By Mike Warrick, Jamesson Solutions

Kudos to Starbucks for making a statement against racial bias. Closing all their stores for an afternoon of training will cost millions in lost revenue, but pay off in the end.

Unfortunately, that payoff is more in the area of public relations than in actual changes that a few hours of training will accomplish.

Don’t get me wrong, as a person working in the people development business for over 25 years I’m all for shutting down periodically to train or “sharpen the saw,” as Stephen Covey called it. The truth is, anyone in the people development business will tell you short training periods with little or no sustained follow-up is basically just checking a box: “Yep, accomplished that! Now what’s next?”

It’s tough saying no when it means you won’t get a project and may not work for the client again but it’s even tougher when you’re an internal trainer and your job may be on the line.

I’m not saying what Starbucks is doing is a bad thing, just that their actions are driven more by public relations than by honestly investing in giving their people the tools and training to really appreciate and effectively change how they view diversity and specifically racial bias.

I can almost see how the conversation went in the corporate office.  They have identified a major threat to their business in the way of observable racial bias and their PR office leaps into action to protect the brand.

Their leaders ask, “What can we do to nip this in the bud, and I mean asap?”
PR says, “The CEO needs to get out in front of the problem by offering a completely fair and unbiased assessment of the situation and contritely admit there’s a problem.”


“Next, we need to show we take the problem seriously and are doing something about quickly before social media seriously erodes the brand. What to do, what to do?  Let’s get training involved!”


So, Leadership turns to their internal Training and Development professionals to offer a plan to address the challenge.

Training asks, “Are you really serious about addressing the problem?”

“Yes, this is a real problem and we need to invest in this for our future,” replies Leadership.

Training comes back with a top-down solution that will roll out over the next year with elements becoming part of every associate’s onboard training in the future. It is a solid plan that costs quite a bit in time and money and involves everyone from the CEO on down. Training points out, meekly, that for all to buy into the importance of this training that Leadership has to show they are not above the need for development and embrace the plan.

Leadership thanks Training for their professional insight and then asks what kind of training can be done in a few hours?

“Well,” training thinks to itself, “In a few hours, I can teach you how to tie your shoes, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or make a mean cup of joe.”

However, Training dutifully says it could put together a webinar outlining key points that can be used by all locations. It will be the very best training module that can be done in 2-3 hours. The problem is, it will not change anything other than, maybe, consumers opinions of the brand’s commitment to the issue.


Starbucks is in good company with regard to how they involve T&D to solve a “people” problem. In fact, this is the way many of my own client conversations have gone over the years. I have said “NO” too many times to count when clients ask for watered down versions of carefully crafted development plans. Plans that client Leadership say are absolutely necessary to attain future success.

It’s tough saying no when it means you won’t get a project and may not work for the client again but it’s even tougher when you’re an internal trainer and your job may be on the line.

While I applaud Starbucks for the steps they are taking to handling this real challenge to their future, they should go further and develop a comprehensive, sustainable development plan to achieve lasting results. Otherwise it will only be a matter of time before PR has to leap into action for some other diversity related issue.

I hope their CEO invests in a more long-term effective strategy that makes a REAL differnce. After all, I have a vested interest in their success. I can’t live without my Starbucks Venti Bold in the morning.