Starbucks Shows That Employer Brand Is About Action

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Starbucks Chairman and CEO, Howard Schultz, announced yesterday that the company would move to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years, across all of the countries they operate in. Additionally, Schultz reaffirmed their support for DACA, through Starbucks’ fee reimbursement program, their commitment to Mexican customers and growers, and reminded employees that regardless of what happens with the ACA, their existing benefits won’t change. It was a packed memo and one timed as a response to President Trump’s raft of executive orders, in particular the order to begin construction of a southern border wall and to ban immigration from 7 Muslim-majoiry countries. You can read the full memo here.

While many organizations are scrambling to figure out how to respond to employee questions about the executive orders, or to change their strategic and compliance plans, Starbucks has moved quickly to reaffirm its support for all of its employees and its commitment to being an equitable international employer and corporate citizen. In doing so, it has smartly reaffirmed its employer brand as a company with a conscience.

Starbucks doesn’t always get it right. It’s “Talk About Race” initiative, which forced baristas to enter into discussions about race in America, put an undue burden on frontline employees (and could have potentially made them unsafe), and they were rightfully pilloried for it. The company is also regularly criticized for its part in the gentrification of poor neighbourhoods, and for its relationship with growers and frontline staff. But many of their other recent policy changes, from relaxing their dress code, to expanding parental leave package to include post-secondary education for veterans, have been both humane and savvy. Starbucks understands exactly what their brand stands for in the minds of customers and candidates alike, and they’ve leveraged that brand, and their power in the marketplace, to take concrete steps to increase employee satisfaction and customer confidence at the same time.

Focusing on substantive benefits over flashy perks and concrete hiring plans over broad statements of intent aren’t just good deeds, they’re good for the brand and they’re good for the company. And while Starbucks isn’t a perfect corporate citizen, it is a good model of doing employer branding right, and for how important your employer brand can be for customers too. Above all, Starbucks knows that employer brand isn’t passive — it’s something you have to live.

  • Don’t pretend to be something you’re not:  Understand your company culture and develop an employer brand that is truly consistent with it.
  • Be consistent and sincere: Make concrete plans to improve the lives of your employees over the short and long term. Always remember that you must walk the talk.
  • Don’t be afraid to take action:  Take stands in the community that are consistent with your values — your customers and employees deserve your public support.
  • Accept and understand criticism: If you got it wrong (and you will sometimes), accept and learn from the criticism. Then do better next time.
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Megan Purdy

Megan Purdy

Former recruiter, HR pro and Workology editor. Comics, cheese and political economy.

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