So - anyone seen Starbucks in the new of late? Probably everyone. And most people know they will shut down their stores soon for a day long "training" regarding cultural diversity and unconscious bias training. Those of us that work in corporate L&D do not find that surprising. A veiled attempt at CYA? Perhaps. And perhaps company leadership takes the problem very seriously and will continue to offer opportunities for its employees to learn and change. But this latest corporate PR nightmare brings a few key points to light.
First, training cannot change culture. Both our larger societal culture as well as an individual organization's culture. Read enough Leadership, Org Development, and Business books and you can easily find dozens of thought leaders that point out how the culture at the top sets the tone for the rest of the company. That doesn't mean Starbucks' leadership suffers from unconscious racial bias more or less then the general public. Nor should it imply that they condone racist or other judgmental behavior. But the situation demonstrates that like so many other large corporations, senior leaders probably find themselves too far removed from the "business", i.e. making coffee, others drinks, and food. They probably spend most of their time analyzing reports, crafting social media and marketing campaigns, making financial decisions to make quarterly and yearly projections, and tweaking their product(s) in test labs. And it also shows that they probably lack open and honest communication with the "field" who see the day-to-day operational problems and who find themselves putting corporate policy into practice. No one wants to walk into a smelly, unclean restroom. And every business owner maintains the right to refuse service to non-patrons. Their bathrooms exist for customers. But as the situation in Philadelphia shows, the company's push to position itself as a "gathering place" in local communities was not accompanied by a change in policy nor operations that gave employees a clear understanding of how their existing policy meshed with the "vibe" they so eagerly tried to build. Training alone cannot fix that issue. Training in any business should and can only focus on teaching employees the behaviors and skills they need to perform their jobs. The training team cannot and should not be relied upon to fix issues caused by the business.
In addition, training cannot change larger issues that stem from our society. Yes, we all suffer from one form of unconscious bias or another to some lesser or greater degree. And any company that tries to assist employees at any level of the organization to discover and address such an issue will only benefit from their investment in the long run. But, one could argue a situation like this would arise at some point because of the unconscious bias most Americans carry regarding race and socioeconomic status as well as the lack of public services that would present an alternative to using business "facilities". A company's training team cannot address those issues. That's not our purpose.
More importantly, though, the situation clearly demonstrates a larger problem in corporate America. And one that I think that is growing. What's the problem? It's the lack of integrating training into the business' operations. Now...some companies - WaWa comes to mind (and I'm sure many others exist) train new employees (including managers) very well. They "bite the bullet" when it comes to assuming the cost of on-boarding staff and making sure they can perform the tasks needed to get their jobs done. But most companies don't do that very well. And the more "advanced" a company/industry is - the worse it is, at least in my experience. That said, even companies that integrate new hire training into their operations often fail to keep it integrated throughout the life of an employee. You hit that mark - 3 weeks, 3 months, and boom - suddenly you're expected to simply perform and rarely find yourself in a setting where you can learn. It goes against what we know about human development - that we continue to learn, grow, and change throughout life, it stifles employee motivation, and it hampers businesses from quickly and easily introducing new tools, new processes, or changes in these b/c employees must complete "training" (often poorly designed) while facing the pressure to perform. Think about it. You train someone to do a job, perhaps investing in trainers, equipment, maybe even designated training centers to teach them how to do x,y, and z. They get told - go out and do your job. But then something changes - x goes to y. Y becomes R. Z goes to B. And then back to Z. And winds up at C. If an employee needs to learn a new piece of equipment or a new piece of software, they don't get the time to learn (and most importantly practice). Imagine a company that paid employees for an extra 15 to 30 minutes of work every day, and that time was fully integrated into their operations? Store open at 7am? Then instead of starting at 6 to get it open, they start at 530 and then from 630 to 7 they learn. Novel idea, but as the skill gap continues to increase and people find themselves moving from industry to industry, career to career, the organizations that train well will probably find themselves ahead of the curve and more successful in the long run.