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Starbucks’ new CEO will work in cafes once a month


The new CEO of Starbucks plans to don the green apron and work alongside employees at the company’s cafes once a month.

In a letter to employees on Thursday, Laxman Narasimhan, who officially took the helm at the coffee giant this week, said his “immersive experience” training at dozens of Starbucks stores, manufacturing facilities and support centers over the past six months had helped shape his understanding of the employee and customer experience as he prepared to succeeding Howard Schultz as CEO. Narasimhan said he plans to continue working the company’s cafes in monthly half-day shifts as he embarks on a mission to “restore” Starbucks.

It is unusual for CEOs of large companies to work side by side with permanent employees on a regular basis. A 2018 study by Harvard Business School professors found that CEOs spend an average of 6 percent of their time with frontline employees, compared to 72 percent in meetings.

“CEOs face a real risk of operating in a bubble and never seeing the actual world their workers face,” the authors wrote. “Spending time with the rank and file, and with knowledgeable external frontline constituencies, is also an indispensable way to get reliable information about what is really happening in the company and in the industry.”

Neil Saunders, managing director of research firm GlobalData, said all retail CEOs should consider spending some time at the “coal face of their business”.

“Some do at the moment, a lot don’t,” Saunders said. “Interacting with customers, talking to team members and seeing how things work helps with understanding and improves decision-making. It basically helps to ensure that policy is not made from an ivory tower.”

Inside the battle for the first union contract at Starbucks

Narasimhan will make his front-line shifts as Starbucks faces workforce turmoil, with workers unionized at 288 of the company’s 9,000 company-owned stores. On Wednesday, employees at 100 Starbucks cafes staged a work stoppage, and many unionized baristas gathered in Seattle to present demands that include a nationwide starting wage of $20 an hour.

Starbucks declined to respond to a question from The Washington Post about how much Narasimhan would be paid during his monthly shifts at the store.

The company has battled allegations of unfair labor practices in Buffalo, where Starbucks’ union efforts first took hold. Starbucks showed “a blanket disregard for its employees’ basic rights,” National Labor Relations Board Judge Michael A. Rosas wrote in a 220-page order issued this month that accused the company of “gross and widespread” violations of federal labor law.

“The most meaningful gesture incoming CEO Laxman Narasimhan could make to the workers is to come to the bargaining table to negotiate with us in good faith,” said Michelle Eisen, a barista at a Buffalo Starbucks who was an organizer at the chain’s first unionized store. in a statement to The Post. “We don’t need managers to make drinks, we need them to respect our legal right to organize a union and have a real voice in this company.”

In Thursday’s letter, Narasimhan said the company must work to improve the experience for employees, “including long-term hiring and retention, and continue our investment in partner salaries and store operations.”

Starbucks Workers United, which represents more than 7,500 employees at hundreds of stores, said the group hopes Narasimhan’s commitment to spending consistent time with front-line workers “is a sign that he is willing to change Starbucks’ relationship with workers and go a new way forward with our union.”

In recent decades, there has been a shift in what workers want to see from their managers, according to Anthony Nyberg, a professor of management at the University of South Carolina and a fellow at the Academy of Management.

While in the 1980s and 90s it was typical for leaders to stay aloof and take a more ‘despotic’ approach to leadership, “now there’s pretty good evidence that we want our leaders to be more authentic and more accessible ,” Nyberg said.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Narasimhan is committing to working alongside employees at a time when there has been “unrest and strife” on the front lines of Starbucks’ workforce, Nyberg said. For managers new to organizations, it’s especially important to demonstrate a willingness to listen and gain an understanding of how a company operates before making changes, he said.

“It sends a pretty strong signal to everybody that he cares enough to engage with the people who are actually doing all the hard work,” Nyberg said.

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