14 Jun 2018

What does Neuroscaping & Starbucks Bias Training Have in Common?

Written by: Brock Edwards, Neuroscaping Researcher at Debut Group®

Earlier this week we read that Starbucks Canada closed down 1000 of their storeson May 29thto offer their employees an in-store, anti-bias training experience lasting four hours. This inclusiveness training was triggered by the April arrest of two black men, who were refused washroom access at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. Certainly, Starbucks takes the matter very seriously.”   This information got us thinking beyond the PR and Training and onto the Neuroscaping™ that lies beneath this approach.

So, why close all these locations for training rather than hosting offsite or after-hours training programs? It’s not clear exactly. Starbucks may have wanted to make a statement by closing stores or they may have had a much more strategic goal in mind… better return on investment (ROI).

On the surface, Starbucks gets a return on investment by making a statement and reaffirming their positive brand image. Customers that were appalled by the incident in Philadelphia might retaliate by getting coffee from competitors. The training initiative addresses customer concerns and puts Starbucks back in “the good books”.

But, there is more return on investment from this on-site training than meets the eye. What is it? Retention.

Simply put, employees tend to retain more when they are trained in a similar context to where they work. Since Starbucks conducted training onsite, employees are more likely to think about the training while they are on the job.

Why? Contextual stimuli, such as the visual and informational cues inside of a Starbucks restaurant, significantly affect learning outcomes. This is called “context-dependent memory” and it allows us to remember information better when we learn and remember information in the same place.

Researchers have known about the power of context for a while. In one experiment, researchers Godden & Baddeley (1975) asked members of a university diving club to remember lists of words either on land or underwater. Amazingly, divers were able to recall words better underwater when they had learned them underwater initially. The same was true for words learned and recalled on land. This demonstrates the power of context in improving retention and ROI.

For Starbucks, this means that employees will better recall the inclusivity training when they are on the job. Importantly, the improved recall will occur when employees are able to immediately apply training on the job. This is a serious improvement for return on investment.

Contextual-dependent memory is about more than the “place” where content is learned. Contextual learning for employees includes where they were (Godden & Baddeley, 1975), how they felt (Lewis & Critchley, 2003), and what they were doing (Dijkstra, Kaschak, & Zwaan, 2007). This is one reason that role playing can be very effective. By emulating the emotions and actions of a real experience, such as managing customer dispute, retention can be improved.

So what is the takeaway from this? It’s time to rethink where you hold your training sessions.

Hold your training onsite when possible and recreate the experience that employees will encounter on the job. Do this and employees will remember training better and they will be more equipped to apply it to their work.

Not able to stage your training on-site? Don’t worry. Help employees imagine the situation or recreate the work environment as best as you can. Recent research has indicated that even mentally imagining being on-site during learning may benefit recall on-site (Masicampo & Sahakyan, 2014).

Curious to learn more. Reach out to neuroscaping@debutgroup.com and we’ll be happy to answer questions.


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