Monday, March 27, 2023

Why You Should Train as a Barista

The Wall Street Journal's Heather Haddon reported several days ago about the leadership transition at Starbucks. Laxman Narasimhan has taken over for Howard Schultz, who has completed his third stint at chief executive of the coffee chain.  I found one element of the transition particularly interesting.  Haddon notes that Narasimhan "spent 40 hours training to become a certified barista" and served coffee at cafes around the world.  He learned a great deal about challenges on the front lines.  Haddon described the new CEO's plans to stay engaged in the stores moving forward:

Mr. Narasimhan said he plans to regularly work alongside baristas in cafes to understand why it sometimes is so aggravating to get a customer a simple cup of coffee. He intends to work four hours in a different Starbucks store each month and expects his senior leaders to do the same.

To me, this type of direct engagement on the front lines is MUCH more effective than simply visiting restaurants, stores, or factories.   You can truly empathize with your employees if you actually do the work that they do, and if you engage in conversation while tackling tasks alongside them.   You learn a great deal about the obstacles they face each day that make their jobs much harder than they need to be.  Starbucks, as we all know, has had its labor relations challenges in recent years.   This type of engagement can be a step forward. 

Narasimhan's work here reminds me of when Chris Nassetta took over as CEO of Hilton Hotels.  The company was in rough shape.  Inc. magazine reported on the turnaround several years ago.  Nassetta said, "We had lost touch with the front line."  The article noted, that, "Nassetta and his senior executives started spending one week each year working at hotels--in housekeeping, engineering and the front desk. 'Their job is harder than your job,' Nassetta says. 'You get in there, and you pay them the respect.'"

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