Starbucks employees are not to be color blind but "color brave" after yesterday's unprecedented store shut down. This term comes from Mellody Hobson's 2014 TED talk, "Color Blind or Color Brave." Hobson's idea is that we need to talk about race--even though it makes us extraordinarily uncomfortable. Hobson's ideas and stories are powerful, but will it make a difference when you get your coffee?

Everybody Is Welcome

Starbuck's decision to not limit the use of their space to paying customers made headlines earlier and was emphasized at the training.

"Whether a person makes a purchase or not, they are welcome in our spaces. This includes the use of restrooms, cafes, and patios--regardless of whether a person makes a purchase, they will be considered a customer. So partners, everyone who crosses the threshold is a customer."

This seems nice and friendly but certainly makes Starbucks's goodwill open to abuseThe Babylon Bee, a satirical website, mocked Starbucks's policy earlier with the article: "Frugal Dad Suggests Family Lodge at Starbucks During Memorial Day Vacation."

Recognizing this abuse is possible, the training presented a sample of how one barista handled some rowdy customers:

A great example of what I saw in a store just last week was a customer that had come in, over the threshold, and was using language that was making some other customers uncomfortable.

So our barista walked out from behind the counter and went up to this customer and said: "You are in our store every day, and we love that this is your third place, but from one human to another human, the language that you are using is making other customers uncomfortable. So either you have to change your behavior and stay and be a part of our third place or I'm going to have to ask you to leave, and you can come back at a later time, when you feel like you can be a part of our third place. And in fact, if you want to go have a seat, I'll bring you over a cup of water, just to make sure that it's a great rest of your day."

While this barista did a great job, I predict that others attempting the same sort of dialogue will fall flat.

After all, the policy is clear: Anyone can hang out in Starbucks as their "third place." Unless the behavior is egregious, will a barista have the courage to speak up and risk her job? Doubtful. It's easier to let bad behavior happen.

Not Enough Hands-On Training

The entire Starbucks training is available online, so you can look at it yourself and watch the videos yourself to make your own determination, but the thing that stood out to me stood out to Mohamed Abdi, a Starbucks employee from Virginia. He told Time:

"Honestly I think they should have more hands-on courses speaking to different people and customers to figure out where they're coming from. It's easy sitting through something and saying you learned something than actually learning something from the course."

The training focused a lot on feelings--trying to imagine what your customer is feeling, thinking about your own feelings, and transferring that to their coffee. Making a complex drink correctly makes everyone feel good, of course.

Will It Make a Difference?

Will your Starbucks be a beautiful place of racial harmony today? Perhaps. But the real question is will it be one six months from now? Placing too much emphasis on feelings and not enough emphasis on practical solutions, and limiting managers' powers to remove people from the stores won't fix the world's problems. (The training emphasized that they are looking to start this conversation nationally and globally.)

They do have follow-up training for managers planned, so perhaps it will have an impact. But I think, as with their failed "race together" initiative, focusing on changing the world rather than their core business won't make their core business more successful.

Hopefully, I'm wrong and a new era of racial harmony will be ushered in, one "Triple, Venti, Half Sweet, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato" at a time. 

Published on: May 30, 2018