By Aaron Grossman, CEO
My wife just read something to me that said Starbucks was making a $250 million investment in education by offering to pay 100 percent of the tuition for a four-year degree for any active part-time or full-time employee of the company.
I thought this was so cool. Here is a well-known, publicly traded company, openly promoting an active learning culture. Why? For one, not all of these employees will remain employees forever, but their chances of being lifetime customers became more of a reality. For those that do make careers with Starbucks, their loyalty to the organization just multiplied tenfold.
The underlying theme of a company making this kind of commitment is rooted in a givers mentality. A great book to read on this concept is by Adam Grant called “Give & Take: Why helping others drives our success.” Starbucks is making a commitment to improving the lives of their employees through education. While there is no direct correlation on how Starbucks will benefit from this act, the outcome of giving, always returns positive.
It’s one thing to offer incentives as the one Starbucks is offering. The reality is that most of us small and medium-sized businesses can’t afford to pay for someone’s four-year college degree. We need to find other ways to promote a culture that allows people to grow both personally and professionally
I’ve never believed that I could create scalable success in business by my own doing. If I wanted to grow my business into the next Starbucks, I would have to rely on the passion, intelligence and drive of others, alongside mine. The question is: how do I find those people, and how do I promote an environment that inspires them to help me make something special.
First, it’s finding people who like to learn. It’s finding people who like the challenge of figuring something out on their own. I typically don’t like to hire people who like to work with a lot of structure and need to be told what to do. Instead, I like to hire people and provide them with the outcomes I’m looking to achieve. I work hard to provide them all the tools and resources that are required, and then I tell them to figure out how to create their own success in our world. There is no secret manual that, if followed, will lead to success.
All of us are on our own journey in life, and how we create success is unique to the person achieving it. I’ve always found that when an employee has figured out on their own how to create success in their job, their happiness meter flies through the roof!
One of the challenges I provide in my company centers around resources. We have a TON of them. First, we have very experienced people who know how to be successful in the employment space. As a resource, our employees can access these people anytime. The question is … will they?
We offer online courses on the various roles within employment, including an online course on how to earn your black belt in recruiting. The question is, will our people take advantage of these courses?
We have an internal database platform that we call Alliance University. It houses videos and lesson plans on various subjects that someone who works for our company might encounter. Again, will our staff leverage these resources?
Once a week, I host a live top advisor session where we spend an hour learning or sharing experiences around a common topic. How many people feel it’s important to attend? I mention all of these what if’s because it’s one thing to promote learning in your company— but it takes two to tango. Your employees must want to learn. They must want to constantly challenge their comfort zones and push to learn new things for and within themselves. They must own the active learning experience.
One way to uncover whether someone is an active learner is to put them into a defensive position during the interview process. We provide behavioral assessments on all of our candidates. One of the tactics we use is to share the weaknesses that were uncovered in the assessment. If someone becomes combative or dismissive around this share, then chances are they aren’t active learners and probably wouldn’t work well in an environment trying to promote that type of culture.
I believe that active learners are open to constructive feedback. They realize that their reality, or the lens they see life from, is owned only by them. There are billions of variations of reality, and an active learner knows that. Instead of getting defensive or dismissive, an active learner will start to ask questions. Maybe they don’t see something about themselves and their curiosity to learn comes through in the form of questioning. When someone starts to reflect and question, I quickly know I have an active learner on my hands.
While I’m a few years away from being in the same universe as Starbucks, it’s nice to see so many active learners in my organization, helping me figure out how to create a company that will be the next big thing. This wouldn’t happen if I didn’t understand the importance of building a culture that is completely reliant on people who have a strong desire to constantly learn and grow.