This afternoon I stopped into a Starbucks for my afternoon fix to get me though the last few hours of the day only to find it closed. After further examination, I discovered an email in the form of an open letter from Howard Schultz buried in all the Memorial Weekend backlog explaining who, what and why. I came to discover that the 8,000 company owned company stores with their 175,000 partners would be forgoing an afternoon of revenue for what is called anti-bias training to address an issue called “Implicit Bias” – the idea that people unconsciously categorize others based on things like their occupation, sex, or race. While many critics feel this is only a “symbolic gesture”, I think they did the right thing to call attention and to deal with it the best they can. It’s difficult mold the opinions of all your employees in an afternoon but its a good start for sure.
You may recall all the flack that Starbucks received when one of its 175,000 partners (that’s what they call their employees) called the police in a Philadelphia location after two African-American were refused access to the bathrooms because they did not purchase anything. A bad call for sure, especially considering the neighborhood. We could debate this for days and weeks but my point is that Starbucks did the right thing given the situation and should be a small lesson to anybody who owns a business and faced negative press. Like liability lawsuits, the larger you are the harder they come after you.
Also, if you used to go into Starbucks just to use their pretty darn clean restrooms, you need not be compelled to purchase a tall house coffee for a buck just for the privilege.
What we can garner from this right off the top is an excellent lesson in public relations in addition to good karma:
- Admit that you made a mistake no matter how big or small. Don’t “spin” it or make excuses like “how can we possibly keep an eye on all of our employees…”
- Be accessible to those asking you questions about it.
- Come up with a plan to address it as soon as you can.
- Keep your customers and employees informed.
- Don’t stop even after the dust settles.
The size of your business will determine both your strategy and execution but if a company with 175,000 partners can do it so can a restaurant with 12 or a golf course with 50. Below, here is a copy of Howard Schultz’s letter to the Patrons of Starbucks:
This afternoon Starbucks will close more than 8,000 stores and begin a new chapter in our history.
In 1983 I took my first trip to Italy. As I walked the streets of Milan, I saw cafés and espresso bars on every street. When I ventured inside I experienced something powerful: a sense of community and human connection.
I returned home determined to create a similar experience in America—a new ’third place’ between home and work—and build a different kind of company. I wanted our stores to be comfortable, safe spaces where everyone had the opportunity to enjoy a coffee, sit, read, write, host a meeting, date, debate, discuss or just relax.
Today 100 million customers enter Starbucks® stores each week. In an ever–changing society, we still aspire to be a place where everyone feels welcome.
Sometimes, however, we fall short, disappointing ourselves and all of you.
Recently, a Starbucks manager in Philadelphia called the police a few minutes after two black men arrived at a store and sat waiting for a friend. They had not yet purchased anything when the police were called. After police arrived they arrested the two men. The situation was reprehensible and does not represent our company’s mission and enduring values.
After investigating what happened, we determined that insufficient support and training, a company policy that defined customers as paying patrons—versus anyone who enters a store—and bias led to the decision to call the police. Our ceo, Kevin Johnson, met with the two men to express our deepest apologies, reconcile and commit to ongoing actions to reaffirm our guiding principles.
The incident has prompted us to reflect more deeply on all forms of bias, the role of our stores in communities and our responsibility to ensure that nothing like this happens again at Starbucks. The reflection has led to a long–term commitment to reform systemwide policies, while elevating inclusion and equity in all we do.
Today we take another step to ensure we live up to our mission:
FOR SEVERAL HOURS THIS AFTERNOON, STARBUCKS WILL CLOSE STORES AND OFFICES TO DISCUSS HOW TO MAKE STARBUCKS A PLACE WHERE ALL PEOPLE FEEL WELCOME.
What will we be doing? More than 175,000 Starbucks partners (that’s what we call our employees) will be sharing life experiences, hearing from others, listening to experts, reflecting on the realities of bias in our society and talking about how all of us create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong—because they do. This conversation will continue at our company and become part of how we train all of our partners.
Discussing racism and discrimination is not easy, and various people have helped us create a learning experience that we hope will be educational, participatory and make us a better company. We want this to be an open and honest conversation starting with our partners. We will also make the curriculum available to the public.
To our Starbucks partners: I want to thank you for your participation today and for the wonderful work you do every day to make Starbucks a third place for millions of customers.
To our customers: I want to thank you for your patience and support as we renew our promise to make Starbucks what I envisioned it could be nearly 40 years ago—an inclusive gathering place for all.
We’ll see you tomorrow.
With deep respect,