Don’t gamble with education

My daughter and I are coffee shop connoisseurs and had a great time exploring the many London coffee shops during the Olympics. One thing we’ve noticed is how the size of muffins at most coffee shops have slowly decreased. You may not have noticed but many of your favorite products are getting smaller, but the price is not. It’s a marketing technique called “downsizing,” a way of passing on a price increase without technically raising the price.

Starbucks might gamble with the size of their muffins, but one thing they don’t gamble with is the size of their training budget. Starbucks set out in the late 1990’s to create a new training program for its frontline workers that would transform staff self-discipline. Executives felt that in order to justify the high cost of coffee, employees needed to be trained to deliver a bit of joy alongside lattes and muffins. Charles Duhigg in his book “The power of habit”, writes that Starbucks management felt, “if a worker knows how to remain focused and disciplined, even at the end of an eight-hour shift, they’ll deliver the higher class of fast food service that Starbucks customers expect”.

Starbucks spent millions of dollars to come up with a curriculum that would train employees in self-discipline and is one of the reasons why the company is so successful today. Essentially, the curriculum draws on the principle of the cue, routine and reward loop to instill reliable and successful customer service habits in employees for when things get difficult at Starbucks. For example, employees are trained in how to respond to particular cues, such as a screaming customer or a long line at a cash register, with preset routines that are designed to minimize conflict and stress, and maximize customer satisfaction.

The program is not only helping Starbucks with their bottom line, it is also turning out to help the employees in their own lives. As Duhigg explains, “Starbucks—like a handful of other companies—has succeeded in teaching the kind of life skills that schools, families, and communities have failed to provide”. One particular Starbucks employee named Travis Leach—who came to the job with severe self-discipline problems, but who has since been transformed into a very successful individual largely as a result of the training—went so far as to say that “Starbucks is the most important thing that has ever happened to me… I owe everything to this company”.

As a qualified teacher with international teaching experience, training is a big part of our CHEETEYE offering. We see the benefits and so do our students from their comments. If you’re leading a group of people, make sure you don’t gamble with their education. The odds are against you.