Last month, the CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, John Ritchie, sent an open letter to its employees, franchisees, and customers stating that, “When I became CEO in January, diversity, equity, and inclusion became one of my top priorities.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “Papa John’s is getting expert advice on diversity and inclusion practices, planning unconscious racial bias training for employees, and diversifying its employee and franchise base.” Starbucks did the same thing earlier this year with their sensitivity training.
So what prompted this mandatory training for 120,000 Papa John’s employees and 175,000 Starbucks employees? Obviously it was bad national media over racially charged stories. No media story, no problem. So, do these incidents indicate a larger problem of bigotry at these companies? Has an epidemic of stupid hit the coffee and pizza trade? If so, will this mandatory training improve the customer experience in their stores? And will diversity, equity, and inclusion training make these companies better than ever?
The Heart of the Entrepreneur
Of course Papa John’s and Starbucks are extraordinary retail businesses. They built a giant customer base because of their entrepreneurial skill and determination. It takes vision and creativity to execute a necessarily complex and flexible business plan like theirs. To achieve that, the founders, managers, and employees must be a talented group with an entrepreneurial mindset. As Hunter Hastings explains:
Entrepreneurs seek out opportunities to solve the needs of others in ever more efficient and effective ways. They understand that their own personal success is dependent upon their ability to create value in the lives of others. Thus, the entrepreneur promotes the common good while pursuing his or her own aspirations. This is the very core of individualism.
These character traits are the stuff of social and economic progress. They embrace the virtues of self-reliance and personal liberty. Did Papa John’s managers and employees lose sight of these values? Apparently they did; after all, their CEO felt it was necessary to write this in his open letter: “What began as a committee of passionate team members has grown into a company-wide effort to realize our values.”
The Soul of the Collectivist
In order to restore these character traits, known as damage control, Papa John’s is introducing diversity training for all employees, and it’s required. It doesn’t matter that there is no culture of bigotry, or whether or not the training will do any good. The gotcha part is that bigotry is unconscious; and that’s OK, because awareness (which may do more harm than good) is the goal.
A typical diversity program begins with a questionnaire of true/false statements “designed to help you increase your awareness of diversity and inclusion.” They include, for example, “Diversity training is a matter of compliance, and I’m not biased.” By “correctly” answering these “false”, you have voluntarily chosen to participate because you have self-identified as a flawed individual in need of wise counsel. If you answer “true”, you cannot get credit for completing the module. Can you think of a better way to insult the integrity of your entire work force?
A more relevant question is – where did this overbearing diversity movement come from? After all, to an entrepreneur, diversity is a natural byproduct of voluntary exchange and competition. George Leef, in his review of the book Diversity: The Invention of a Concept, by Peter Wood, he writes:
It examines one of the strangest contemporary American beliefs – diversity – dissecting this foolish, often destructive mania with consummate wit and skill. To provide a parallel in economics, think of what Henry Hazlitt’s The Failure of the New Economics did to the Keynesian mystique. What Woods means by diversity is a feeling that group identity is somehow more substantial than either our individuality or our common humanity.
With their company-wide mandatory diversity/sensitivity training, Papa John’s and Starbucks are unwittingly gutting the individualism at the heart of their success. They’re replacing it with a collectivist ideology that was likely concocted by a cabal of image consultants, labor lawyers, and senior management weaned on the authoritarian ideology of guilt.
Disrupting the Status Quo
Papa John’s and Starbucks became iconic brands because of what Hastings describes as “an entrepreneur achieving success by disrupting the status quo with an innovative service or product that improves people’s lives.” Why not continue to disrupt the status quo by resisting the common wisdom; and change the rules with innovation and resolve? These companies have done it at least once already.
In her new e-book, A New Perspective on the Road to Serfdom, Brittany Hunter explains the intellectual leap required to take Papa John’s, Starbucks, and every other private enterprise to new heights of customer service:
The greatest enemy of individualism has always been and will always be collectivism, which is why Hayek touches on this theme over and over again in his writing. True equality comes from the individual’s ability to live, work, and function without a constant fear of state oppression. This equal access to happiness and fulfillment is the truest form of equality in existence.
So what is the better way to handle these public relations nightmares? Maybe it begins with a press release, and then a press conference that defines entrepreneurship; and relate it to their mission of improving the lives of their customers. Then highlight the entrepreneurial spirit that goes into every unique and positive interaction the company has with their communities. Follow that up with an ad campaign.
In it, recognize the thousands of employees that cheerfully and skillfully do difficult work. And for the leadership team – do not cower, and do not allow the media to compromise the dignity of your employees. Authoritarians in government and media covet weakness. Lastly, do not implement programs that the whole world sees for what they are. The pursuit of honest profit is a more noble endeavor to defend, and would quite likely win over a large contingent of new customers.