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Starbucks new CEO has an interesting side hustle: a barista

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Starbucks new CEO has an interesting side hustle: a barista


Starbucks’ newly appointed CEO, Laxman Narasimhan has completed 40 hours worth of training to earn a barista badge. Moving forward, alongside entry-level baristas, he will cover half-day coffee shifts once a month in an effort to stay close to his employees and the coffee loving customers.

Last week, Narasimhan officially became the widely popular chain’s chief executive, taking over after Howard Schultz. But here’s the twist – Narasimhan joined Starbucks as interim CEO in October last year, and has since spent time getting familiar with the company – including earning a barista certification.

According to a report published by cofactor, the year 2019 witnessed an all time high in CEO exit rates – many as a result of the chief executive officer’s professional and personal conduct. Moreover, COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy on businesses, leading to the emergence of ‘micro-cultures’.

Fully aware of the era of remote work and dispersed work cultures we operate in, Narasimhan embarked on this unusual idea of working the front lines. 

He also raised the stakes for chief executives across the world by undergoing a 40-hour training program, just as a newbie would, to become a certified Starbucks barista. 

In a recent letter addressed to his employees, Narasimhan wrote: 

“With you, I’ve experienced every aspect of the business to learn what it truly means to wear the green apron. You’ve welcomed me into our stores, trained me in how to be a barista, and helped me deeply understand what we do, how we do it, and the challenges and opportunities facing us.”

It’s astoundingly uncommon that we hear a public company’s CEO working side-by-side with baristas in coffee shops. And there are a couple of learning curves to take advantage of.

Building trust and connection with your employees 

As a chief executive of a global beverage chain, it can be challenging to find adequate time to personally participate in the growth of a company’s culture. However, Narasimhan wanted to operate differently, and be at the forefront of experiencing firsthand what baristas, store managers and supervisors deal with. 

In a 2018 study of CEO behaviour conducted by professors at Harvard Business Review, they say ‘where and how CEOs are involved determines what gets done. It signals priorities’. The study also found that chief executives only spent about six percent of their time with rank-and-file employees and even less time with their customers.

To help bridge the gap between a chief executive and an in-store barista, Narasimhan got involved at a ground level. This can help him to gauge what Starbucks culture is being influenced by, not just those sitting in cubicles or working in home offices, but the people who make the drinks for their customers.

“I felt it was very important to start as a barista. I wanted to really understand what they do and how they do it,” Narasimhan says.

“I’ve loved and learned so much about the retail experience from working in our stores, and can now make an excellent French press if I do say so myself.”

With Gen Z rejecting work as we know it, Narasimhan’s attempt at putting on a barista’s heart half day a month can be a great starting point to come face-to-face with the real issues plaguing today’s young workforce.

Redefining the ‘customer is king’ notion

Customer service can’t be ignored when talking about working in-store. 

Evidently, that’s an important area of focus for Narsimhan while carrying out his barista duties. As the newest addition to the barista team, no one quite recognises Narasimhan, which puts him at an advantage to interact with regulars as well as newcomers.

Interestingly though, as a barista, he gets to participate in direct, real conversations, which serve as untampered evidence to help improve customer satisfaction strategies in the long run. 

“The past six months of my immersion into the company have been shaped by so many of you who have taught me about our very special culture at Starbucks,” Narasimhan wrote in his letter.

As Narasimhan rolls up his sleeves to get closer to workplace issues like understaffing and unsafe working conditions at Starbucks, it can be interesting to see how his involvement can set the beverage chain up for success. 

There’s research that suggests that a boss’s technical competence is the single strongest predictor of a worker’s well-being. Therefore, this stunt could pave the way for higher-ups, like Narasimhan. to stay on top of their employees’ daily struggles.

For more on workplace culture, read how this agency helps clients lead and influence culture in advertising.


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