The EX Files

Why advocacy was right for Starbucks

(but hadn’t worked before)
People are at the centre of everything Starbucks does. The world-renowned coffee company defines itself by its connection and relationship with its customer. Establishing that connection takes time, building that relationship takes trust, and it all comes down to the people – the partners – in each store to nurture both. So when the Starbucks team were looking to build a better employee experience, people were always going to be vital to delivering across a vast national network of stores.

Like most companies, Starbucks had historically had an advocate programme, but over time it had lost its impetus and faced a growing sense of cynicism. It only had one advocate per region, covering around 100 stores, and there was apathy as to whether feedback was actually being listened to or actioned.

Because partner networks are incredibly important to Starbucks, the team could see its potential in employee experience. What the Advocate programme needed was a redesign which was planned with sustainability in mind, which was effectively resourced and which offered a real value proposition.

Investment, value and differentiation

To truly differentiate the offer from before, the team committed to a more substantial presence, with an ambitious reach and a new name.

A new structure was put in place which drastically upped the number of advocates, with one per region, district and, importantly, one experience advocate per store. This was an important move to show that the company is invested and interested in all views across the entire national network, it also improved the quality of the sample of views the team are receiving, and improved the spread of communication across each store.

Above this new structure sits a newly created Partner Experience Board, which has representatives across the HR, Leadership, Support Centre and Stores teams themselves. This board meets once a month to discuss all feedback that’s come through the advocates, and agree what needs to be shared back in response. It also sets a direction for what the business needs to consult on, whether that’s soft-touch with informal discussions, or a more formal survey. Examples include seeking feedback on health and safety training, or store cleaning, or managing the removal of perspex screens post-covid.

The newly created ‘Partner Experience Advocate’ has a new name, but also has a job specification to help shape the role and show that this is a job position that is valued as much as any other. Working in workshops with District Experience Advocates, the scope and ambition of the programme was defined and distilled into a job spec, which would define how that works in practice all the way through the structure from store advocates to the board.

Even a new pin badge – which may seem small on the face of it – has helped to indicate that this is a position that has value. Partners generally love a pin badge, and it’s a great way of signalling to new partners where they can go to for help with the partner experience.
The second step has been to use these workshops to work with 'Experience Advocates' on the district level to invest in their development and support them with training with a series of toolkits which will help them to engage with departments they serve and explore their views. This could be examples of blockers they may face and potential ways to overcome them, or any number of those soft-skills that will be useful to them in being an effective advocate.

This training was further designed to support the sustainability of the programme by upskilling the district-level advocates to train others in the business at store level. Effectively embedding the same values and consistent toolkit across the entire network, it has built confidence in advocates to take a more proactive approach to employee experience and taking full ownership of initiatives throughout the wider organisation.

This investment has worked wonders to combat any apathy that may have remained from previous experiences. Feedback from partners is much more positive, and the investment in training and their development signals that employee experience is important to Starbucks. This was different to what had gone before.

Embedding & sustainability

Future Challenges

This has been only 18 months in the making, and the team is aware that there are many more opportunities for improvement. Challenges include how to effectively and formally communicate the great successes that have come from the new programme. With technological restraints, this communication has usually relied on being informally cascaded down, but the Experience Board wants to explore creative solutions which will ensure this information gets heard by every single partner.

Sustainability will also be key, finding a strategy which identifies, encourages and enthuses the next Advocates. After 18 months, the board will be looking to open up for new members and allow previous ones to step down, helping to ensure as wide an input as possible. And, as store advocates leave, trying to energise new partners to take their place is going to be a key priority as the team embeds employee experience at a store level.

These challenges feel much more surmountable thanks to the implementation of the new Partnership Experience Advocate programme. Everything the Partner Resource team at Starbucks do is geared towards increasing the engagement levels of partners and, as it embarks on the next stage of employee experience, this will be key to achieving that strategy.

Biggest Learning

“Our biggest learning has been the importance of internally marketing what we are doing – of over-communicating and sharing with our partners what we have done and are planning to do. This is not something we’ve always been great at, we’re now doing a much better job of listening to our partners, what we are now focusing on is showing them that we are doing so.”

ADVOCACY FACT BOX

What is an advocacy programme?
Why is an advocacy programme important?

What is an advocacy programme?

Designed as a strategic initiative to promote positive employee experience, an advocacy programme is a structured approach to creating a culture of support among employees. It encourages and empowers people to act as ambassadors for the company, or to quickly share or gather feedback to colleagues.

Why is an advocacy programme important?

They help organisations to create a more engaged and loyal workforce. By empowering employees to become advocates, organisations are able to harness the collective knowledge, skills, and expertise that could otherwise be going to waste. It encourages a wide range of perspectives to help drive innovation, improve customer service, and enhance overall performance.
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