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4 Ways Starbucks should conduct anti-bias training

By the Feathercap Support team

On Tuesday, May 29, 2018 much of the world knew that Starbucks Coffee was trying to instill anti-bias training to its 175,000 strong workforce through a half-day all-hands training event. Unfortunately, even though it may be seen as a successful “mea culpa” PR experience, taken alone it won’t be enough to instill long lasting change. Its like trying to send your fit and some not-so-fit team members to the gym and assuming they will leave 4 hours later looking like Chris Hemsworth from his Thor movies. Deep seated and implicit bias doesn’t change in one sitting, just like getting fitness results from the gym it takes time for change to happen. This whole story began in April 2018 when two entrepreneur’s went to a Philadelphia, U.S.A  Starbucks Coffee location waiting to begin their business meeting when the store manager decided to call the police on the men after which they were escorted out in handcuffs. They were like the thousands if not hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs and other business people who regularly use their local Starbucks as a meeting space. Why were the police called and the men escorted out of the store? Because of the men’s race. Here are four training ideas to reduce bias and discrimination among Starbucks employees and achieve lasting effect:

1) Don’t just hold one classroom/ synchronous event and expect change!

Closing 8,000 stores for half a day is quite a brilliant PR move for the world that Starbucks is willing to bear the burden of so many locations closed to show they are taking responsibility for the actions of their employees. Starbucks realized how much damage this specific discriminatory Philadelphia store manager could have on their entire customer culture for so many of viewing Starbuck’s as their third home. Chairman Howard Schultz has been using that term for decades to describe his belief that Starbucks could offer a place of refuge between work and home.

All of us in the learning industry have long learned a “kick-off” event is a great boost, but to drive a changing employee behavior regular reminders, additional training types are required. “Super” courses that have taken weeks or months to be conceived, built and deployed are similar in value; they tend to be great as a “one off” introduction.

2) Utilize a variety of training types; macro, micro and job aids.

Like any retail/ restaurant operation, Starbuck’s has a 15% churn rate of employees annually. Any learning has to be designed to change employee behavior as quickly as possible but also so it will stick and be readily accepted by both new and existing employees.  A mix of long form / macro events or courses culture training along with a few page micro learning and short form video or text content that might speak of the long term benefits of treating everyone who comes into Starbucks Coffee stores as an eventual if not immediate customer. For reminder content that are quick, one page guideline reminders might be something like: “Treat all visitors to Starbucks, whether they buy anything or not as customers”. Sort of like the stop gap thing for every employee to remember.

3) Have a long term learning plan, but adapt it to what works.

Experienced learning teams through their own skills, understanding of their audience along with data can pretty easily come up with a first pass learning plan to both inculturate employees and maintain that desired behavior. This involves a combination of the above forms of learning content combined with check-lists maintained by store managers and area managers to regularly demonstrate that team members are behaving to everyone appropriately. Assessment/ checklists paired with learning materials spaced over time will yield results. But the real challenge we face in the learning industry is to make sure the material and assessment process is both “fresh” and tweak it accordingly over time to maintain its efficacy in maintaining the desired employee, manager and leadership job behaviors. Systems which will be emerging in the coming months from us at Feathercap and others will use AI to automatically assign and adapt based on employee/ manager behavior along with the included assessments by peers and leadership. These systems will automatically prompt team members with the specific right engagement, content, survey, message of encouragement, peer contact recommendation to minimize the time to achieving the desired job skill behavior as well as automatically alerting management before a discriminatory behavior such as that Starbucks store manager exhibited could occur.

4) Let everyone participate in creating useful “anti-bias” training.

We all know how social media can “bias” us towards our views on politics, religion, other groups outside of our own. The best way to overcome learning materials being created that may be seen as “biased” is to let store managers and team members themselves participate in creating and sharing micro learning and job aids to their teams. Feathercap and other vendors can make it extremely easy to instantly load a set of MS PowerPoints, pdfs, videos and other documents from a team member’s own phone or the corporate cloud and automatically turn them all into individual, trackable courses. Combined with the above AI driven adaptive learning this means specific content found to be the “freshest” and most relevant to a team can be shared with them at the exact right time.

What occurred last April was truly heart wrenching for all of us who regularly use Starbucks as our “third” home. At least we’ve reached a point where Starbucks Coffee is headed in the right way as a result.

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