In an ever-connected world, it’s very easy for an organization’s faux pas to be blasted all over the internet. Just look at the recent Starbucks incident.
Two black men, while waiting for a friend to order, were arrested in Philadelphia because they tried to use the restroom without first ordering anything.
In just a few hours, the arrest turned into a gigantic problem, affecting the company’s reputation. As in many other similar cases, the incident was disclosed by a customer who was at the coffee shop and captured with his/her mobile phone how police officers talked to two black men sitting at a table, handcuffed them and escorted them out, while other customers were explaining to them that the two men were not doing anything wrong. Impact on the media was immediate at a worldwide level, and millions of people wondered if this situation would have occurred with two white men. This is a textbook example of how an employee’s incorrect action, inflated by social media, can turn into a major complication for any global organization since it reveals the vulnerability thereof.
Starbucks’ CEO promptly reacted, regretting the occurrence and said, “The video is very hard to watch and does not represent the values nor the mission of our brand.“ Furthermore, he asked to meet with the two men who were arrested and decided to close 8,000 U.S. stores for half a day on May 29. The purpose of this meeting was to create more awareness around unconscious bias.
The employees were not living Starbucks’ values as stated on their website, which includes phrases such as: “We are committed to upholding a culture where diversity is valued and respected. So it’s only natural that as a guiding principle, diversity is integral to everything we do.” And so training was needed.
Are those values stated real or just a marketing strategy? Closing the stores for one afternoon is not enough to achieve any sustainable cultural change.
A strong and healthy culture is part of the value of the company because it helps to develop a competitive advantage difficult to imitate. Such transformation can only be achieved by defining and developing behaviors, systems and symbols aligned with the publicly stated goals and values, lowering the occurrences of unethical behaviors, including abuse, theft and fraud.
There is an increasing number of customers and shareholders who prefer to do business with organizations that apply sustainable and conscious policies, providing them with a higher public value than that of organizations that do not apply them.
In these uncertain, complex and connected times, the organizations’ priority is to consistently align their business or strategy with sustainable behavior and leadership. The cost of not doing so is the reputation, trustworthiness and perceived value of the brand, even before the loss of income.
Think about Volkswagen, United Airlines and Well Fargo that went before them, and many more will follow.