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.