Collaboration sessions highlight opportunities for Starbucks to grow stronger bond between stores and Support Center

The ongoing sessions, designed to provide space to identify pain points and gain innovation and wisdom from partners (employees) at all levels, come as Starbucks undergoes a company-wide transformation initiative

Flavio, a Starbucks director of engineering for retail technology, considers himself fortunate. Not only does he help build the technology that Starbucks baristas use every day – for example, an application that helps manage customer orders – but he also has three partners (employees) on his team who’ve previously worked in Starbucks stores.

They bring their experiences of customer de-escalation, problem-solving under pressure and knowing what it’s like to do that while standing on their feet all day.

“For us, there is a straight line to the pointy edge of the business,” he said. “Having these partners who can relate experiences makes a huge difference to my team. They bring a different perspective to this work.”

Ensuring that the work done by Starbuck support teams like Flavio's truly resonates with partners and customers in the stores was one of the main themes at a recent partner collaboration session at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle.

That session -- one of 25 for SSC partners scheduled for the first half of June – including five virtual sessions, follows almost a month of similar gatherings between executive leaders and Starbucks store partners, held across the country earlier this spring. Themes from those sessions led to a series of new investments in partners announced in May by Howard Schultz, Starbucks newly returned chief executive officer.

The collaboration sessions are designed to provide space for partners throughout the company, at all levels, to identify pain points and help provide innovation and wisdom. They come as Starbucks is undergoing a company-wide transformation initiative, a refocus on key initiatives that will provide clarity on priorities and roles, modernize the stores and improve the experience for customers and Starbucks partners, in both retail and non-retail.

At last Monday’s session, 22 partners sat in a circle in a third-floor conference room at the SSC. Two facilitators guided the group through activities and discussion prompts around topics like burnout and career development, prioritization of projects and how decisions are made and communicated. Schultz and Michael Conway, group president, international and channel development at Starbucks, listened and participated.

“We have to redesign our stores to reflect the fact that the third-place experience that was once the core of the company is no longer relevant across the country,” Schultz said, citing factors like changing customer habits that have led to more drive-through orders and mobile-order pay, instead of people coming into the lobby and lingering over coffee. And while most stores and their equipment were designed to facilitate making hot beverages, customers are now purchasing more cold drinks.

He encouraged those in the circle to spend more time in the stores at different times of day to “get an understanding of what’s going on in there. Regardless of your job or your responsibility, it will thread into your work, what the purpose of the company is.

“We have to become more efficient and more innovative,” Schultz said. “It’s not going to come from the leadership of the company, it’s got to come from people like you.”

Throughout the more than 90-minute session, partners weighed in with thoughts on other themes.

One partner said that Starbucks is a progressive company that should progress with its people. Another said they appreciate these conversations and the company’s culture of listening and hoped the right actions would come out of them.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how much thoughtful listening there was,” Flavio said afterwards. “Having these kinds of conversations, having that clarity of vision is good for me personally. It helps me understand: what are the problems we’re trying to solve?

“This is the first time I’ve heard Howard say, the third place that we defined before is gone. So what I hear him saying is, what does the third place look like in the future then? And to me, that feels like a call to arms. That is what we’re being asked to contribute to. That, I can work with.”

To read more about how Starbucks partners are reimagining the company for the future, go here.

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