On February 26, employee training, usually relegated to second-class citizenship in the business media, came out of the closet. Starbucks (See Howard Schultz's letter.) closed its 7100 U.S. stores for three hours to retrain its employees in the art of coffee-making. Of course, Starbucks milked the public relations and marketing value of the event, making a big splash in the mainstream news. The Washington Post described the event as “part espresso tutorial, part pep rally.” Regardless, this event was an impressive investment in performance improvement. And it had its risks, too. Other coffee establishments used the opportunity to expose coffee-starved Starbucks customers to their own products.

The next day, Starbucks stores posted the following message: "Your drink should be perfect, every time. If not, let us know and we'll make it right." Clearly, this message was being publically linked to the previous day’s employee training program. The implicit message is that, because of employee training, customers should expect a better and more consistent product. This intentionally or unintentionally positions training as a critical tool for business success.

One, three-hour training event is helpful, but it is far from sufficient. Starbucks, and any company that has repetitive services, must continually guard against the “complacency syndrome” (See my blog post from 11/21/07.). Over time, all employees continue to need training and retraining. Companies don’t necessarily have to close down for three hours nor do they have to remove learners from the workplace, but they should continually use a variety of formal and informal ways to remind employees what they have already learned as well as instruct them in new knowledge and skills. This is how training becomes a strategic advantage.

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