Closing the Gap Between Stated Values and Daily Behaviors

April 20, 2018

By Aileen Gray

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson takes accountability for his culture.

The incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks earlier this week exposed a gap between the identity the company has cultivated and the behaviors alive in the culture. Faced with this controversy, Starbucks leaders had a choice: merely issue an apology and sweep the incident under the rug or own the problem and work to close the gap so it doesn’t happen again. Too often, leaders take the first (and easier) path. Starbucks did the opposite and is dealing with its exposed culture gap head on.

CEO Kevin Johnson’s actions are precisely what is needed from any leader who experiences a culture controversy. Rather than blame the problem on someone else in the chain of command, Johnson has stepped up as the leader of the company to own the problem and to fix it. He even took personal accountability in a public apology.

“These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened, and we are accountable. I am accountable… [and] I am going to do everything I can to ensure this never happens again.”

More importantly, Johnson is investing in closing the gap in Starbucks culture. The company will close their 8,000 stores for several hours next month to conduct an anti-bias and anti-discrimination training with every employee. This store closure will cost Starbucks about $16.7 million dollars in lost sales. The message that this choice sends is clear: Starbucks’ values are not merely a plaque on the wall, and its leaders are willing to make sacrifices to uphold them.

Starbucks Core Values

  • Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
  • Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other
  • Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
  • Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.

Kevin Johnson’s actions this week and the upcoming training that the company will hold with its employees speaks directly to these values—Starbucks leaders are holding themselves accountable for the results of their actions and are working to change any behavior that does not result in dignity and respect for all.