On one winter evening in February 2008, Starbucks closed all of its U.S.-based stores and insisted that its 135,000 employees take a coffee break.
Well, not really a coffee break… but a break to relearn how to make great coffee.
It was one of several bold moves made by Starbucks founder Howard Schultz when he reassumed the CEO role and sought to turnaround a company that was on the brink of failure (or, as Schultz put it, a company that had “lost its soul.”)
Many thought Schultz had lost his mind, closing all Starbucks stores around the country for three hours so managers could reeducate their baristas in the art of making and presenting the perfect cup of coffee.
But for Schultz, this was a cornerstone of the Starbucks experience, and one that withered as the company expanded at breakneck speed, diluting much of what had differentiated the coffeehouse from other big food chains.
Millions of dollars of revenue were lost during the three-hour store closure. But Schultz viewed that not as a cost, but as a smart investment in the education of his employees.
He gave them a gift – three uninterrupted hours to focus on refining their skills as baristas. Three uninterrupted hours to reconnect with what had made Starbucks a great and successful company.
As Schultz noted in a video message to all employees that evening, “This is not about training. This is about the love and compassion and commitment that we all need to have for the customer.”
I was reminded of the Starbucks story this week when speaking with a prospective client, an executive who was considering bringing a full-day Customer Experience Workshop to her organization.
Her first question to me was: “Can we take a ten minute break every hour, so the staff can check and respond to voice mails and e-mails?”
Lost on this executive was the message that would send to her staff about the importance of employee education. Sure, we’ll educate you – but don’t you dare fall behind on those e-mails!
It’s one thing to offer educational opportunities to your employees. It’s another to give them the time and freedom to make the most of those opportunities.
In one skillful move, Howard Schultz sent a compelling signal to his entire workforce, demonstrating Starbucks’ commitment to giving employees the knowledge and the tools that they needed to be successful.
Do you need to shut down your entire business to demonstrate a comparable commitment? No, of course not. But for those employees who are invited to take part in an educational program, give them the freedom to really immerse in it.
Doing anything less is a disservice to your workforce, and a waste of your investment.
And speaking of investments… what kind of return did Starbucks see after sequestering its employees at those three-hour training sessions?
Since that February evening in 2008, the company’s stock has risen over 300% — outperforming the S&P 500 Index by a factor of seven.