In the world of coffee retailing, there’s little question Starbucks has been an innovator, experimenting (often successfully) with new product offerings and fine-tuning the customer experience on a regular basis. But it’s also no secret that Starbucks hasn’t limited its innovation to just these areas. It’s also been a pioneer where employee practices are concerned, launching cutting-edge initiatives in areas such as health benefits, tuition support and career development.
Because of these programs and others, Starbucks leaves many of its competitors in the dust when it comes to Glassdoor ratings, earning 3.8 stars out of 5 and supposedly beating the industry average by a wide margin. In comparison, Dunkin Donuts earned 2.8 and Peet’s Coffee earned 3.2 on Glassdoor.
But if we’re to believe a recent analysis conducted by San Francisco-based Monitor 360 that takes a closer look at the Starbucks narratives smattered throughout the Glassdoor reviews, the Seattle-headquartered employers isn’t without some noticeable blemishes.
Monitor 360, a former unit of Monitor Group that was spun off a few years back, recently applied its Narrative Analytics methodology to Starbucks’ Glassdoor reviews in order to identify sentiments and themes contained in the comments. (Earlier this week, Kevin Rockmael, chief marketing officer at Monitor 360, shared a report detailing the findings with me.) As you might expect, the report contained a lot of positive feelings. But it also revealed some definite “needs improvement” areas.
On the positive side, the report found that more than 60 percent of employee comments expressed confidence in Starbucks’ senior leadership and company vision. “The three narratives that comprised this coverage—’Starbucks the Star,’ ‘Grueling with a Shot of Great,’ and ‘ “Ground” by Middle Management’—focused more on employees’ pride in Starbucks’ vision and values than on benefits,” the report said, “suggesting that consistently delivering an inspiring narrative about the value of employees to the company can motivate as much as offering free lattes.”
Additionally, the first two narratives suggest that Starbucks can be an exciting place to build a career.
As for the negative, narratives such as “Part Time Pariah” and “Baristas are the Backbone” emerged that bemoan the difficulties of building a career at Starbucks — revealing one critical driver of employee turnover. The report points out that these were less prominent than the positive narratives about the company’s vision and values, but still comprised a disturbing 31 percent of total employee comments.
Meanwhile, the report continued, “The ‘Ground’ by Middle Management” narrative suggests that “many employees who have a positive view of Starbucks as a corporation simultaneously hold major concerns about middle management. Many view middle managers as out of touch — visiting stores infrequently and promoting those who are undeserving. This suggests that leadership’s efforts to brand Starbucks as a place for opportunity resonate deeply with employees on an emotional level, but that same vision is not regularly communicated by local company leadership, nor does the inspiring vision always match the day-to-day reality.”
A fourth narrative, something the report’s authors labeled “Glorified Fast Food,” suggests some internal and external brand-facing challenges. As far as the internal implications are concerned, the report contends that this narrative reflects employees’ beliefs that “Starbucks is losing its identity as a specialty brewer, suggesting that replacing the art of brewing with increased mechanization can damage retention.”
I asked Rockmael for his thoughts on the report’s biggest surprises. He said the narratives having to do with middle management and glorified fast food were at the top of his list. In the case of the latter, he added, the analysis suggests that employees and former employees are connecting Starbucks more to the likes of McDonald’s and Burger King than management would like.
Rockmael told me this is the first time Monitor 360 has used Glassdoor to uncover these types of narratives, but it may not be the last. (Glassdoor, he said, gave his firm permission to conduct this analysis.)
He also noted that Monitor 360 hasn’t shared the findings directly with Starbucks, at least not yet. But were it to do so, I’d have to think Starbucks might consider some of the more bitter ones worthy of further reflection.