How to Come Clean: Make People Responsible
- On June 5, 2018
Howard Schultz’s recent letter to customers about Starbucks’s racial bias training was well written and took responsibility for the incident that led to the arrest of two men in one of the company’s stores. I couldn’t help but compare it to the letter Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, sent to his customers after United employees ordered law enforcement officers to remove a passenger from a United flight. Whereas Munoz seemed to shirk responsibility with passive-voice sentences like It happened because our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values, instead of We placed our corporate policies ahead of our values, Schultz came right out and said, using the active voice, A Starbucks manager called the police.
But then Schultz did what companies too often do when they’re vulnerable: In describing how the incident unfolded, he skimped on the human reference. Have a look:
After investigating what happened, we determined (that part’s good) that insufficient support and training, a company policy that defined customers as paying patrons—versus anyone who enters a store—and bias led to the decision to call the police.
Now consider a simple variation that connects a real person to the decision to call the police and clarifies that employees lacked support and training. These two additions would reinforce Starbucks’s integrity and make the letter consistently contrite: After investigating what happened, we determined that the manager’s decision to call the police was a result of insufficient employee support and training…
In terms of apologies, however, none is weaker than the one from former New Jersey governor Chris Christie who, after the bridgegate scandal that torpedoed his career, reluctantly acknowledged, “Mistakes were made.”
Oh yeah? By whom?