Sephora embraces employee golden rule in crisis management

Giving presentation

If you were shopping for beauty products at one of the 430 Sephora stores in the United States on Wednesday June 5th – you were out of luck.

The Paris-based personal care chain closed all its US stores – plus distribution centers and corporate offices – to conduct diversity training for all its employees.

This initiative echoed a similar move by Starbucks last May, when its 8,000 US stores closed for an afternoon to enable 180,000 team members to participate in anti-bias training.

Media reports suggested the closure cost $12m in lost profit alone.

Sephora says its training had been planned for some time. However, it was only announced in early June after a well-publicized incident in a Sephora store in Calabasas, California, involving the Grammy-nominated R&B singer, SZA.

SZA complained publicly that she had been racially profiled by a Sephora employee who had called security to make sure that the singer was not stealing from the store.

In the case of Starbucks last year, its employee training took place soon after two black men sitting in a Philadelphia store were asked to leave because they were not ordering anything. The manager then called the police.

The person the men had been waiting to meet arrived shortly afterwards and customers who captured the incident on their smartphones were quick to post on social media.

Sephora and Starbucks should be applauded for their crisis management skills following very regrettable incidents.

Both companies embraced a golden rule of crisis management in the digital age – in managing a crisis, your employees are one of your greatest assets.

In the pre-digital age, it was tough for employees to get any more information about their own employers than whatever the company chose to share with them.

However, this is the age of transparency.

Employees can access information on the internet, with no control or boundaries set by the company.

Of all the key audiences that an organization serves, those inside are going to be the quickest to see any gap between the values the company promotes on the outside – and the way its culture and the workplace really operate on the inside.

Therefore, if there’s mistakes made by the company and employees do not live up to the corporate values– as in the case of Sephora and Starbucks – you cannot just throw the offending employees under the bus.

You have to embrace that change happens when you address the entire culture of the company – and that means more than apologetic statements and promises to do better.

Sephora is the latest to show the way in how you respond to a deeply disturbing incident by addressing and engaging all employees to raise the bar for future behavior and attitudes.