Starbucks: Why Training Won’t Help

By: Joanne Vitali

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I’m a native Philadelphian, born and raised in the suburbs, so my ears perked up big time when I heard about the arrests close by at the Rittenhouse Square Starbucks. Unbelievable, huh? I mean how many times have I used a bathroom or had a meeting in a Starbucks without buying a single thing? How many times have you?

Then again, I’m a white female. My worldview doesn’t see these things as possible, at least for me. And therein lies the rub. We simply don’t see these things. They are not from our world, our experience, our database.

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So, isn’t it great that Starbucks reacted quickly (yes!) and scheduled training? What an expensive effort this must be. I should know: I’ve worked in the training field for many, many years and can tell you with certainty that it won’t come cheaply. I sure hope that all those dollars will result in changed behavior, but unfortunately I know better.

Let me help you know better, too.

Training is one of the last things to use to improve or change the performance of a company. It’s only one tool in the toolbox. Any handyman knows when to use a hammer versus a saw. Any organizational development consultant should know when to use training versus when not to.

Other areas need to be addressed first, before pulling the Training Trigger. The system or environment of the company must be analyzed.

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“If you put a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time.”

What parts of the “system” should Starbucks be considering? Thomas F. Gilbert documented the bible on this kind of analysis back in 1978. Gilbert is considered by many to be the “Father of Human Performance Technology” and wrote the respected, research-based Behavior Engineering Model. He designed an elegant framework for understanding how to impact performance.

Here’s a bare bones graphic of his major ideas.

Briefly, the top half (Environment row) needs to be optimized first, before moving on to using any of the options listed in the bottom half (Individual row).

Without getting too detailed, Starbucks hopefully is working with their Environment and reviewing whether their employees:

  • Know what to do — Data box.
  • Have the tools and time to perform well — Resources box.
  • Want to do it — Incentives box.

If employees don’t have an environment that supports a change in their unconscious biases, change will not happen and will certainly not be sustained. Training does not come into play until the Knowledge box in the bottom Individual row. Using it before the Environment has been shored up will result in little to no effect on behavior. From Gilbert’s research, training only has a 15% effect on performance. The Environment boxes, by contrast, have an 85% effect.

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These stats, in a nutshell, are why I moved into coaching after being in the training field for 15 years. I saw how many dollars are wasted on training programs that teach skills that employees are unable or unsupported to use back on the job. Coaching is more of an environmental support, a tool or resource (Box 2) intervention which changes the environment for an employee over the long-term.

My fingers are crossed that Starbucks is taking a more comprehensive approach than what we hear on the news. Training alone will certainly not solve the issue. Changing unconscious bias is a complicated, multi-dimensional, societal issue. From a true system’s perspective, we are all part of the problem.

A version of this article was previously posted on LinkedIn.

Joanne Vitali is a professional certified coach and workshop leader who focuses on gender equality and works with women in STEM — Geek Girls. Contact her to speak at your upcoming women’s event (Outsmart Gender Bias and Lead Like a Goddess are her signature topics) or for a complimentary exploratory session.

Originally published at

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