Sunday, November 14, 2010

Strategic visioning workshop

I was working in a Starbucks because I needed an internet connection. [Yes, if you read that too quickly, it will sound as if I’d been a Starbucks employee.] I confess I usually try to avoid the places with their unimpressive coffee doled out at higher-than-appropriate prices based on the added volume of milk whipped into the drinks, but I know they are adored by just about everyone else (when doused with Splenda by you yellow packet worshippers).

I saw them when I walked in: a mixed bag of eight newbies getting indoctrinated “The Starbucks Way.” They were guided by an upbeat trainer who gathered them around two Starbucks standard-issue round tables pushed together in front of the sales counter. The regional trainer who said he “floats between stores” led the mismatched collective through a series of discussion topics from “creating a customer dialogue” (a.k.a., upselling), meeting customer needs, keeping the store clean, getting to know your customers, selling seasonal items, and providing excellent customer service. He was a good facilitator: asking lots of questions, doing ridiculous exercises, and remained endlessly upbeat about the Starbucks brand. As I listened in on the conversation every once in a while, I thought to myself that I would be really good at doing a corporate training, getting people to buy in to a culture they were stuck with because they needed a job.

At first glance, I thought the people at the table were high school types or people who might otherwise be college students. All except for two were white. Three in the group were women. And the oldest was a white man, probably at retirement age – presumed by me to either be retired or to have lost his job in the recession.

I tried not to pay much attention. After all, I had a really important meeting I would be facilitating the next day and was trying to develop some exercises to make sure leaders from around the region engaged to provide helpful, honest input.

The Starbuck group did some interesting exercises. For example, the trainer asked them all to close their eyes and point to the most important Starbucks customer in the room. Then they opened their eyes and the trainer said, “Whoa. You’re pointing in a bunch of different directions. That means our most important customer is everyone you see – all around us.” I was amazed.

Later, the trainer hopped up from his seat and talked about the Christmas holiday displays, breaking open one of several large boxes stacked near the counter. He pulled some bags of holiday peppermint brownies and the group talked about the white color of the brownies versus the green color some years ago. And then, the tough question was posed by the trainer, “How can you connect with a customer over a Peppermint Latte?” The young Black man sat back in his seat and said, “Well, you know they like Peppermint Lattes and so you could say, ‘if you really like peppermint, you should try these limited edition peppermint brownies next time you’re in’ or something like that.” Brilliant.

They went on to talk about giving someone a sample of a peppermint brownie if you want to encourage them to make a purchase, and the trainer said it was really okay if it happened to be a slow time in the store.

Keeping the store clean was another useful topic. The trainer reviewed the importance of making sure the counters were wiped down, spills cleaned up, and that the restroom was always well stocked and cleaned. He confirmed that keeping the restroom clean was an assigned responsibility, but suggested that everyone could pitch in. By eavesdropping I learned if you don’t have bathroom duty but go to use the bathroom and discover a paper towel on the floor, you could pick it up and throw it in the trash. I appreciated that team player approach to the training session.

And then I felt sad. There was a sixty-something year-old man sitting with an 18-year old guy with long hair listening to this training and participating. Maybe all of the people sitting at the table didn’t realize they were being talked to as if they were clever morons. It was a bit like watching a person who works with developmentally disabled young people leading a socialization session with a series of exercises, eliciting very active responses for which high-fives were deserved. But these were grown-ups and this was their job. And with heaviness in my heart, I packed up my PowerPoint presentation for the Strategic Visioning workshop I would be leading the next day and left the building.

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