Week in Review: After a month of listening and collaboration sessions, Starbucks looks to the future

Close-up of colored sticky notes with handwritten suggestions

For the week of April 25, Starbucks senior leaders and chief executive officer Howard Schultz traveled around the country to listen, learn and exchange ideas with store partners (employees) in collaboration sessions that will shape the future of the company. This week, collaboration sessions were in San Diego, Dallas, Boston, New York, Atlanta, Schaumburg, Illinois, and are continuing Friday in Maryland and San Francisco.

Co-creating benefits for partners of all ages

In his 12 years at Starbucks, Vic feels like he’s taken advantage of several significant partner (employee) benefits: a career-development opportunity to be the first manager of the downtown Disney Starbucks store in Anaheim, Calif.; a degree through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan; and tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursements as he and his wife went through adoption and in vitro fertilization.

“It’s what makes me proud to be a partner, it’s absolutely amazing,” said Vic, now a store manager in San Diego. “But the reality is that not all of our benefits apply to every single partner.

“We need to start reevaluating what some of our younger partners want in terms of benefits so that they stay with the company longer, and they feel proud 12, 15 years down the road, like I feel.”

Vic was one of 16 store partners who shared their thoughts at a collaboration session Wednesday in San Diego, as Starbucks partners and leaders continue to meet in facilitated groups across the country to re-imagine and co-create the future of the company. The meeting took place in an upstairs conference room at the Feeding San Diego food bank, a partner in Starbucks FoodShare program.

Brady Brewer, Starbucks chief marketing officer, center right, participates with store partners in a collaboration session in San Diego on April 27.

Like most of the sessions, the time in San Diego was split in half, with the first spent sitting in a circle reflecting on the current retail experience and the second standing up – workshopping, imagining and discussing solutions. The group focused on the themes of more relevant benefits and the eroding partner experience, exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. 

Among the hopes that partners shared:

  • Starbucks stores will feel like a true third place where people gather
  • Starbucks will feel like an integral part of the community, including partners having time to volunteer and store designs that reflect the neighborhoods they are in
  • Partners on various shifts will get to know each other better and to build even stronger teams
  • That a culture of kindness will be fostered in all the stores, especially between partners and customers
  • That partners will be able to provide customers with a great personal experience while balancing complexities in the stores as the business has evolved – from hot drinks to cold drinks, from a café experience to a drive through and mobile order and pay experience, from standardized offerings to more drink customization
  • Solutions to fatigue and low morale caused by schedule and pay issues
  • Promoting leaders who strongly believe in the mission and values of the company
  • That the company will bring back the Coffee Masters program to deepen and recognize coffee expertise

'Creating uplifting human connection in a world that needs it.’

As he reflected with the group, Starbucks chief marketing officer Brady Brewer, told them, “The past two years have taught us so much about where we’ve invested and where we haven’t, and what we need to do to be who we want as a company.”

Starbucks partners discuss ideas to solve issues and challenges in the stores.

After the session ended, Brewer continued the conversation with a barista who’s worked part-time for 17 years. She told him she’d love to see a thank you to all the store managers who’ve made it through the pandemic.

“That hit me,” Brewer said. “We need to meaningfully honor what we’ve been through together and ensure that our partners in the stores feel truly appreciated for all they have done and continue to do each day.

"There’s so much we can do as a company to have a positive impact on this world,” Brewer said. “I don’t know of any other brand at our scale that puts human connection at the center of its purpose. I think there’s going to be an increasing premium on genuine human connection over time. That is one of the most exciting opportunities for Starbucks: creating uplifting human connection in a world that needs it.”