What Employee Engagement Looks Like at Starbucks

What Employee Engagement Looks Like at Starbucks

Starbucks reveres baristas as frontline brand evangelists, so it needs managers that can motivate teams and maintain high levels of employee engagement. To make sure their managers had the skills they needed to be successful, Starbucks invited 9,600 store managers to their Leadership Lab: a $35 million, 400,000 square foot experience with 21 projector screens and 5,000 coffee plants, dedicated to mobilizing employees to become brand evangelists. There are four key lessons leaders should take away from the Lab:

  1. Treat each team like a small business. With 18,000 stores worldwide, Starbucks views their managers as global employees who “essentially run $1 million+ small businesses.” At the Leadership Lab, store managers were able to share problems they had experienced, build universal themes, and decide what course of action best suits the local landscape.
  2. Make employees feel part of the larger mission. CEO Howard Schultz focused the Leadership Lab on giving employees “reasons to believe in their work and that they’re part of a larger mission.” For Starbucks, this included giving employees an opportunity to learn more about bean harvesting by raking real coffee beans and helping managers sell this story to customers.
  3. Get creative with training sessions. Starbucks designed the Leadership Lab to feel like a brand theme park. Its 20 exhibits used a two-hour theatrical experience to engage attendees, most of which felt like one big Starbucks commercial. Beyond the theatrics, Starbucks found that the training stuck with employees well beyond the Leadership Lab, and the creative format made the lessons stick.
  4. Develop a mission statement that matters. The final exercise in the Leadership Lab experience gave employees a chance to reflect on the company mission statement: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” The Leadership Lab used the mission statement as a call to action for store managers and asked how the company vision could live on in local stores.

Takeaway: While you may not have $35 million for your team's development, the Starbucks Leadership Lab demonstrates how creative training opportunities can inspire people while reinforcing the company mission. Brainstorm simple ideas that encourage managers to better serve customers and allow employees to work as strategic thought partners at the local level.

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