24th June 2024

Inside Starbucks Coffee Company’s Innovative BSL Training Initiative

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New Possible’s British Training Awards sets out to discover and celebrate the organisations that are truly passionate about L&Ds role in building a thriving workforce. 

In our ‘Sharing Success’ series, we interview British Training Awards Winners to shine a light on the inspiring initiatives that are improving workplaces across the UK and beyond. In this article we talk to Matt Simmons at Starbucks Coffee Company, Winner of the 2024 ‘Innovation of the Year’ category and Highly Commended in ‘Training Initiative of the Year’.

Introducing Matt Simmons

Matt has been with Starbucks for over 16 years, in a variety of different learning and HR generalist roles. For the last 5 years he has had the pleasure of heading up the UK’s Learning and Development team - supporting over 16,000 of Starbucks Green Apron partners around the UK with their learning needs. Matt describes it is a 'busy' and 'incredibly rewarding' role!

About Starbucks Coffee Company

Since 1971 Starbucks has operated as roaster and retailer of premium coffee, now operating over 38,000 stores worldwide. Present in the UK since 1998, Starbucks operates over 1,200 stores nationwide.

British Sign Language Training at Starbucks

In early 2023, Starbucks received a proposal from District Manager, Toro, to develop a training module aimed at raising awareness of the deaf community and providing basic knowledge of British Sign Language (BSL) for all store partners. Recognising the potential impact on both deaf partners and customers, Starbucks embraced the idea, which aligned with its core value of ‘belonging’.

In developing this initiative, Starbucks collaborated with Attensi, their existing gamified learning platform provider, and the British Deaf Association (BDA), experts in BSL. Over six months, they created an engaging online training module accessible to over 18,000 store partners via the Attensi platform. The training employed a blend of games, digitised avatars, and video content featuring deaf Starbucks partners to teach basic BSL vocabulary and enhance understanding of the deaf community. Partners could practice and replay the module multiple times, with playthrough data indicating an average of 19 repetitions per learner. Additional revision sheets were also provided for ongoing reference.

When asked how the collaboration with Attensi and British Deaf Association influenced the design of the training module, Matt said “Collaboration here was absolutely key – we could not have created this brilliant module by ourselves. Attensi provided not only the platform for our partners to access the training but also their deep expertise in the area of gamified learning, creating a module that was not only educational, but also great fun to play. I’d also love to call out the relationship with the British Deaf Association here – it was so important to us to create something that was right for the deaf community, something that would really help our partners to meet their needs. The BDA were brilliant in working with us to do this, helping to guide the content and ensure it was really fit for purpose.”

Outstanding engagement and results

Launched in October 2023, the BSL module quickly gained traction, with 58% of partners completing the training within four months, and many completing it multiple times. Post-training surveys also revealed overwhelmingly positive feedback:

  • 95% enjoyed the training method
  • 97% gained a better understanding of the Deaf community
  • 97% acquired basic BSL knowledge
  • 95% were eager to apply their new skills

One colleague commenting that ‘partners felt more confident and respectful in interactions with deaf customers’.

Matt commented on how the success of the BSL training module has influenced future training strategies and priorities at Starbucks: “First, and most obviously, we are now working on a second British Sign Language module building on the basics covered in the first module. This is due to launch in Autumn of this year. It became clear to us early on that our partners were responding to this training in an incredibly positive way – the most common piece of feedback we received by far was that our partners wanted more of it! This then guided our decision to work on the follow-up module”.

“The other way in which it’s influenced our thinking is around really listening to and being guided by what our partners are asking for (not that we weren’t listening already!). This training came about originally because of one of our store partners (the brilliant Toro Manca, who is now a District Manager). Toro employed a number of deaf partners in the store he led in Canary Wharf and made the case to us for a training initiative to support our partners to be better able to work with and support members of the deaf community – a number of our deaf partners were also involved in creating the module and can be seen within it demonstrating signs for our partners.”

What other advice would Matt give to organisations that might want to implement similar initiatives?

“The first thing I would say, apart from to go for it, is to lean into all available sources of expertise and support, both internal and external. That’s the only way we were able to produce such a great final product. In line with this, I should mention that we’ve agreed to ‘white-list’ this module with Attensi, making it available to other businesses to use should they wish to do so. I’d love to see this initiative spread to other retail businesses; it would make such a difference to the deaf community if we could create a truly welcoming environment for them around the UK. I’m sure Attensi won’t mind me saying that anyone interested can reach out to them, or myself, if they want to know more."

"The other thing I’d say is that I think this landed so well for our partners because we did not try to force on every single partner by making it mandatory. Rather, we focused on making something truly engaging, fun and in-line with our values. This meant that this was something that partners chose to engage with for themselves, with the result that in just 8 months since launch 63% of all our partners have already completed the training. That’s over 10,000 partners around the UK!”

About New Possible

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