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Coffee Shops & Cops – Only a Speed Bump

Image from CBS News

Image from CBS News

In the past couple of years, the national discussion about racism has been more widespread and intense than at any time in decades.  Unfortunately, this increased focus has come largely as the result of a series of tragic events, many of which have involved the police. From Ferguson, to Baltimore, to Charleston, the loss of lives has stunned communities and focused the attention of our nation. Time will tell if the current discussion about race will lead to constructive and positive conclusions.

Very recently, some news stories have surfaced about a different, though related, situation. There was an incident at a Dunkin’ Donuts store in Hartford, CT where an employee said, in front of a group of customers that included a police officer, that “…we don’t serve cops here.” There was another incident where a police officer was served a cup of coffee in Providence, R.I. on which the employee had written #blacklivesmatter. There have been reports of a few similar situations in other markets involving other brands.

Clearly, any kind of discriminatory behavior or treatment of law enforcement officers helps no one and does nothing to strengthen our communities. In Hartford, the entire incident was resolved quickly and constructively. The store manager and the employee followed the police officer to his car and apologized on the spot. Spokespersons for the franchise group that owns that Dunkin’ Donuts store, as well as for the parent company, issued this statement:

“We are aware, Dunkin’ Donuts & our franchisees share a commitment to the well-being & fair treatment of all of guests. The crew member exhibited poor judgement & the franchisee has apologized to the police officer on behalf of Dunkin’ Donuts.” The state police also followed-up with a statement of support. So, what does all this mean?

First, it is understandable that law enforcement officials would be offended by these incidents. There is nothing easy about being a police officer and most departments are committed to working effectively with their communities to protect the public. In fact, many police departments nationwide have implanted community policing programs, aimed specifically at improving police and community relationships at the local level. It is important not to tolerate discrimination against law enforcement officials and also important to keep these rare incidents in perspective.

Second, although Dunkin’ Brands can speak for itself, as President of MFHA, I know the company very well and can speak of their commitment to embracing inclusion both at the workplace and in the markets they serve. It is unthinkable that they would support a policy of discrimination against police, and there is absolutely no evidence they have done so.

In addition, Dunkin’ Brands is deeply committed to working with their communities, to promoting multicultural employees and servicing multicultural guests. They are industry leaders in food safety, have a great brand to protect, and any suggestion that a guest would be served something that had been altered in any way is simply inconceivable.  This is not a company that would tolerate discrimination against, or mistreatment of, any of their guests.

Third, remember that companies like Dunkin’ Brands are represented by tens of thousands of employees who interact with the public every day. It should not be surprising that someone might, on occasion, say something they shouldn’t or otherwise convey an opinion that is inappropriate for the situation. People make mistakes and, fortunately, in these instances no significant harm was done. There isn’t one of us who hasn’t said something we wish we could take back. It happens, and we need to keep it in perspective.

Finally, these incidents are a reminder of the need for greater Cultural Intelligence among our citizens, communities, government and institutions. The more we understand the ways that diversity impacts us, and the better we appreciate the benefits of a multicultural nation, the better prepared we will be to take positive actions that can prevent incidents of this type from happening in the first place.

Those of us who are committed to promoting the advantages of a multicultural workforce and nation need to strike the right balance. We should not tolerate inappropriate behavior, but our reactions to it need to be appropriate to the specific incident. In the case of Dunkin’ Brands, it is this simple: an employee made a mistake. That employee, the franchisee, and the company apologized, expressed regret, and handled the situation professionally. That is as it should be.

*Dunkin’ Brands is the home to two of the world’s most recognized franchises:
Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins

Please visit our website: www.mfha.net for more information on the Cultural Intelligence Solutions available from MFHA.

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Business Before Politics

straight talk blog gerry fernandez

Photo taken at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis

Almost daily, we hear of  public figures getting into trouble for something they said, posted or tweeted that was poorly phrased or the implications of which they simply didn’t fully consider. Donald Trump’s recent comments are an extreme example of what can happen if a leader says something controversial about an issue that involves race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Our business is not political but there are political aspects to our business. Whether you like it or not, employees inadvertently express their political views at their place of work and increasingly, so do customers.

Issues like the Confederate Flag or Immigration Reform are hot topics and people hold strong views on both sides. What may seem like innocent exchanges can easily turn into a shouting match and can lead to resentment, loss of morale, and even violence.

Here are 3 Cultural Intelligence tips to keep in mind as the summer progresses and the political season approaches.
#1. Coach your managers to discourage talk of politics and not to take sides in any debate.  Remind them that everyone has an obligation to stay focused on serving the guests regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or political beliefs. Today’s workforce is much more diverse and so too are the political views they hold. Political conversations in the workplace can have adverse effects if we are not sensitive to the diversity of political opinions help by staff and guests.

#2. Be informed about current events and understand the issues ahead of time so that you can anticipate potential conflicts.  Think about the purpose of your email: You want readers to respond in a certain way, so use specific call-to-actions such as visit our website, shop the sale now, or sign up for specials.

#3.  Give your staff the language they need. to defuse a potential conflict with a co-worker, vendor or guest.
Certain words are inflammatory or political in nature. For example, undocumented is preferred vs. illegal; sexual orientation vs. sexual preference; people of color vs. minority; and these are just a few examples. Remind staff not to comment on these issues with guests or with co-workers. Tell them if someone does bring up an inflammatory or controversial topic, to ignore the comment, change the subject, or tell them you don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss this issue at work. If they persist, tell them to report it to the manager on duty and let the manager handle it.

Being Culturally Intelligent about how to communicate with employees and guests is just good business. In today’s multicultural, multi-generational world, managers need to know comments like Donald Trump’s may be offensive to many people. The more we stay focused on serving our diverse guests and leaving politics at home, the better we will be as an industry.