Week in review: Starbucks partners share ideas on restoring trust

Collage of Starbucks partners participating in collaboration sessions

For the week of April 11, Howard Schultz and senior leaders continued meeting with partners throughout the company, listening and promising to work with them to co-create a new Starbucks. Communicating across multiple channels, partner voices are more critical than ever.

Meeting with U.S. Store Managers

On Monday, Schultz appeared in a biweekly virtual meeting of Starbucks U.S. store managers and retail leaders. He shared his thoughts on his first days back at the company, went over learnings from the collaboration sessions that are taking place over the course of April and promised to act on partner (employee) feedback. Schultz spoke passionately of Starbucks longstanding culture of caring for and nurturing a direct relationship with its green apron partners, who have been the heart and soul of the company.

“We're going to make promises that we can keep,” Schultz told retail partners. “We're going to make promises that are real and we're going to solve the problems that exist in your stores to give you a better opportunity to succeed.”

Watch an excerpt of Schultz’s comments here:

As leaders spoke, Starbucks partners reacted in the chat box for the virtual meeting. Here’s a sampling of the comments that were shared:

“Thank you, leaders for trying to lead this space with hope and empathy. Your transparency is appreciated.”

“Stopping the stock buyback should be a huge indicator to all partners that we are making a huge change in our approach and refocusing on partners.”

I am a 20 year partner here. So glad to have you back Howard Schultz. I believe in you and your leadership and know this company can be great again like it was when I started. We can make these changes together, and I will continue to create the Starbucks Experience.”

“I am with you Howard…almost 19 years of trust and I’m not giving up on you now. 😊”

“...My hope is that the rebuilding of the foundation is lasting.”

“No shareholder is working harder than our partners.”

“Being clear about our values will help with the trust factor.”

“I am so grateful with this conversation around unions, it will help me in my conversations with partners. We have a long road to go to recover from the past, but we really have the best leader to guide us. I am grateful every day I put on the green apron. Thank you for your transparency and respect during all of these hot topics.”

“As a 21-½ year partner I can attest to the statement that I have benefited from the Starbucks Experience, and I pay that forward to the partners around me. #proudtobeapartner #ourbestyearsareahead”

“The talk of benefits relevance is appreciated, but I do not want to minimize the discussion around base pay. As we evolve ‘total pay,’ many hourly partners are as concerned if not more about wage than available benefits.”

“I think the lack of knowledge of our benefits is an issue with [store manager] communication. It's our job to let our employees know everything they are entitled to. The number of partners who don't know they can use sick time for doctors appts, etc. is insane to me.”

“The most relevant benefit for me and my family right now would be pay that reflects the complexity of the work I do.”

“We didn't have half the benefits when I started, I am proud of all the benefits we get. Our voice is why we have them. Thank you. Our best days are ahead of us.”

Collaboration Sessions Continue

On Wednesday, more than 15 area partners from stores in the Seattle region gathered at the Starbucks Support Center to provide their honest feedback and big ideas in a forum facilitated by Camille Hymes, Starbucks vp for community impact in the U.S. Following the format used in four previous collaboration sessions held last week, the partners (ranging from store managers and assistant store managers to shift managers and baristas with less than one to more than 15 years of experience) shared with Schultz their in-store experiences.

“This is a waste of time if you’re not honest and truthful,” Schultz told the group during opening comments, reiterating “this is not for show” and that insights would lead to rebuilding trust in each other and improvements to be announced as early as May 3.

The partners took his comments to heart, offering a range of emotions to describe how they were feeling as they work to uphold the company’s mission with customers.

  • “We’re short staffed, but you can’t stop. You have to keep moving.”
  • “The world has changed. Our lives have changed. It feels like this our chance to define what does a job look like in America?”
  • “I want to grow, I'm meeting all my goals, but I’m hitting a block.”
  • “We have a great team. I’ve been here for 10 years. This is my family.” 

While the forums can feel like a vent session, they are also designed to keep participants engaged and thinking forward. Schultz stays in the background for most of the two hours, but he pipes up when he is curious (“We have to look at this holistically. Do you prefer higher wages and more cash or less benefits?” and “Do you think Starbucks cares about you? Or are we just trying to make more money?”). The partners use sticky notes to jot down their ideas to three questions, adhere those thoughts to a large white scroll posted at the front of the room, then use stickers to vote for the concepts that resonate most.

Some key themes that emerged among this group include:

  • On wages, they expressed a desire for retention pay and additional tipping.
  • A partner app that would make benefits clear and accessible to all partners.
  • More time to focus on coffee as a craft.
  • Additional training to ensure partners are prepared for any scenario.

“I did not know Howard would be here,” one 10-year partner said after the session, adding, “It was a lot more conversational than I expected. I’m hopeful. There’s a lot of re-learning that needs to happen, though.”

Partner Experience Survey Launches

From April 11 to 24, Starbucks is conducting its bi-annual confidential survey among hourly partners to gather their feedback on areas of the partner experience that matters most, like their relationship with their team and managers or the adequacy of resources needed to be successful at their job. The goal? To give all partners, whether they participate in a collaboration session or not, the chance to make their voices heard and contribute to the co-creation of Starbucks future.

Photos by Joshua Trujillo