Subscribe for updates and more.

What makes a good delivery of bad news?

Planted 02020-09-16

This was a post created for a University Discussion.

It’s essential to establish what makes a good delivery of bad news. I believe it’s being direct, showing empathy, and taking action to align values.

What does that mean?

Well, if you sift past the reactive articles, social media mobs, and so forth, you’ll find that this incident reinforced Starbucks’ role as a golden-standard in leadership.

Just read a few of these non-reactive headlines that link to the Starbucks CEO letter:

So, why did “experts hail Starbucks response?”

Because they were direct, showed empathy, and took action to align values.

Starbucks values are as listed:

  • Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
  • Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
  • Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
  • Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.

With Kevin Johnson’s response, he effectively said, “this is not who we are, and we do not do things like this. We’re dropping everything and getting together until we can once again stand by our values.”

This is the highest-ranking person in the company, saying that values here are not empty. Here they actually mean something. These actions were reprehensible, and we’re taking steps to ensure everyone learns that.

They closed every single store in the U.S. for racial-bias education.

Coming up with values is easy. “Integrity, Responsibility, and Respect” sounds like any generic company list of values. What matters is the hard part—sticking to them, making them mean something there.

And that’s why Starbucks’ response works well. Because they were direct, showed empathy, and took action to align values.

You can talk about “how might they buffer more” and “the visual design of the message,” but you’d be missing the point. It’s about reinforcing that is not who we are, this is who we are.

A prime example of how you miss the point by looking at “the visual design of the message” is Berkshire Hathaway. This is the official website of Berkshire Hathaway. The most expensive publicly traded stock of all time, a name we’ve heard and seen many places, and you would probably think their website sucks. And you’d be wrong. Because you’re missing the point.

Timeline of events

April 12, 2018: Twitter video of arrests

April 13, 2018: Starbucks replies on Twitter

April 14, 2018: Philadelphia Mayor and Starbucks CEO make official statements.

April 15, 2018: protests begin at the Starbucks location and the follow-up video from Starbucks CEO is released.

April 17, 2018: Starbucks announces stores will close nationwide for racial-bias education on May 29 and Philadelphia Police release the call of the arrest.

April 19, 2018: The two arrested men appear on Good Morning America.

May 19, 2018: The two men and Starbucks reach a confidential agreement.

May 20, 2018: At the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. Starbucks CEO says “We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision 100 percent of the time and give people the key.”

May 29, 2018: Starbucks closes it’s U.S. stores for employee racial-bias training.

Just 8, 2018: The Philadelphia Police Department announces new trespassing policy in response to criticism over Starbucks arrests.