Week in review: As collaboration sessions continue, Starbucks partners share hopes, ideas

Howard Schultz posing with group of people, all smiling

For the week of April 18, Starbucks chief executive officer Howard Schultz and other senior leaders continued to meet with partners around the country during sessions designed to co-create the next chapter of the company. At each session, partners talked about their day-to-day realities with leaders and shared their hopes and ideas for the company.

A vision for the future

When Bria joined Starbucks as a barista in Bronxville, N.Y., almost eight years ago, she remembers how her store manager at the time, Manny, created an environment that felt like something more than work.

“He was one of those managers that was inspiring,” she said Wednesday. “It was really not just a work environment. It was a safe haven. I always said if I were to move up, I wanted my store to feel like that as well.”

She had the vision for what she wanted to create and, when she became a store manager, more than four years ago, that’s exactly what she did. “I made it a place where partners could come if they needed to, where partners were safe, where partners felt like they always had a voice,” she said.

Bria shared her story during conversation in White Plains, N.Y., with other Starbucks partners and leaders on how to co-create the Starbucks experience. The sessions, which are happening around the country, are designed for partners to give feedback – and also dream of the company they want to build as Starbucks enters a new phase. As Bria created in her own store, they are a place where partners truly have a voice – and leaders are listening.

In addition to New York, Starbucks leaders this week also talked with partners from stores in Orlando, Fla., and at the Starbucks roasting plants in South Carolina, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Collaboration sessions were also held throughout Canada.

People sitting in a circle holding up tasting cups of coffee
Starbucks partners participate in a coffee tasting at a collaboration session in White Plains, N.Y.

During an open forum at the York, Penn., plant, partners shared ideas for improving retention, pay and training – topics that have been raised in collaboration sessions and visits since they began. In a session Tuesday in Florida, a partner who was hired right before the pandemic and saw how the company had to pivot quickly to more “to go” service, shared hopes that now Starbucks could return to focusing more on coffee culture and being able to share tastings with customers. “I’d love to be able to share that and have time to be able to share that with everybody on my team,” the partner said.

Partners create their ideal Starbucks

During the collaboration session In White Plains, about 25 miles north of Manhattan, the 15 store partners were a mix of baristas, including some in role for just a few months, and seasoned shift supervisors and managers. During the more than three-hour session inside a hotel conference room, they were asked for their ideas to build their ideal Starbucks store from the ground up, and to identify changes to current practices that could improve their professional and personal lives and make them feel more supported.

White board with sticky notes and writing
Sticky notes with ideas on the scroll at the White Plains, N.Y., collaboration session.

They wrote their ideas on sticky notes, put them on a scroll on the wall and “upvoted” their favorites with green dot stickers. Among the recommendations they discussed:

  • A desire for more face-to-face listening sessions, with senior corporate and retail roles both represented.
  • A regional “practice” store dedicated solely to providing real-time training, along with a general desire to improve the quality of training for everybody, whether it’s teaching baristas how to make increasingly complex drinks or ensuring that new managers are prepared to run their first store.
  • Clear and consistent opportunities and follow-ups for those interested in career development and growth.
  • More pay for the best performers at each level.
  • More consistent and predictable scheduling for hourly partners.
  • Figuring out ways to address the tension between making community connections while keeping up with store demands. How exactly, for example, do you connect with a customer meaningfully at the mobile order pickup station, especially during busy times?

What happens next is what builds trust’

During the Florida session, Schultz apologized to store partners for “not keeping up with demand and putting you in a situation where there is anxiety and pressure. I can promise you that we are doing our best to try and accelerate these ideas and the other ideas we’ve heard to make things better.”

Howard Schultz shaking hands with man, with people sitting in large group
Howard Schultz greets a partner who was retiring the day of the open forum at the Sandy Run Roasting Plant in South Carolina.

Marcus Eckensberger, regional vice president for Northeast – Region 8, who attended the New York session Wednesday, acknowledged, “It’s OK to listen and it’s great, but what happens next is what builds trust, what builds value.”

When the White Plains session ended, the partners grabbed box lunches as they left the meeting. In a hallway, Bria shared her aspiration for the company.

“My hope for Starbucks is that we are equipped with transformational leaders,” she said. “My hope is that every single partner can have the same story as me, where they feel like they had a leader that really listened to them, they had a leader that helped them believe in the company, and they had a leader that helped them believe in themselves.”