Starbucks: An Employee Engagement App Is Exactly What You Need


On May 29, 2018, the Starbucks coffee giant closed its more than 8,000 U.S. stores for an afternoon of anti-bias training. They made this move after video of the arrest of two African-American men at a Philadelphia store for trespassing kindled a national backlash against the company.

Up to 180,000 employees at Starbucks stores and at its headquarters received training from a “tool kit” with a “focus on understanding prejudice and the history of public accommodations in the United States.” Starbucks also said, according to media reports, that future training will address “all aspects of bias and experience.”

As the drama unfolded, you had to wonder: How might have technology improved the situation? More specifically, how might have the use of a mobile-first employee engagement app helped the organization?

A Difficult Position

According to the New York Times, Starbucks brought in star power and spent tens of millions of dollars on the response. In one video shown to workers via iPad, the artist Common explains that it is sometimes better to embrace differences than to look for only similarities in one another.

In another, the documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson Jr. provides an overview of the civil rights era and viral videos of racial incidents. Former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. reviewed the materials, and Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., gave advice.

While bold and brightened by bit of celebrity flash, Starbucks’ education effort drew a mixed response. It was at turns cheered on principle, panned as a public-relations stunt, and questioned as to whether it comes anywhere near its goal: beginning a meaningful companywide conversation about racial bias.

After all, the argument went, how much change can occur over the course of one, relatively broad-brush four-hour session?

Tools to Promote Real Change

“This training has to be ongoing,” Georgina Dodge, associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion at Bucknell University, told NBC News. “The four hours will be important to set the stage, but I don’t think we could expect someone to change their worldview in that amount of time.”

And the training should be conducted, you could argue, with help from a platform that allows training to be self-directed, fully accessible on mobile devices and, perhaps most important, with ways to track employee participation and progress.

Put yourself in Starbucks’ shoes. Imagine how much more effective your communication and engagement efforts would be if you used a mobile-first platform that enabled you to do the following:

  • Inform & Inspire: Keep employees plugged in with interactive content, leadership messaging, training and fast track career advancement opportunities.
  • Hear Employees: Get their ideas, insights and opinions with instant feedback surveys and polls. Keep a finger on the pulse of your culture so you can stream future content that hits home.
  • Recognize & Reward: Recognize and reward employees who view and share content with points and badges that may be redeemed for prizes and certificates.
  • Analyze Metrics: View employee engagement levels, satisfaction, knowledge scoring content advocacy, app usage, gamification stats and more so you can adapt programs for maximum performance.

Next Step Worth Taking

A number of Fortune 500 corporations, including Google and Coca-Cola, have organized similar training for their employees in recent years, according to NBC News. But implicit bias in the workforce is a problem that experts say more companies need to address.

With all due respect, these companies would be well-served to use more of the technology available to them. Choosing the right employee engagement app is a great early step to take to address known workplace concerns – and to avoid them down the road. Contact us to learn how.

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