Article: How can HR avoid a Starbucks like crisis


How can HR avoid a Starbucks like crisis

Sometimes employees go an extra mile and do such things which put a question mark on the work of culture of the company. We spoke to some HR leaders to share what can the people manager do to avoid getting in such situation in the first place
How can HR avoid a Starbucks like crisis

During a press conference in New Delhi in the year 2012, the CEO of one of the multinational company was asked about the ideal brand ambassador of the company and the CEO replied, ‘An employee represents the true image of any organization.’ No one can disagree with this statement because employees carry a bit of their company wherever they go and whatever they do and people judge the company on the parameters of how the employees behave. 

Sometimes it backfires if the employees do something odd and it leads the people officer to do the damage control. Kotak Mahindra Bank and Starbucks are the recent companies to bear the brunt. 

In a recent development one of the Assistant Manager of Kotak Mahindra Bank, Kochi branch posted some derogatory comment on social media about a recent child rape incident in Kathua, Jammu Kashmir. After his comment, the bank faced backlash on different social media platforms. People asked the bank to sack the manager for his behavior. Understanding the sentiments of their customers the bank fired the Assistant Manager on the basis of poor performance and condemned his action by issuing a statement which said, “It is extremely disheartening to see such comments being made in the aftermath of such tragedy by anyone including an ex-employee.” 

In another incident, one of the Starbucks café in Philadelphia, United States came into limelight after an employee called the police and got two black men arrested as they didn’t order anything and wanted to use the washroom. The news became viral and people started protesting outside the coffee house. 

Later, the CEO of the company apologized, saying he felt disappointed. To fix the problem, the coffee company is closing its more than 8,000 company-owned stores in the United States on the afternoon of May 29 to conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in their stores. 

Damage is done, what’s next

But the damage is done, what should the HR head have done to avoid situations like these in the first place? This incident does not only put a dent on company’s brand but also raises concern about the work culture and practices of the company.

Siddharth Ganguly, Senior VP, HR, BCCL termed the sacking of the Assistant Manager as a Knee Jerk reaction.  He feels that the organization should follow the rule book and shouldn’t buy the opinion of social media. He said, “The individual’s opinion is one thing, but the company’s culture and values are important too.”

Ganguly bats for the right culture fit and suggests that an organization shouldn’t take action until the person is found guilty and it’s the responsibility of HR heads to inculcate and propagate the right culture fit among the employees and thus, any company can avoid a situation like these. 

 Cab aggregator company Uber also faced a similar situation a year back when one of the ex-employees wrote a blog criticizing about the sexual harassment in the company. The blog was read and shared multiple times which was also questioned by the Uber employees internally as well. The company’s newly appointed HR head went to the employees to find a solution to the crisis.  

Richa Sharma, VP, HR, Organisation & Staffing, Genpact feels that proactive prevention is the solution to such problems. Her organization runs mandatory training sessions on ‘unconscious bias’ to help employees become aware of deep-rooted preconceptions. 

She said, “As far as posting on social media is concerned, we believe in freedom of expression as long as employees do not divulge confidential data or speak on behalf of the company.”

RBS’s Bank Diversity Officer Reeti Dubey pointed out that candidates in various organizations come from different backgrounds, cultural upbringing, and educational backgrounds and may be at different levels of their career. She said, “All these are elements that usually lead to unconscious biases that over cede how we think and behave in a work environment.”  

Experts feel that pro-activeness, initiating dialogue with the employees and inculcating the cultural values of the company is the solution to avoid such instances. Though companies follow such practices to avoid the embarrassing situation, some loopholes may put them in an awkward position. It’s a good practice if companies should always be prepared for crisis even if their practices are good. Being prepared will safely navigate the organization through the disaster. 

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Topics: Diversity, Skilling, Culture, Employee Relations

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