously, the police should be called if there is a robbery or someone is threatening your establishment with a weapon, but creating these statements help staff make decisions that avoid bias and address situations that depend on context.
Don’t forget to follow-up.
There’s no way to account for every possible circumstance, but you can take issues of discrimination as an opportunity to determine if you have a people issue or a training issue that needs to be addressed in your restaurant. In the case of Starbucks, it is clear that they had a manager who fundamentally did not understand their brand and needed to address that company-wide.