When Starbucks closed 8,000 of their stores in the middle of the day on May 29 to conduct training, they made headlines for not only their swift action in light of a saddening customer experience, but also for how big companies might deliver training to hundreds of thousands of employees. Our CEO, Derek Belch, took the opportunity to pen a piece on training at corporations around the world, or as he refers to it, “training”. Will the closing of 8,000 Starbucks stores for training (costing the company at least $17 million in lost revenue) actually work? A snippet of Derek’s piece is pasted here below. If you would like to read the full piece, you can find it here on his Medium blog.
According to reports, Starbucks will create the training with the help of several experts, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. While I have no doubt that the information presented will be rich and impactful — perhaps some of the ever best assembled on this topic (kudos to Starbucks for bringing in the experts, versus delivering something off-the-shelf) — the reality is that this “training” is doomed to fail.
Why? To start, Starbucks can’t possibly effectively scale the expertise of Holder, Ifill, and Stevenson across 8,000 stores and 170,000 employees in a meaningful way. They’re likely to create videos, PowerPoint slides, some combination of the two, or maybe do a live stream of this group addressing all Starbucks employees and lecturing on the topic of unconscious bias. Maybe they’ll use a “train the trainer” model, where store managers will be equipped to deliver the message. They’ll probably employ small group discussions. Maybe they’ll role play. All of these are today’s standard delivery methods for employee training, despite the fact that few of them, if any, are proven to be effective.
And herein lies the problem.
While admirable and likely rich with knowledge and information, none of what Starbucks is going to do is actually training…it’s simply exposure. And let’s be honest — how many of the 170,000 participants are going to sit in the audience scrolling through their cell phones? And for those who are paying attention, the information is likely to be forgotten after just a couple days (there’s a lot of science behind this, FYI). In fact, I’ve recently started using this gem from Confucius when speaking at conferences and meeting with customers, which couldn’t be more true:
“I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.”
“Training” for companies throughout the world — especially big companies with tens of thousands of employees — rarely involves doing. Instead, it’s all about seeing and hearing and simply exposing employees to information. In Starbucks’ case, when the “training” ends, the baristas will go back to work, because any additional time off the clock loses money for Starbucks. But they won’t get a chance to practice anything they just learned before going back to work; they are just expected to apply what they learned immediately on the job. How is this a recipe for a fundamental change in employee behavior? It’s not, meaning the sad reality is that the whole thing is likely going to be a big waste of time — more of a PR benefit than one that will truly drive change.
To be clear, I am not picking on Starbucks. Real, meaningful training provided to a workforce of that size is really tough to pull off, and I actually expect the company to do as good a job as possible given the situation in which they find themselves. That said, Starbucks is the most recent and tangible example to make a point about the ineffectiveness of training in Corporate America.
Let’s talk about why.