If you'd like your company to succeed, you could do a lot worse than model it on another successful organisation. It's an approach that has delivered real rewards for the Brookwood Partnership, as Daniel Thomas reports.
The John Lewis Partnership is one of the UK's most respected employers, so it is no surprise that other companies try to emulate the retail group. Not many do it better than contract caterer The Brookwood Partnership, which was founded by Sue Parfett, Kate Martin and Graham Sibthorp in 1996.
The company models its employment practices on John Lewis by offering a profit share bonus to qualifying employees and it reinforces this with a number of positive HR measures such as awards schemes, personal thanks from senior management for high achievement, birthday and long-service recognition, staff competitions, a roll of honour and dinner with the managing partners for managerial excellence.
It comes as no surprise that Brookwood has been recognised for its employment practices, winning Best Places to Work in Hospitality awards in both 2006 and 2008, before completing an impressive hat-trick in the 2009 ceremony, picking up the award for reward and recognition.
Despite being a winner before, founding partner Parfett admits that it still "means a great deal" to Brookwood to scoop a Best Places award.
"Although we are now a growing company we still consider ourselves something of a family and I know it makes everyone proud to have such an accolade," she says. "We know it is not just contract caterers who compete, but major organisations right across the industry. It's not the first time we have won one of these accolades, but I can honestly say it is no less nerve-racking, and therefore a complete delight and honour to be awarded it."
Parfett believes a large part of the company's success can be attributed to Brookwood's commitment to giving its employees "very genuine and personal" thanks for contributing to the company's performance.
"If we can't sincerely let our teams know we care when they do a great job, anything else will not have the same meaning," she says. "We feel our employees then should share in our success through our reward and recognition initiatives. This goes from our founding philosophy, based on the John Lewis Partnership, of all employees receiving a profit share, through outstanding performance, ‘Managers of Excellence' dinners and our recent accolade of ‘Brookwood Brilliant'."
Brookwood's focus on staff begins at the start of the employment process, with a film outlining the company philosophy, launched in September 2008, seen by all employees in their first week. Then all employees attend an induction known as "Let's Brookwoodise" soon afterwards. The communication and celebration of success is reinforced through Brookwood TV, which launched last summer and is available to view on the company's website.
"We invested in developing Brookwood TV as a very real way of training and communicating with our teams," Parfett says. "Our strategy is to keep senior management very visible in the business and we are often seen lending a hand at special events. Certainly, people who have transferred from other caterers are not used to this."
All Brookwood staff receive a twice-yearly appraisal using the online-based Talent Toolbox, from which each site receives a development plan for the employees working there. Feedback from these sessions provides invaluable in developing the HR strategy, according to Parfett.
"We have found that the working world is so fast-moving these days we need to let everyone know quickly what opportunities are open to them," she says. "We also ask them what is important, and they tell us consistently that communication and personal development are most important."
The 2010 Learning and Development Survey, from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, this month revealed than more than half of the 700 employers questioned had been forced to cut their training budget last year. Brookwood was not immune from this, reducing its annual investment slightly to £180,000.
However, Parfett says the reduction is largely down to the fact that staff are tending to stay longer, meaning the company is doing less induction and legally required training.
"It has meant we have been able to focus our investments much more in the development of individuals which has, in turn, benefited everyone," she says. "We have certainly not cut back but we have invested in new media so that training is delivered more on site and within the teams they are familiar with."
This commitment is borne out by the numbers: at the time of entering the awards last year, 33 Brookwood employees were undergoing NVQs, while there were 37 graduates on the Management Development Programme.
Looking ahead, Parfett says the HR strategy will be all about maintaining the same culture as the company continues to grow.
"We grew by 20% last year, so maintaining the way all our people view us is definitely the ongoing challenge," she says. "We are investing in more resources so that senior managers can continue to be visible around the business. In turn we have to be clear enough in our strategy that these new people continue to take on board our culture and philosophy so it is replicated when they become the new service deliverers."
WHY IS THE BROOKWOOD PARTNERSHIP A BEST PLACE TO WORK IN HOSPITALITY?
This year, for the first time, Caterer invited employees of the nominated companies to comment on why their employer was the Best Place to Work in Hospitality. We round up some of the views of the Brookwood staff:
â- "The company and its people stay true to its values, staff and clients. It openly encourages everyone involved and praises and rewards staff for a job well done. When you start work for Brookwood, you know you are employed by an excellent catering company that really cares."
â- "The training and development is second to none, compared with other contract caterers I have worked for. You are recognised as a valued member of staff, whether manager or catering assistant. The partners are exceptionally approachable and get stuck in where needed on site. It's a pleasure to go to work and get involved in what Brookwood is all about.
LEARN FROM THE BEST
"The most successful top performers, whether athletes, business professionals, actors et al, will often model or emulate another's great performance. As with Brookwood Partnership, modelling a business's great success can reap huge reward. It's not always necessary to invent something new and radical - replicating something which has proven results can be a cost-effective and speedy solution."
Lynette Raymond, Recruitment Expert, Blend