On April 12, two Black men sat in a Philadelphia Starbucks waiting on a colleague for a business meeting. When one of the men asked to use the restroom, they were told they couldn't because they hadn't bought anything.
Eventually, they were asked to leave the store. When they refused, a store employee called the police and the men were arrested. After being held for a few hours, the men were released without charge.
Videos of the event surfaced, and backlash was swift. Starbucks's CEO, Kevin Johnson, issued a public apology:
"Now certainly there are some situations where the call to police is justified. Situations where there is violence or threats or a disruption. In this case, none of that existed. These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened, and we are accountable. I am accountable.... This is a management issue, and I am accountable to ensure we address the policy and the practice and the training that led to this outcome."
On Monday, Johnson told Good Morning America that "the circumstances surrounding the incident and the outcome in our store on Thursday were reprehensible...they were wrong."
True to his word to address the root cause of the incident, Starbucks just announced that it will close more than 8,000 of its stores on the afternoon of May 29. During that time, nearly 175,000 of its employees will participate in racial bias training designed to prevent discrimination in its stores.
Moving forward, all new employees will go through the training as well.
In the press release detailing the decision, the company noted: "Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities."
The scope of the training will include addressing implicit bias, promoting conscious inclusion, preventing discrimination, and ensuring everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.
Here are two important leadership lessons you can take from how Starbucks has handled this situation:
1. Lasting change cannot occur without a shift in company culture.
Business is about belonging. And if you want to create an environment where your customers feel like they belong with you, you must address and work to root out any barriers that exist to prevent it from happening.
That means diversity, inclusion, and belonging must be an integral part of the company culture.
Starbucks's decision to put every current and future employee through the training shows an understanding that they will be unable to consistently deliver a warm and welcoming experience to all their customers if their team isn't equipped with the tools, knowledge, and resources to do so.
Rather than solely making a public statement about how much it values diversity and inclusion, and reiterating that discrimination will not be tolerated, the company is putting its money where its mouth is, to ensure everyone on the team knows what is expected of them and how to live into it.
Delivering experiences that draw your customers closer to you requires having a company culture committed to doing so at every level.
I was on a call with a client the other day talking about ways to improve the experience they deliver to customers. More than a few times, the team members expressed frustration that the company culture they operated in "wasn't ready" or didn't support in deed the changes they wanted to make.
Lasting change requires a culture change. As a business leader, make sure the culture you cultivate supports your business goals and values.
2. Addressing the problem swiftly is more important than short-term profits.
Starbucks is sending a signal by shutting down their stores. They could have easily made a plan for every employee to go through the training in a phased approach over the course of a few months.
That type of roll-out would have minimized disruption and still allowed all team members to go through the training.
But by shutting down the business and making sure everyone at all levels goes through the training at the same time, Starbucks is making a public declaration that they are serious about diversity, inclusion, and belonging.
It shows their commitment to ensuring that all team members are on the same page with their philosophy as soon as possible is more important than any profits they might lose for being closed for an afternoon.
As a business, you need to keep a close watch on your profits. But profit management won't do you much good if the customers you serve feel like you don't care about them.
When you take great care to ensure both your customers and your team feel like they belong with you, profits will be a natural byproduct.