Monday, December 03, 2012

Your Front-Line Employees are Your Brand!

Companies spend a great deal of time and money building advertising campaigns, social media strategies, and other promotional vehicles to build brand equity.   For many firms, though, their front-line employees represent the most significant way that customers experience the brand.  Those employees become crucial ambassadors for the brand.  

Starbucks understands the crucial role that front-line employees (the baristas) play.  It has invested heavily in a program to inspire and motivate the baristas, and to help them bring the brand's values to life in each Starbucks location.   The company has created the "Starbucks Leadership Lab" to inculcate the core values of the brand in its workforce.  Here's an excerpt from a Fast Company article about this program:

Starbucks’s Leadership Lab is, as its name implies, part leadership training, with a station that walks store managers through a problem-solving framework. It’s also part trade show, with demonstrations of new products and signs with helpful sales suggestions, such as “tea has the highest profit margins.” The majority of experiences are meant to be educational, including several that give store managers access to top managers of the company’s roasting process, blend development, and customer service.  

But what makes the Leadership Lab different than a typical corporate trade show is the production surrounding all of this. The lights, the music, and the dramatic big screens all help Starbucks marinate its store managers in its brand and culture. It’s theater--a concept that Starbucks itself is built on.  “The merchant’s success depends on his or her ability to tell a story,” writes Schultz. “What people see or hear or smell or do when they enter a space guides their feelings, enticing them to celebrate whatever the seller has to offer.”

In this case, Starbucks is selling its employees the Starbucks brand. And it has given the Leadership Lab the same attention to detail as its store ambiance.  As Valerie O’Neil, Starbucks’ VP of global communications, puts it: “[The experiences] are wrapped in a very inspirational journey, so partners can walk away not only understanding and informed, but feeling it.”

Note that such programs cannot be efforts to simply dictate practices and policies to employees.  It cannot be an attempt to brainwash them regarding the company's goals and values.  It has to be a forum for two-way communication.   The messages and the values conveyed to employees must be authentic.  Store managers must "walk the talk" each and every day.  If not, then such programs will do more harm than good. Associates will feel that they have been misled.  They have to be part of the process, and there must be opportunities for them to express their ideas to management.  The photograph above demonstrates one of the ways in which the associates' ideas and thoughts are captured at the Starbucks Leadership Lab.

 

1 comment:

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