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Organizational Change
Employee Engagement 3.0:
How Starbucks, Unilever Go the Extra Mile

Last week, over 2,000 representatives from our global community of sustainability practitioners, brand strategists, product and service innovators, thought leaders and other change-makers converged at SB’18 Vancouver to share their latest insights on a multitude of themes pertinent to all of those committed to improving business around the world. Here, we dig into brand and organizational efforts to recruit, retain and support an engaged workforce — and go the extra mile for employees in need.

Personal purpose as a powerful ally in rallying employees: A practical Unilever tool

Jonathan Atwood, VP of Sustainable Business & Communications for Unilever, opened his standing-room-only session Tuesday morning by telling the audience that companies can and should leverage the power of their employees’ personal purpose to better connect their motivations with the brand’s purpose. Then he challenged attendees to dig deep to identify their own personal purpose and reminded them, “We don’t share other people’s stories.”

Atwood joined Unilever in 2012 and was promptly sent to Singapore for training that included discovering his own personal purpose, a training all VPs received. That training was led by Nick Craig, President of the Authentic Leadership Institute, a consulting firm committed to waking up those who will wake up the many by inspiring them to discover their purpose and equipping them to lead authentically.

Atwood went reluctantly but through some tough work discovered his first purpose: to give voice to those who don’t have one. He explained that personal purpose can change over time.

Atwood acknowledged author and fellow speaker Dr. John Izzo, who said, “Anything that doesn’t bring us fully alive is not worth our time.” But Atwood warned that purpose is not a silver bullet, but rather why we keep on going. He acknowledged that the process of uncovering your personal purpose can be painful, but that it’s worth the effort — it can lead to better personal as well as professional relationships.

In 2017, Atwood decided that all Unilever employees should have the opportunity to discover their personal purpose, so he opened the training to all employees. To date 3,000 of Unilever’s 9,000 employees have completed this training.

“We all want the same thing,” Atwood stated. “We want to be part of something that changes everything.”

Atwood invited a few members of the audience to share their personal purpose. Several took him up on the offer, explaining the painful processes they went through to find their purpose and how finding it brought clarity to their lives.

Atwood said he believes that connecting people to their purpose enables them to bring their best selves to work, which is good for business.

He said, “I was a part of something that changed everything,” which helped him uncover his second purpose: helping people go to dark places and shine the light.

How Starbucks is leveraging Good Life principles to create win-win employment opportunities for at-risk communities

Starbucks is widely recognized as a socially progressive company. Current efforts include the design of win-win programs in support of refugees, opportunity youth and other vulnerable groups. The company’s efforts are aligned with its own purpose: to use its business to advance progressive social change and social justice.

Michael Conway, Executive Vice President and President at Starbucks Canada, spoke Thursday on the main stage about the social commitments Starbucks has launched and accelerated in the areas of purpose-driven hiring and employee benefits.

He explained that the company is always seeking to answer the question asked by former CEO and executive chairman Howard Schultz, “What is the role and responsibility of a for-profit, public company?” For Starbucks, it is “To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time.”

Conway acknowledged the recent incident in Philadelphia, where two black men were arrested when they refused a manager’s request for them to leave a store. There was a public outcry and protests. Starbucks closed approximately 8,000 U.S. stores for the afternoon of May 29 to retrain employees. They since closed Canadian stores on Monday, June 11, to provide the same training.

“The true measure of a company is how you deal with issues,” Conway said, before pivoting back to the theme of his talk.

His first example of a win-win was creating opportunities: In Canada, there are one million NEET (not employed, in education or training) youth, so Starbucks started a Work Placement program. They went to youth hiring fairs and hired on culture and personality — no resume needed. To date, Starbucks Canada has hired 900 opportunity youth. Success rates are between 60 and 90 percent.

But Starbucks wanted to scale, so it announced the Opportunity for All Youth Coalition of leading companies in Canada to connect youth facing barriers to meaningful employment.

Next, Starbucks took on a global commitment to hire 10,000 refugees by 2022, with at least 1,000 hires in Canada.

But what Conway wanted was for Starbucks to be the advocate for youth in Canada. So, the company held youth open forums, asking youth three questions:

  1. What are your dreams?
  2. Do you think you can achieve them?
  3. What support do you need?

Through these forums, the company learned about the need for mental health support. By age 25, about 20 percent of the population will have experienced a mental health issue. So, Starbucks increased mental health benefits for employees from $400 to $5000/year.

Conway stressed that listening is important. He offered two takeaways:

  1. Use scale for good. Discover what’s important to your employees.
  2. Consider collective impact. Today’s issues are too large to face alone.

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