Today, a young barista in his twenties said to me, “Melody, I love my job but it’s hard on my body.  I love Starbucks – I think I should try to find a career at the SSC.” (That’s not verbatim.  And for those who do not know, the “SSC” is the Starbucks headquarters here in Seattle.  It is called the “Starbucks Support Center.”)

I will be honest.  My heart sank a little.  The thing of it is, I have had that same conversation with partners many many times.  Too many times to possibly count.  It may be that my view of Starbucks is skewed by the fact that the Starbucks headquarters is quite close by.  I can imagine, if you are Starbucks partner within Seattle, it probably feels a bit like a realistic dream to move into the corporate headquarters – it’s so close.  This one thirty-second conversation today really made me think.  There are tons of talented store partners who are smart, passionate and capable.  I’ve known this young barista whom I was talking to today for a while: I know he is extremely smart, hard-working, and loves the brand.  But what is he qualified to do?  A quick search at the Starbucks Career Center website will evidence a lack of entry-level positions.  Frankly, some of the job descriptions could be daunting even to those who have education and life experience under his or her belt.

I genuinely worry that Starbucks doesn’t draw enough from their pool of talent within their stores.

When I started writing this article, I contemplated the situation of moving from the store level to everything outside of the store from the district manager up.  Certainly, it is possible that the same problems can occur within the stores, though I see less of that from my viewpoint.

There are pros and cons of both outside hires and promoting from within:

Some of the benefits of hiring an outside hire could include all of the following:

  • Hiring a person with a unique talent.
  • Hiring a fresh set of eyes.
  • Bringing someone with a unique education into the corporation.
  • Potentially bringing on someone with the excitement and passion of starting a new career.

Some of the benefits of promoting from within could include any of the following:

  • Hiring someone who truly understands the promise and culture of the brand.
  • Hiring someone who brings store level experience to projects that will directly impact store employees.
  • Retaining talented employees and reducing employee turnover.

None of what I’ve written is rocket science.  I’m not in HR.  I’m just making guesses.  But I do see a problem.  I have had the same conversation over and over again.  And rarely do I have the conversation, “I just got hired.”  Here in Seattle, there are several store managers with the talent to be district managers.  I have to question having district managers as outside hires at all, yet I realize some will be outside hires.

I recall a while back having a nice conversation with an Orange County district manager about how he found people to promote.  This particular DM had been an Orange County store manager before, and had worked his way up to DM.  The DM simply said to me, “Melody, I look to promote people who are both capable and passionate.  One can be capable without being passionate and vice versa.”  If one browses job descriptions at the Starbucks career center, none of them have just two words: capable and passionate.

None of this affects me.  I don’t work for Starbucks.  Heck, you could argue it’s none of my business how Starbucks hires for their corporate positions.  Yet, I know lots of store employees who want to advance.  And I think about how I would like to see some of my favorite partners stay with the company.  I think it’s possible that Starbucks needs a better way to reach into their store talent for jobs.  Hiring a fresh MBA   means you’ll likely never get the quality of experiences with the brand that any single shift supervisor has.

Years ago, I remember hearing that some Seattle-area baristas found their doorway into the SSC via customer service positions.  Up until 2010, Starbucks customer service was handled by partners in Seattle.  Many store level baristas were immediately qualified to go answer the phones to field customer service calls.  When those jobs were outsourced to New Mexico, over 100 entry-level jobs disappeared.  Once in the SSC, the partners in customer service were able to make connections with other corporate partners, and gain valuable experience.  I suspect it has become increasingly difficult over time to move up from the stores into the headquarters.

I don’t have the answers.  As I have mentioned, I don’t work in HR (though seriously, I think I easily could) and I don’t work for Starbucks.  The only thing I can say is that I want to be more optimistic about great store partners finding their way into the SSC (or any position above the store level).  That’s it.  I’d like to feel more optimistic than I am right now.

By the way, if I’ve got this wrong, tell me.  I would like to know that I am mistaken about the difficulty involved in moving from the stores to a higher level position.