Do Your Employees Reflect Your Best Intentions?

The recent customer service fiasco taking place at Starbucks around the country is an extreme - if not regularly occurring - set of circumstances that are befalling many retail establishments trying to lure customers. 

Starbucks, the nation's largest coffee chain, is grappling with public outcry over two incidents captured on video in Los Angeles and Philadelphia that have tarnished the public image of the company as an inclusive, friendly environment that is welcome to all people.

In both videos (see below), African-American men appear to be singled out and escorted out of the establishments by security and police for no obvious reasons beyond their appearance. The videos have gone viral and protests are currently taking place across the country, sparking a national discussion. 

Another incident of alleged racial bias at Starbucks is stirring outrage. A black man claims he was denied access to a bathroom at a Los Angeles store, even though a white man was given the entry code. Neither were paying customers. Michelle Miller reports.
After two black men were arrested and accused of trespassing at a Philadelphia Starbucks, the company's CEO Kevin Johnson released a video saying that he holds himself accountable.

From the perspective of this consultant, both videos seem to show how fear and lack of proper training can contribute to major reputational crises for companies that depend on the public to grow their businesses.

Here at OVP Management Consulting Group Inc., we believe companies and their leadership must become affirmatively intentional about setting forth behavioral expectations of their employees. One way we believe leaders can do that is to understand, through employee assessments, what makes your staff tick. After all, your employees are the "faces" of those establishments.

If there is a lack of clarity on the part of an employee about how to act or respond to a customer situation, that employee will often revert to their personal operating system, where fear can sometimes be a key influencer. Business owners must provide their team members a solid set of expectations when dealing with customers and colleagues. That's one of the best ways of putting people in positions to be successful.

One way to begin changing that dynamic is to craft work guidelines that explicitly reference diversity challenges. This, along with safety, financial and operational guideposts, is important to giving employees the proper tools to effectively represent your best intentions as a business leader. It also helps prepare workers to offer an excellent customer experience, which can translate into successful and sustainable commerce for your operation.

Here are some suggestions on how companies, large or small, can start the process of clarifying employee expectations:

  • Develop a Strategic Vision Statement: Having language that provides a framework for why your business exists can offer employees a purpose that often helps define their role with the organization. 
  • Create an Employee Manual: Drafting work guidelines that explicitly discuss your expectations of employees work and their behavior is an important step in defining your workplace culture. 
  • Require Customer Experience Training: Establishing regularly-scheduled team meetings to talk about customer interactions, methods to approach difficult customer encounters and how appreciating diversity can be a net benefit in customer encounters are great ways for your employees to internalize your company's expectations around the customer service experience.
  • Walk the Floor: Watching and observing how the behavior of your staff employees the attributes of your unique workplace culture will give you clues on things that are being well received and things that aren't. 

It is important to note that these issues are complex and personally sensitive. There are broader societal influences, along with implicit bias realities at the individual level that have to be acknowledged. But, from a management improvement perspective, if there is any "blame" to go around, much of it should fall on the processes that we create (or allow to be created) that often dictate employee behavior.

In other words: Don't blame the person, blame the process. After all we can't change people, but we can change processes.

Starbucks, as an organization, is working with national diversity experts to address what they believe to be a systemic culture issue. Not all businesses have access to the same resources that Starbucks has. But, we believe it's important for all organizations to at least consider their current approach to culture and engagement. 

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Alejandro Bodipo-Memba

Chicago, Illinois