Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Good habits at Addiction

Ok lovely blog readers, first of all, an apology: I'm very sorry that there were no posts, at all, for the whole of November. I'm also very touched that you've all kept checking in in that time, just in case! I was busy working on a change project on behalf of one of the energy companies. It was all consuming but great fun, and quite heartening to see how seriously the big energy companies are taking the sustainability issue.

Anyway, back to business. Doing what I do, lots of people talk to me about the things that happen in the companies they work for. Good and bad. The good ones in particular are brilliant anecdotes that I want to share as best practice. So every now and then I'll be bringing you a short, sweet example of engagement. And sometimes I'll tell you the bad stuff as well (without naming names) because its quite funny... I mean, because we can all learn from it.

So first up for a bit of recognition is Addiction, a creative agency in the west end of London. My other half has recently joined them and he's impressed. This week they announced their November "Employee of the Month". No big deal, lots of people do an employee of the month programme. However Addiction have a great habit of not only publishing the winners but also sending round the list of everyone who was voted for, along with comments from peers as to why.

Its so easy to feel unappreciated when you're working hard, and sometimes you need a bit more recognition than a hasty "well done" from your line manager. So how nice to hear,

"Becca - She's just incredible"


"Tom - because his stories always make me laugh".

I like it. Is your company doing something you think should be applauded? Or something that should be avoided?! Let me know...

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Getting it Right: Beaverbrooks the Jewellers

Perhaps surprisingly, the next employee engagement guru to have the spot light shone in his general direction is Phil Jepson, HR Director at Beaverbrooks the Jewellers. I say it’s a surprise; it won’t be to any of you that keep up with the UK and European best employer lists. You’ll know that Beaverbrooks have been in the top ten of both the FT and the Times lists for the past 4 years now. However I know there are some of you who are thinking, “Who?” and still others who agree with the description of Beaverbrooks as “faintly unglamourous” and can’t imagine them as an employer of choice. That’s where you’d be wrong.

The fact that not everyone knows Beaverbrooks, despite them being a high street name in Britain, is not very surprising once you’ve spent some time talking to the people that run the business. Beaverbrooks might well be Britain’s most modest company. Not because they don’t think their product is worth anything, far from it, it’s just that the focus of this family business is inside – not out.

Their decision to put themselves forward for the best workplace lists was not driven by a wish for self promotion. Actually it was the idea of an assessor who came to renew their Investor in People status. He found everything in great shape but suggested that Beaverbrooks had become too insular. They needed to look outside and see what other companies were doing; to be sure they were fulfilling their own potential. So as a benchmarking exercise they entered the best employer lists and, rather gratifyingly, came 2nd on their first try.

Much as I found with Pret a Manger before them, the recruitment process is given due respect at Beaverbrooks, as a vehicle for creating a sustainable, strong brand. However, while both employers realise the importance of representing their companies well and honestly, they go about it slightly differently. Interestingly, much of Beaverbrooks’ recruitment is done through word of mouth. Occasionally they still use newspaper adverts, but never agencies or search websites. Phil admits that they tried recruiting through agencies for a while, but without very much success. It seems that with a few exceptions, most agency hires moved on very quickly one way or another.

"The people who reply to every job advert going will never be right for Beaverbrooks. It works much better when people hear about us through friends and family and think “that sounds great! Could I work there too?"

This approach provides its own first stage filtering system. Staff come to have an instinct of their own about who is right for the company and who isn’t. Phil told me that, as a rule, employees don’t introduce friends and family unless they feel sure they’re a good fit. So he knows when he meets a potential employee through the recommendation of someone already working there, it’s a recommendation he can trust.

Beaverbrooks is a family business in every sense, with plenty of examples of mums, dads, brothers and sisters all working for the company at some point or other. Set up by the Addlestone brothers in 1919, grandson Mark Addlestone still runs the business today. He’s very much hands on, visits every store over the course of a year and knows everyone by their first name. He runs the business with the goal that people will work for Beaverbrooks because they want to make a positive difference to the world. That’s a pretty ambitious goal for a company who on the surface of things exist just to decorate people, and yet...

Beaverbrooks donate 20% of their post tax profits to charity. The number used to be 10%, but when Mark asked his staff how they felt about doubling that number (given that it could go on wages), they were overwhelmingly in favour. In the retail sector where pay is poor (although it’s above average at Beaverbrooks) this is an impressively altruistic attitude. Add to that the fact that 28% of Beaverbrooks staff also donate to charity through pay roll giving and it starts to look like a reasonable goal after all. Incidentally, Mark won the Best Leadership award from Sunday Times Best Companies Awards in 2004, 2005, 2006 and again this year with 89% of employees saying they ‘had great faith in him’. Where he leads, it seems, they will follow.

This culture of trust is not something that springs up overnight. Phil talks about this business of 800 employees as warmly as if it has no more than 50 people in it. He seems to have a story about every store, but then he, like the rest of the executive team, has been at Beaverbrooks for over 30 years. That’s 30 years of getting to know the business, the people, what works and what doesn’t. And it’s not a happy accident that things have worked out that way. Beaverbrooks simply don’t recruit from outside when it comes to management positions. Only people already with the company can apply.

There are arguments for and against this kind of policy. On the negative side, one could argue that this can only lead to more of the insularity that Beaverbrooks work hard to avoid and leaves less scope for fresh ideas. On the other hand managers who have grown through the business and understand the way the company works from day one are hugely valuable. When it comes to operational efficiency, internal communications and creating trust based relationships; promoting from within is a massive plus.

Clearly, it hasn’t done Beaverbrooks much harm. It seems that taking care of their employees and empowering their employees to take care of their customers has worked pretty well so far. Customer loyalty is a key factor in the Beaverbrooks success story, and is particularly strong in the North of England where the company is based. Phil says it’s not uncommon there for customers to knock on the window and wave as they go past or to pop in for a chat.

“Obviously the staff know they’re there to sell jewellery and not stand around gossiping with everyone who comes in. But they do have relationships with their customers, and that brings great loyalty. When the time comes for one of our customers to buy the sort of emotional purchase that you come to a jewellers for, an engagement ring for example, where are they going to go? The place where they feel at home”

Putting your staff and your customers in joint 1st position on your priority list is a difficult balancing act. Phil told me that sometimes in exec team meetings they put a carrier bag on a chair and designate that the customer’s seat at the meeting. If they don’t they have a tendency to drift towards insularity again. It seems to be Beaverbrooks' greatest strength and greatest challenge that they have set themselves such high standards of staff welfare.

Following their foray into the outside world and inclusion on the best employer lists, Phil found himself approached by lots of companies offering different benefits packages for employees. After consideration Phil turned all of these offers down, and instead surveyed the staff to see what they actually wanted. Then he tailored Beaverbrooks’ package to fit.

If all this makes the Beaverbrooks exec team sound soft, think again. They’re ethical, but not soft. For example they live the Beaverbrooks ethos “enriching lives” partly by investing heavily in their staff, but they insist that staff invest something of their own too. They believe that for someone to be truly engaged in something, they have to have something of their own invested in it. Be that cold hard cash, or time, or emotion. So as a company Beaverbrooks invest in pensions, healthcare, training… but to get that stuff, employees have to invest too. Pay to get to level one of the healthcare scheme, and Beaverbrooks will pay to put you on level 2. Pay 4% of your salary into a pension scheme, Beaverbrooks will put in 8 %.

In terms of training, there’s a jewellery education diploma course that staff can ask to be enrolled on to further their careers. Beaverbrooks will enrol them and pay for the course if they believe that person is going to put the hard work into the course, however if they fail to finish the first year, they have to pay all the money back themselves. On the other hand if they go on and finish the second year, they get a lovely fuss made of them! Whatever store they’re from, both Mark and Phil travel to London with the successful employee and are there to see them pick up their diploma certificate. They also invite them to bring someone with them, husband, friend, mum – whoever.

"It’s the loved ones who suffer most when our employees are studying hard. They have to be patient and supportive, so we ask them to come down too and then when the ceremony is done we take everyone out to dinner."

This kind of gesture is not soon forgotten by those who experience it – nor by those back in the store who hear all about it when the triumphant student returns.

For many, these kinds of measures could be considered a wise way to do business. For Beaverbrooks, it’s the only way. Phil tells me that he firmly believes, that over the next ten years the companies who don’t run their businesses this way are going to get left behind – starting now. Every year, Beaverbrooks try to mentor 4 or 5 other companies, who approach them for help in this area. Phil and his team work with the leadership teams of various charities, to help them increase their effectiveness through employee engagement.

Given how strongly he feels on the subject, I asked Phil want he thought the number one contributing factor to employee engagement was. Having cursed me for making him choose just one, he settled on,

“Knowing that you have the opportunity to make a difference; knowing you will be listened to, knowing you can make change happen.”



The Differentiators: Enriching lives at Beaverbrooks

Make it personal

Promote from within

Excellence in CSR activity

Listen, and act.

Recruitment – know who you’re looking for

Friday, 26 September 2008

The wonderful world of web 2.0

Last week I was mostly to be found in Vienna at SIBOS; a huge convention for the great and good (as far as we know) of the banking and financial services world. As you can imagine, it was a very interesting week to be there, with the melt downs of various financial institutions happening on a daily basis. But this light hearted post isn't about that.

The key note speaker of the closing plenary was Don Tapscott of Wikinomics fame, and very good he was too. His presentation was on the rise of web 2.0 and the new generation of work force who have no notion of life B.G (Before Google). He talked about the fast-paced, constantly innovating, fun world of work that this generation expects, and a little about how today's institutions are going to have to accept this and evolve if they want to attract the best talent.

One moment in particular made me smile. He told the audience about an interview he did at one conference with a panel of "kids" aged between 12 and 24. He asked them whether or not they used email. The answer that came back?

"Not really, email's pretty old fashioned - its too slow."

"Interesting. What would you use email for then?"

"Well its appropriate for formal communication - maybe to write a thank you letter to a friend's parents or something like that..."

The audience groaned audibly.

It seems to me that much of the deluge of sites and tools being thrown up by web 2.0 will have slipped away by web 2.5, leaving only the very best in use. However one that looks like its here to stay is Twitter, the site for fast status updates and connections. Among other things its proving a particularly useful tool for consumer businesses who have a presence there, to connect with the world outside. Hopefully those same businesses will soon start to explore how it can help them to connect better with their own communities.

Anyway! All this was prompted by this beautiful, tongue in cheek little video I found yesterday. As a new Twitterer who still doesn't really get it, but knows everyone else does, it really made me smile. If you decide you want to find out what all the fuss is about, you'll find me at, come tweet with me!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

BNI Hogarth - a great find

When I first started out on my own, I thought that I would have to be competitive, fight tooth and nail for every good thing, watch my back and be secretive. Obviously I didn't think any of this out loud in case people thought I was mad, but deep down I thought being a business woman would mean developing a tougher husk. Well as it turns out this was the first thing I was wrong about, although I'm sure it won't be the last.

Overall I have found other people in business to be kind, helpful, welcoming and generous. Even if what I do represents competition to them. This may well be something to do with the fact that in this new Web 2.0 world we live in, its recognised that collaboration is king. I don't really care why it is actually - I just really like it.

This morning, this truth was brought home to me once more when my colleague Jon invited me to join the Hogarth chapter of the BNI for their weekly breakfast meeting. The BNI is a business networking organisation with around 70,000 members worldwide. Each local chapter offers the opportunity for local businesses to exchange qualified referrals and, importantly, to learn from one another. I was so openly and warmly welcomed as soon as I walked in, I didn't even manage to feel nervous about the 60 sec timed introduction I had to give myself.

It was a fascinating exercise actually, to see how everyone from plumbers to ad agency directors chose to introduce and market themselves. Among those intros there were some pithily brilliant comments. The one that stands out and that I want to share was from area director, Dinah Liversidge who (on this occasion) was given a 10minute slot. I hope she won't mind me paraphrasing her,

"We as a business organisation need to set our goals for the next 6 months, and monitor our progress towards them... and I invite each of you to do the same thing. Do you know what your goals are for the next 6 months? If not, you need to put some in place. If you don't put up your goal posts, you'll never be able to score".

I thought this was such a lovely analogy. I'm sure its not a new learning for any of you and yet... are your goals in place? For both employer and employee, this is an useful piece of advice to remember.

Many thanks to everyone at BNI Hogarth for an inspiring morning.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Everyone has a story

As some of you may know, I'm in the process of launching a new engagement consultancy called One Magnolia and I'm hugely excited about it! At the heart of this new business are two beliefs:

1. You can't achieve business objectives, long term, without employee engagement.

2. Employee engagement happens one person at a time - everyone has a story, and that story is key to their motivation in life.

I came across this a few days ago; a new collection of the six word stories which Ernest Hemingway made so famous with the chilling, "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn". I love it and it made me think about all the stories there are out there, and how they affect us at work. Watch the video, and then (if you don't mind sharing) tell me, what's your story? Mine starts with a magnolia tree...

Six-Word Memoir book preview from SMITHmag on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Are you there boss? Its me...

Following an ICM poll of 1000 people, the Church of England have discovered (among other things) that around 1/3rd of people are anticipating a very busy time at work coming up. As many as 1 in 8 also said they were "dreading" their return to work after the traditionally quiet summer period. In response the church commisioned this prayer-ad to calm commuters as they read The Metro on their way to work yesterday morning.

Such a lovely idea! It occurred to me though, that having spoken to The Almighty (and keeping in mind the fact that God helps those who help themselves), it might be wise to also deal with the problem at a local level. How about a similar missive to your boss....

Dear Boss,

You know me. Don't you?

I'm not just a person at a desk, or another login name. I'm not just the project pusher. I'm me, and I have stories that I could tell.

I could tell you why I do this, and what motivates me more than money. I could tell you what brought me to where I am now... Without ever leaving these four walls I could tell you tales of conflict and injustice, pride and joy, fear, failure, determination and success. I know this place and I know what really works (and what really doesn't).

Are you listening Boss? I've got so much to say. I think I can help you to make the most of every day in this new month. Come by my desk. Ask me a question.

Thank you
A man

Thursday, 21 August 2008


There is a movement coming over from America called ROWE (Results Only Work Environment). There's plenty of good stuff to it, however its basic premise is that 'face time' for face time's sake is pointless. I understand the sentiment, but actually I don't agree.

How many times have you been at work and met someone in the corridor, jogging your memory and reminding you that you needed to ask them something. As the conversation continues you both realise you're missing an important bit of information and together you walk to the department who can help you.

Or else at lunch you sit down next to someone you don't normally talk to. You start to swap stories about the hellish morning you've had and the beginnings of a new working relationship are forged.
Maybe you're struggling with a new client. A friend tells you that actually Mike, the new business guy, has worked with your client before. As it happens Mike has some time right away, so that you go and have a coffee together and you've got the inside track on how to deal with your client within the hour.

There are lots of great reasons to work from home - sometimes you end up working much more efficiently. Emails, webinars and conference calls mean there is a technological solution to pretty much every communication need you can think of. However there is a serendipitous element to life in an office (a good one) that one loses when one doesn't have 'face time'. As Mike the new business guy might say, 'you have to be in it, to win it'.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Getting it Right: Pret A Manger

If the key to success in property investment is, ‘location, location, location’, then Pret would tell us the key to a happy and productive work force is, ‘recruitment, recruitment, recruitment’.

Head of Communications, Jay Chapman, is passionate about employee engagement and is frequently asked for the key to Pret’s success. She tells me she’d love to have a scary sounding formula to impress people with, but in her mind it’s all pretty simple stuff;

“If you treat your employees well and involve them in the decisions that will affect them, they’re much more likely to be engaged in carrying out the effects of those decisions.”


Top of her list, (and the point she keeps coming back to) is good recruitment. “Pret probably have the world’s most over qualified sandwich makers. They are largely made up of those who have come to London for a couple of years to improve their English, but who when they return to their own countries, are set to become architects, lawyers and journalists”. Pret aren’t necessarily just on the look out for people with degrees; however there is one quality which is an absolute must if you want to join the team – happiness. “You can’t hire someone who can make sandwiches and teach them to be happy,” says Jay, “So we hire happy people and teach them to make sandwiches”.

Pret invest a lot in their very ‘on-brand’ recruitment process to make sure that their business is filled with “Pret people” from top to bottom. Handled badly it could be oppressive, but in this case I don’t think it is. From the first interview until far beyond, Pret actively encourage employees to bring their own personalities to work. Part of the score card which Pret gives to their mystery shoppers (the results of which affect employee bonuses) includes a reward for personality shining through. This is the antithesis of the old attitude of slapping a “Happy to Help” badge on someone and telling them to smile - you’ll find no clones here.

Jay believes this investment pays off one hundredfold. 60% of staff at Pret’s head office began life on the shop floor – and they know the business inside out. Incidentally, ‘head office’ is just an easy way of describing what Pret people refer to only as, ‘Hudsons Place’. This isn’t just a nicety either; the people at Hudsons Place truly don’t believe they are any more important than the people on the shop floor – they’re just fulfilling a different function. This attitude of respect, treating everyone the same and as you find them, seems to run throughout Pret. It colours my entire interview with Jay and I suspect it comes from the top.

Jay talks frequently about one of the founders, Julian Metcalfe, the man who co-founded Pret in 1986. She describes him as both brilliant and exasperating, damning in censure and generous in praise. I am reminded that engagement at work isn’t the same thing as having an easy job (I get the impression that there are occasions when one could cheerfully strangle Mr Metcalfe) but about loving what you do, and knowing why you do it.


The staff at Hudson’s Place are very clear on Pret’s values, and on what the business needs them to do. Jay tells a great story about a new delivery trolley that was being trialled, the prototype of which had been hanging around the office for a couple of weeks. When it came to be needed for a meeting, no-one could find it anywhere although it had been seen earlier that morning. Eventually someone found Julian on the top floor where he had taken the trolley to try it out. He was wheeling it round and around trying to take sharp corners with it, furious to find that it was difficult to manoeuvre. “Our people will be using these all day every day! We have to get them stuff that works!” That prototype was quickly re-designed.

Passionate about his business and the values that underpin it, the founder’s influence permeates the whole company culture. “Julian believes that you should invest in your product and your people,” Jay tells me, “that’s about 90% of your business: if you do that well, the other 10% will take care of itself”. This ethos probably explains the fact that, to this day, only 0.4% of Pret’s revenue goes towards marketing. There isn’t even a marketing department, with the function being looked after by the communications team. Jay is hugely frustrated by the large companies who spend many millions on advertising, and relatively little on their staff and services. It seems to her to be a short term view, which results in neither engaged employees nor happy customers.

Pret’s customers though, are very happy. On average, 60% of feedback received by the Pret a Manger customer service department is either positive or neutral.

Let’s think about that for a minute. Most people only ever bother to get in touch with a company if they’re really aggravated by something. For 60% of contacts to be neutral, (like a suggestion for a new recipe) or full of praise, suggests that Pret have not only succeeded in engaging their employees but their clients as well. And why not? Happy, engaged staff = Happy, engaged customers; it’s not a big surprise. But what else are Pret doing to create such universal engagement?


It’s at shop level that Pret’s most differentiating behaviours come in to play. Firstly, and in my book most importantly, each team member is empowered from their first day at work to make their own decisions. If I go to the till at my local Pret and complain that I didn’t like my coffee, it is up to the team member I speak to, to decide how to resolve that. If I’m spotted struggling with bags and a pram, team members are welcome to leave their post and go and help. It’s a question of using the common sense and respect that Pret looks for when it hires people. Jay tells me, “It’s not uncommon to find that if you’ve been in to Pret for your lunch every day for a week, the guy behind the till will recognise you and decide to give you Friday for free. The manager keeps an eye on things, but overall the team members are empowered to make their own decisions”.

Empowerment doesn’t stop there though – we’re back to Pret’s recruitment process. Before their formal interviews, all candidates (for any position within Pret) are sent to work on the shop floor for a day. If the candidate is applying for a position in a shop, then the team who works there gets a say on whether said candidate will fit in with the team there. If the answer is no, the candidate isn’t hired. (All unsuccessful candidates that have worked in one of the shops get £30 cash for their trouble and a chocolate brownie!).

All successful candidates for Hudson’s Place roles do the same – visiting a shop close to them – and the shop team get a say on whether they would like the person to work for Pret. In this way the shop teams make decisions on who is the next Purchasing Manager, the next Customer Service Advisor and the next Property Director. On top of that, all new recruits spend a week or two working in the shop at the start of their induction.


This culture of respect extends to salary. Having done her 2 week stint on the shop floor, Jay assures me that it’s a tough job and accordingly, Pret pay their staff well. They also use incentives generously and wisely, they know their audience and know what works. “If someone’s only going to be in England for 2 years, then telling them about the 3 year business plan isn’t going to excite them very much” says Jay smiling, “they need cash – and the odd party doesn’t go amiss either”. In fact there are all sorts of bonuses readily available for team members if they want them. I was astonished by Pret’s commitment to their mystery shopper scheme. A mystery shopper visits every single shop, once a week. Bonuses from the results of the report are available per person and per team – if someone gets mentioned by name they are sent a silver star, made especially for Pret by Tiffany&Co. The team bonus can add up to £40 per week, per person, and Pret love the idea of paying it to everyone, every week, because it means a job well done.


Before I leave Hudsons Place, Jay takes me on a very proud tour of the building. It looks like an inspiring place to work, both functional and full of character. Most impressive is the amazing café space on the 3rd floor which houses every kind of furniture used in the Pret shops, and gives employees a chance to try them all out and give their feedback.

On my way out, I look again at the comfortable space I was whisked through on entry. Like the rest of the building, the colourful reception is a study in internal branding and a brilliant channel for engagement. A video plays on the wall, showing not a slick brand piece, but a collection of photos and videos of employee awards and achievements, pictures of parties and a rather unglamorous video tour round a soup kitchen. There is a note board hidden behind hundreds of congratulatory customer emails and on the front desk, “Britain’s Top Employers 2008” (Guardian Books) with a bookmark in at Pret’s entry. It’s a bit like being in someone’s lounge and seeing everything that they’re most proud of. Replace the note board for a fridge door, and the plasma screen for a mantelpiece covered in photo frames, and then you realise… you’re in the family home.


The differentiators: Pret’s recipe for success

Re-invest revenue in people and product

Empower your staff

Know your audience and incentivise them appropriately

Promote from within

Recruitment, Recruitment, Recruitment

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Getting it Right

A while ago I was doing a presentation on the effectiveness of employee engagement, and looking for the latest statistics to back it up. There have been a great number of studies done by reputable companies, and I found plenty of numbers that prove employee engagement is worth doing. The thing is, I also found them unutterably dull!

I firmly believe that while statistics can sound impressive when you hear them, a number is easily forgotten. It is real experiences that are persuasive, and the stories behind them that are memorable.

So I decided to forget the statistical research, and go and interview some real people. I wanted to hear success stories from people who get employee engagement right. I wanted to hear about failures, from people who have learnt from them. To hear directly from those accountable for the bottom line, why they invest in employee engagement.

On this blog I will be presenting a number of case studies, based on interviews with the people who are Getting it Right. I hope you find them as informative and inspiring as I have. We start next week with a study on one of the UK's most admired brands: Pret a Manger.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Improved statistics

Running the Numbers

...I found this on the brilliant blog of my friend Dave.

I normally have a heart-felt aversion to the use of statistics. It just seems a bit lazy and let's face it, whatever your point is, you'll probably be able to find a statistic somewhere that proves it. However this work by Chris Jordan, marrying numbers and art, suddenly makes the whole thing much more persuasive. Thanks Davis.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Beach Blanket Babylon

On Friday myself and Lea, practised what she preaches in a tour of all the independent shops in the whole of East London (or at least that's how it felt). We were looking for a particular outfit, and when we finally found it, celebration with a glass of champagne was the only way to go.

So we headed to the very beautiful Beach Blanket Babylon in Shoreditch. Having arrived and settled ourselves into a couple of rather imposing thrones, we realised that not only did we need Kir Royales immediately, but we were also going to require some olives... and maybe cashew nuts too. Imagine our dismay then, when the waiter told us that they weren't allowed to serve bar snacks on Fridays and Saturdays.

"Really?" we asked, "but why?"

"Um. I don't actually know" said the waiter, very embarrassed.

"So if today was Thursday we could have some olives?"

"Yes. I'm really sorry. You can have a side dish from the dinner menu if you like - how about broccoli with almonds?"

Eurgh. We politely declined. Having had this otherwise perfectly pleasant experience, I looked up Beach Blanket online and had a look at some reviews. They're pretty harsh. Almost every post on the site I looked at, awards the restaurant just 1 star. And what's the first thing they slate? The service.

Now we didn't find any of the staff to be rude on our visit, but if they keep being put in situations like this, I can see why that would happen. Embarrassment quickly turns to defensiveness, and from there to surliness. If I were the manager, I'd try a couple of things to turn around the reputation BBB currently has for "surly, inattentive, slapdash" staff.

1) Inform - Explain to your employees what you're trying to do and why.

2) Involve - Even better, consult them on policy. See what the people who talk to the customers every day think would be best.

3) Keep your promises - If you say you're going to do something, do it. Create a trusting environment.

4) Let Sam have olives!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Bacon sandwiches are not the answer

There is a company I know who give their employees bacon sandwiches on pay day morning and cold beers on a Friday afternoon. They even hand out ice creams when its hot. I suspect they consider themselves to be active exponents of employee engagement, but I'm not so sure about that. If this same company is also investing in a really strong communications programme, has an excellent recruitment process and a well branded, comfortable working environment then that's great. But I don't think they do. I think its just the bacon.

Its not that there's anything wrong in doing nice things for employees. In any relationship, this kind of gesture has a place. A lady who's husband brings her flowers every Friday will certainly appreciate them, and against the context of a happy relationship will consider them as an example of love in her marriage. But if he brings flowers every Friday before spending the weekend in the pub and leaving her alone with the children again, the bouquet will be met with cynicism, indifference, and might well end up in the bin.

Gestures without real action result in cynicism. Interestingly, research recently conducted by BlessingWhite picked up on the fact that it is only disengaged employees who stay at a company for what they get (salary, incentives, bacon sandwiches). Engaged employees stay for what they give (they like their work).

So then, where does that leave us? Employee engagement is not about hand outs or incentives. Nor is it soley about internal communicatons. It IS about creating belief in your company from the inside before focusing on what you tell your external audience. It IS about empowering employees to deliver against business objectives, by arming them with all the information and education they need and... oh go on then, the odd bacon sandwich.

Disagree? I'd love to hear examples of engagement initiatives that you've seen in action, and whether or not they worked.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Living the brand at Abercrombie & Fitch

This weekend I went to the new Abercrombie & Fitch store in London, for the first time. I know, I know everyone else has already been there and done that, but may I now please join you all in your astonishment? Its amazing, surreal, wrong and oh so right.

For those of you that haven't made the pilgrimage yet, Abercrombie & Fitch - Savile Row, is a shop second and a brand experience first. No wait, that doesn't put it strongly enough, the Innocent Village Fete is a brand experience. The Abercrombie & Fitch store is a living advert.

The shop itself is housed in a huge and imposing mansion, complete still with marble fireplaces and library shelving. As you walk up the stone steps, drawn by the palpable sense of smugness inside, you realise you have entered the brand. You'll have seen the actual adverts, black & white shots of sculpted boys and beautiful snap-thin girls living a teasingly homo-erotic Amercian dream. Well there at the top of the steps is one of each. The girl in her A&F uniform of size zero blue jeans and grey skinny rib vest and the boy, tanned and stripped to the waist. Behind them is a HUGE print of one of the adverts, but I have to say its not really that the eye is drawn to.

Around the corner and into the darkness, and the thumping music, and the scent of aftershave which I'd love to say was lingering on the air but I'm pretty sure was pumped through the air-con. And then we just stood and looked, as various beautiful clones came to ask us "Hi. How are you?". Up on the balcony overlooking the house was a size zero/skinny rib dancing to the music, and she remained dancing in exactly the same way, in the same spot for the entire time we were there. I found myself wondering if they have Abercrombie dance classes for all their staff. If they don't they really should - Danceworks is just down the road, they could sell branded dance classes hand over fist.

Anyway, my point being, not only is every last detail in the environment completely on brand, so is every last member of staff. They are each of them beautiful and cool and casual and all very much in an Abercrombie & Fitch kind of way. They are hired as models who serve - but mostly they just stand (or dance) around and smile. In this case Abercrombie have no problem in getting their staff to believe in the brand. The staff ARE the brand...

The Abercrombie and Fitch store ought to be a beautiful segue between everything that is dear to me - experiential marketing and employee engagement. But perfection I fear, is in the flaws and it seems that no-one at Abercrombie has a single one. For me, they've gone a step too far, and alas for all the "model servers" were smiling, they didn't look all that happy. Perhaps we all need something to aim for to be happy in our work? After all how much pressure must it be to be hired because you're perfect?

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Bedtime stories about the world of work - Chapter 1: The Rise and Fall of Gerald the Programmer

Once upon a time there was a lovely chap called Gerald. Gerald was a senior software developer and a very happy one at that. He had lots of friends and a nice wife. None of them actually understood what he did at work, but he seemed happy and they were pleased for him. His wife was particularly proud of him, as more and more often his work was recognised as being the best there was. He was the go to man for anyone with a problem - if anyone could fix it, and fast, it was Gerald.

Its true that Gerald's project management skills weren't too hot - but then they didn't need to be, there was someone else to take care of that bit. And occasionally he would scare people who inadvertently disturbed him while he was deep in a world of code. But everyone knows that programmers (like creatives) are just "a bit like that", so they forgave him. After all he was mostly a very nice guy, when you actually got some non-tecchie conversation out of him.

After a couple of years of this very happy situation, Gerald's boss decided it was time to move on. The company weren't sure how to replace him at first but then they looked at their superstar Gerald. They wanted to show him how really valued he was, so they decided to show some trust and promote him to Head of Department. After all, everyone liked him, and who knew more about software development than Gerald? Gerald's wife was so proud!

Soon though, Gerald's friends started to notice he really wasn't very happy anymore. You see Gerald didn't really get to do the things he was good at once he was promoted. He started out ok when he hired a really very good developer to replace himself. And for a while he was content in dreaming up new ways to make the department run better - but for all the same reasons as his predeccesor, he found them hard to implement. And all his time got taken up with meetings and people! People had never been Gerald's forte, and suddenly here they all were wanting time with him and expecting him to be a different person to who he was before.

It seemed that although developers and creatives were allowed to be "a bit like that", managers didn't really get any allowances made for them at all. As HoD people expected him to have answers, to be diplomatic, to have opinions on the department's place in the wider business.
Although he'd never been much good at project management (easier to hit the deadlines than plan them) Gerald was suddenly in charge of project resourcing - and no-one ever seemed to be totally happy with whatever plan he came up with. One girl actually came into his office and cried. Cried!

Gerald was lost. He didn't feel appreciated, or clever, or important - or any of the things he'd felt when he was the superstar programmer of the moment. He began to yearn for the days when he had time to be involved in projects.. in fact surely the new developer would benefit from his help wouldn't he? Perhaps he ought to ask for a project update and see what he could add. There were bound to be a few things the team had missed...

And then the team weren't very happy with Gerald either. They didn't need another developer - they had plenty of those. They needed Gerald to trust them and leave them to do their jobs, but to be there for advice if it was required. They needed him to know what to say if they went into his office and cried, and to fight the team's corner in HoD meetings. They needed him to be cool and diplomatic and to give their department a good name throughout the rest of the business. They needed a manager.

"Oh dear", thought Gerald, "I'm a brilliant software developer, but not a very good manager". "Why is it that there couldn't be two equal paths of career development? Where managers and tecchies were each rewarded and recognised for their own skills, and the top tecchie and the top manager had equal pay and status?"

Why indeed. Its a tricky one this, but time and time again I hear about managers who never really wanted to be in charge of a team ending up frustrated, and their teams more so. If anyone has any thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them - its clearly not a simple problem to solve!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

A room with a view

Being one of an experiential bent, it has been my long held opinion that a key factor in how happy and productive your employees are, is the environment in which they work. Or put another way: people like working in funky offices.

I was planning to write therefore, about how an inspiring environment can help you with:

creativity in the work place
talent attraction and retention
a strong employer brand

However I realised that Alex Kjerulf, the author of "Happy Hour is 9 to 5" and all round engagement guru has already done exactly that. Click here to read his post on 10 seeeeriously cool workplaces.

Want some ideas for your office? Have a look at This ain't no disco for inspiration.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Terminal 5: In the line of fire

I travelled back from Budapest through T5 yesterday and it wasn't a pleasant exercise. Aesthetically it is well designed, nice and quiet, and passport control is huge and well staffed so we were through in moments. Unfortunately that's where the good experience ended.

Against the backdrop of last weeks disaster, (and having been forced at the last minute to fly out of Gatwick to our destination), we were interested to see just how bad it would be. We got our answer in the baggage reclaim hall, where the tempers of all 25 of us started to fray pretty quickly as we looked up at the long list of flights coming in that said "please wait" next to them.

45 minutes later we were still standing there when a tired looking member of staff walked up to us and informed us that the luggage for the Budapest flight was on carousel 10. The electronic signage it seems, doesn't work - the luggage had clearly been going round for quite some time.

By this time we were of course desperate to just get out of there and go home. But when we emerged mole-like into the light, it was to face 30-strong queues for the lifts to the car park. I couldn't work out whether they were going too slowly or that there simply aren't enough of them; either way it was the staff again that provided the solution. This time there was a determined lady with a huge set of lungs bellowing instructions to the crowd. And another lady in the lift preventing too many people from getting in at once. They too looked rather tired, and as if they'd quite like someone to say something kind to them.

This made me wonder at the size of the employee motivation task BA and BAA have on their hands. The Terminal 5 brand currently stands for failure at worst, and naivety at best. The staff don't just have to deal with the frustration of not being able to do their jobs properly and the tempers of the customers who really aren't getting what they paid for. They ALSO have to deal with representing a company who are currently the world's laughing stock. Yet they are the only ones who can keep Terminal 5 from grinding to a halt and stop the public from removing their business from BA en masse.

I really hope that BA management are communicating daily with their staff at the moment. They need to give them enough information to pacify the general public, and to show employees themselves that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Most importantly though I hope they're saying, "well done" and "thank you" as often as they can manage it - because right now the staff is the only thing at Terminal 5 that's actually working.

Monday, 31 March 2008

Every Little Helps?

A friend of mine yesterday challenged me to find something good about Tesco's employee engagement policy. She (Lea, of the Unchained Guide) is fiercly anti-monopolies and as such not a fan of Tesco, however she wondered what someone who hadn't already formed strong opinions on the subject might think. Find Lea's original blog on the subject here. And my reply below.

I've never worked for Tesco, so like any relationship, I can only look at the one Tesco has with its employees from the outside and make guesses as to what it feels like to be in it...

I think its harsh to judge David Richardson for taking the opportunity to justify employee engagement spend when he sees it reflected in the bottom line. The quantative results of employee engagement can be hard to measure and if you have a direct correlation with sales performance that's going to leverage more cash from Mr CFO, I say go for it.

It seems to me on the plus side that Tesco have an exceptional commitment to Training & Development, available to anyone who wants it. If there ever was a glass ceiling there, they did away with it long ago. They also look to have excellent in-house comms and the structure in place to listen to their staff (and customers) as well as talk at them.

That said, its astonishing how much the Tesco recruitment site reads as if it was written for consumers, instead of prospective employees. Pretty much every sentance about employee welfare finishes with; 'because then you'll look after our customers'. Which isn't awful, its just very upfront about where Tesco's focus lies. In fact they even have a list of Stakeholders on their site and customers, not employees, are at the top of it.

The other thing that makes fascinating reading is the "Meet our People" section. All the employees biogs show them to be energised and motivated, but not one of them made any reference, even an obtuse one, to Every Little Helps. Almost without exception these people talk about fast promotions, professional achievements and the scope for them to go as far as their ambition will take them as fast as their ability can keep up. And there's nothing wrong with that at all. (In fact given the nature of Tesco's own expansion it makes perfect sense). Its just it makes me wonder if a single one of them actually buys into the brand.

Every little helps? What if I told you the slogan was: Tesco - MORE. FASTER. FOR EVERYONE.

Would you buy it?

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Starbucks do it again

When it comes to talking about employee engagement you really can't do it for very long before you mention Starbucks. Its like trying to eat a doughnut without brushing the sugar off your mouth - not possible.

I went to the Starbucks website this morning, trying to find out about the termination of their HR outsourcing contract with Convergys - I thought I might find it at the back end of the site, perhaps under a media tab. However all thoughts of this were forgotten when I got to the site.

What do you think was on the very front page of Was it:

A) Pictures of the latest cinnamon dolce mocha choca latte
B) PR blurb about fair trade coffee beans
C) A letter to its employees

C! Nothing except a letter to its employees, or partners as they would have it, on the front page of I could barely contain my glee at the brilliance of it. The letter is about the ruling by a judge in California that shift supervisors should not share in the tips of baristas,0,50639.story . Have a read and see what you think. Starbucks think its wrong, and they're going to appeal.

In writing a letter to their employees on the front page of their website, Starbucks cover off 3 messages in one fell swoop.

1) You, our partners are our single most important audience.

2) Hello consumers, we think our employees are the most important part of our business. Isn't that refreshing? Come drink our coffee. Even though we're a massive chain, we're really just one big family.

3) Here is the information we want you both to know about our position on this ruling.

The benefits of employee engagement can be hard to measure, (although I'd argue that in Starbucks case they're clearly demonstrable) but when you remember that an employer that values its empoyees is appealing to consumers... oooh, its just win, win, win, win, win

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Thanks... but no thanks

A friend of mine is just starting an incredibly successful business (to be). Finding her on the net, one eager young thing sent in a CV on spec, along with a lovely covering letter saying how much she admired the site. She sounded great - but the business isn't ready to start hiring.

As soon as that thank-you-but-no-thank-you letter gets sent, this girl will turn from prospective employee back into prospective consumer. So, how can you refuse someone a position but still encourage them to feel positively about your company?

Firstly we need to define what we mean by positive. Positive isn't the same as nice. You don't have to invite them in and feed them biscuits while you stroke their arm and say "Its not you, its us!". You just need to make the rejection experience an accurate reflection of your brand.

Lea's business is an indepent guide to independent stores with a very clear tone of voice (accessible, friendly, trusted) and its success is based entirely around its inherent brand promise to be honest. So in this case the rejection should reinforce that brand by being friendly but candid. (Unchained is trustworthy) If possible she should recommend a couple of other places where the prospective employee might try looking for a job, (Unchained is helpful and knowledegable).

It is not possible to make every experience that anyone ever has of your company an enjoyable one. However if you remain true to your brand values in everything that you do, you can make sure that its always positive.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

A matter of opinion

Ooooh... my first post on my new blog. What shall I say? Where shall I start? After all, who am I to spout my opinions?

Sure, I do internal comms for Jack. And I know about employee engagement. And I know ALL about translating employer brands into brand experiences for internal audiences. And I have pretty clear views on what works and what doesn't.

I also know though, that usually opinions aren't enough in this new world of ours - there aren't many CCOs who are willing to bet their buck on a gut instinct. Internal comms programmes need to justify themselves with evaluation and measurement just like everyone else (and how do you do that when you're not contributing directly to the bottom line?).

So just saying what I think without having to justify it, kind of goes against the grain... but I reckon I could get used to it.

Back to me and my opinions. Are they worth sharing? Well if there's one thing I've learnt in this business, its that its always better to say something, than not to communicate at all.