Starbucks tapped a well-liked company insider as its first chief partner officer, one of a broader set of moves the global coffee chain’s new chief executive is taking to strengthen operations and employee morale.
On July 11, Starbucks said it was promoting Lucy Helm, an 18-year veteran of the company and its general counsel since 2012, to the new job. The C-level position is equivalent to chief human resources officer but reflects the term “partners” that Starbucks uses instead of “employees.”
Helm took over for Scott Pitasky on an interim basis after he left in April to become vice president of HR/consumer at Amazon. Pitasky had been the company’s chief partner resources officer. Helm’s CPO job is essentially the same but the title was expanded to reflect the importance of the position, Riley said.
As CPO, Helm will direct staffing, learning and development, compensation and benefits, and organizational development for the company’s workforce, including 174,000 U.S. workers.
The news comes on the heels of Kevin Johnson’s April appointment to succeed longtime CEO Howard Schultz, who remains executive chairman. Johnson takes over at a time when earnings have improved but same-store sales have not met Wall Street analysts’ expectations. Starbucks’ third-quarter results are due July 27.
Over the past year, morale sagged as the company rolled out more elaborate drinks and mobile app-ordering at the same time it cut staffing at some locations, creating customer bottlenecks. Three-quarters of 184 self-identified Starbucks workers responding to a 2016 poll by the independent website Coworker.org said their stores were understaffed.
However, company spokeswoman Jaime Riley disputed the results as unscientific, and said Starbucks uses forums, one-one-one conversations and leader roundtables to get employee feedback and “where we fall short with partners based on that feedback, we work to improve.” The company previously said it is working to add staff during peak times and using order management software to improve customer service, according to USA Today.
Based in Seattle, Starbucks is in one of a number of cities to pass laws requiring employers to set more predictable schedules for hourly workers. Seattle’s secure scheduling law, which took effect July 1, requires employers to distribute schedules two weeks in advance and pay extra for shifts that are separated by less than 10 hours, among other things.
Starbucks’ shift-scheduling practices came under fire when they were detailed in a 2014 New York Times article. The company subsequently published a blog post detailing “significant scheduling improvements,” including posting schedules two weeks in advance and providing employees with a “good faith” estimate of hours they would receive.
In a letter about Helm’s appointment, Johnson praised her understanding of company operations and culture. “Lucy also is a leader who listens, and she comes to her new role with deep connections to partners in the field, at the support center, and in our plants,” Johnson wrote. “Through her actions, Lucy demonstrates our values of compassion and empathy as well as accountability and excellence in delivering results.”
As general counsel, she oversaw the Starbucks’ legal and corporate affairs departments and served on its executive leadership team. Over the years, she became well-known inside the company for creating a global inclusion council and sponsoring networking groups for women, LGBTQ employees and employees interested in inclusion and accessibility.
Michelle V. Rafter is a contributing editor in Portland, Oregon. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.