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  • Sara Mays

When Values & Rules Contradict



You’d never know from most recent events that one of Starbuck’s values is, “creating a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome.”


Clearly, at some point, the challenges of the environment overtook their values, and rules were created. Those rules include locking the restrooms and not allowing non-paying individuals to utilize the seating area. On the surface, these may make good business sense, but the recent story reflects what can happen when they don’t.


What does your business stand for? Once you determine your mission and values, they must be used as your filter for all decisions.


Creating a rule that says only paying customers can use the restrooms (and locking them) will put your staff in a lose-lose situation. Common sense will overrule a company rule every time, so when a mother runs in needing the restroom for her child, the staff will let her in. When the single, 20-something male comes in with a similar urgency and he is refused, has he been discriminated against? Let’s use the same demographics but sitting at their tables. Are you going to ask the lady and her child to leave? When you create rules for your staff and customers, they should always be filtered through your values.


For more than 20 years, I worked in a retail company with hundreds of stores and they had public restrooms. Many times, during store visits, I would have managers tell me they needed to lock their restrooms and have customers check with associates for access. We’d run through some scenarios that their associates might be presented with, as well as a company values lesson. We thought of ourselves as a community center where we encouraged people to visit with us often for as long as they liked. A component of providing this inviting environment is having a public restroom. Beyond that, most employees didn’t know that we also had public restrooms because our founder’s father was a cab driver who had a tough time finding businesses where he could go to the bathroom. All our stores were built with public restrooms even before they had cafes. It was a lesson in serving our communities, without prejudice, and that’s a value that we all stood for.


Starbucks has now taken a step back and is closing their 8000 stores to complete unconscious bias training for their employees. The decision is a tremendous step and a significant investment, but it must be the beginning of value-based decisions at all levels of the organization. Otherwise, it will quickly become an expense without any return.


Having rules can be good for some components of the business- food prep, financials, dress codes- but certainly not in areas where we interact with our customers. That’s where your values will be most visible. You can’t train employees how to respond to every type of incident, but you can train them to make value-based decisions that support your company’s mission. Your staff will always be led to the right decision through a values filter.


Sometimes your staff may make the wrong decision, but it will likely be erring on the side of the customer. The decision won’t harm your company’s brand. Of course, it could cost you money, but your good name is priceless. And wouldn’t you rather lose a few dollars today than your good name forever?


Think about your own business. What rules are in place that impacts customers? Do they support or contradict your company values?


If you need help, creating value-based solutions to operate your company, then call us. It is possible, and we can help.


Sara Mays

Principal Founder

The Retail Coach Consultant Group – NY

smays@theretailcoach.training

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