By now, you know the Starbucks story, right?
In April, a video showing two black men being arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks, when they had done nothing but sit inside one of the coffee shops without buying anything, triggered outrage and boycotts across the country. The company, known for espousing progressive, inclusive principles, reacted swiftly, announcing plans to close its US shops for an afternoon and supply all of its US employees with racial-bias training.
That training happened earlier this week. By all accounts, it was well received - but the company is smart in pointing out that the training is only a small step in a longer journey.
The four-hour sessions, involving 175,000 workers at 8,000 locations, had employees and managers reportedly working in small groups to discuss their experience of race, and studying issues like implicit bias. One training item used was this video by Stanley Nelson (email subscribers, click through to see the video):
The seven-minute video features moving monologues from black Americans who describe the emotional toll of having to live their lives aware that others see them as a threat, and the effort it takes to put store managers or security guards at ease, whether through nonverbal signals or their physical appearance.
If you're in retail and that video doesn't make you more aware of you reactions to your changing environment, I'm not sure what will. It's well worth the time to watch - make sure you do.
But embedded somewhere in the training had to be a policy change to make the stores more stupid - and yes, racist - proof. It's a strong show to close stores for a half day and do training - think about that revenue hit - but you still have hundreds of thousands of employees, and when it comes to the risk to the business about more of these events happening, autonomy and increased awareness probably doesn't cut it.
Did Starbucks change the rules of engagement on who has the right to throw someone out of the stores or call the cops? I hope so.
My Starbucks in Atlanta is an interesting ecosystem. Rather than throwing people out, they're actually allowing people to stay that make patrons initially uncomfortable based on a segmentation that transcends race - homelessness. They let homeless people come inside the store (and have way before the Philly incident) - sometimes they buy things, sometimes they don't. I've never seen the homeless folks ask other patrons for anything - including handouts.
The first time I experienced that, it kind of shocked me. Then I realized it as the new normal. Now I don't think about it.
My point is that the autonomy that goes along with empowering employees to eject people for a store is a danger point for every retailer. I'm sure that Starbucks changed the rules of engagement for that behind the scenes. Stupid people do stupid things.
And what's the best way to stop stupid people from doing stupid things that can erase a billion dollars off your market cap?
You make them ask a wiser person who's judgment is trusted for approval - before they do the stupid thing.
Does this mean your Starbucks will soon feature homeless people of every Title 7 protected class?
No - but it should mean that the stupid people don't have the autonomy to make the decision.