Winner's profile: Brookwood Partnership

19 October 2006
Winner's profile: Brookwood Partnership

Providing quality food prepared by enthusiastic, motivated employees propelled the Brookwood Partnership to success in the Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards 2006. Janet Harmer reports on how the company inspires its staff, and explains how you can enter the 2007 awards, sponsored by the People Tree

Being a business that was founded on the philosophy of appreciating its employees, the Brookwood Partnership was always going to be a strong contender for the large contract catering category in last year's Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards.

"Throughout our 10-year history we have always stayed faithful to that philosophy," says joint founder and managing partner Sue Parfett.

Today, the company has 45 clients, mainly in the independent school sector in the South-east of England, and an annual turnover of just over £9m.

"Any new initiative is introduced only once we have taken the staff into consideration," Parfett adds. As an illustration, the company recently inaugurated the B In Touch focus group, made up of a range of employees at all levels, who will meet twice a term. "It will provide staff with an opportunity to feed back their views of the company and make suggestions for the future, directly to the managing partners," Parfett says.

The Brookwood Partnership was set up in 1996 by Parfett and her fellow managing partners, Kate Martin and Graham Subthorp. All three had previously worked for large contract catering companies.

"We all found, in our previous positions, that the contract catering staff tended to recognise the client company as their employer," Parfett says. "In launching Brookwood we really wanted the staff to appreciate working for the company and, at the same time, we thought it critical to our success that they were recognised and rewarded for their contribution. We wanted them to feel Brookwood was a great place to work. With this foundation, we believe it is easier to go from strength to strength."

Consequently, Brookwood models itself on the John Lewis Partnership, offering a profit-share bonus to qualifying employees. "It was important to us that the people who created our success felt they had a share in it," Parfett says. As a result, each year staff have been awarded a bonus of between 3% and 5% of their salary.

Brookwood also helps to motivate staff by recognising their achievements through initiatives such as Employee of the Month awards and Managers of Excellence dinners.

Genuine enthusiasm

The highest accolade, the Colin Giblenn Memorial Award, is named after one of Brookwood's head chefs, who died suddenly three years ago, and is presented to the member of staff who puts the most genuine enthusiasm into feeding children. Karen Crosbie, who joined the firm in 2002 as a catering assistant, won the award this year.

Today, as the chef-manager at Longacre, a day-preparatory school in Shalford, near Guildford, Surrey, Crosbie feeds the pupils in a fun and devoted way by organising events such as teddy bear tea parties, a Santa's grotto and tasting tables. "Her enthusiasm is infectious, and she has provided some good ideas that are now used throughout Brookwood," Parfett says.

With an annual training budget of £112,000, Brookwood is committed to supporting the development of people at all levels. This begins with new employees participating in the Let's Brookwoodise programme, in which they learn about the philosophy of Brookwood and what the company stands for. They go on to receive site-based training, such as the specially devised programmes B Smart,
B Safe and B Healthy.

The business has developed its own NVQ accreditation centre and, having trained its own assessors, has seen employees successfully complete the NVQ food preparation level 2 training.

All employees have a formal review twice a year, using the web-based Talent Toolbox programme. Brookwood is believed to be the only company that applies the system to every single member of staff.

In last year's review, 28% of employees selected "communication" in response to the question: "What could Brookwood do better?" Parfett says: "We realised this could be a symptom of a growing company. As a result, we put a significant effort into addressing this with a relaunched and revitalised newsletter. Communication, this year, was selected by only 13% of employees."

The review process also reveals how happy staff are in their jobs. Last year, on a scale of one to 10, 73% rated themselves between eight and 10. This year, the figure has moved up to 76%.

Happiness of staff is a major consideration when running a company, according to Parfett. "Every employee has the potential to make the business a success or not a success, depending on whether they are enjoying their job," she says.

A management development programme has been launched for supervisors and managers who may not have had any managerial training in the past. The programme comprises 11 workshops on subjects such as delegation and leadership skills, and leads to an Institute of Leadership and Management Award.

"The value in recognising potential talent, as well as their contribution to the business, has resulted in 20 of our managers being promoted into their existing jobs," Parfett says. "Of this 20, 13 started with us in a non-managerial role." Crosbie, at Longacre School, is just one of the employees who has progressed in this way.

Open-door policy

Brookwood is keen to have an open-door policy to management, encouraging direct lines to managers to enhance working relationships. Last year the three managing partners personally delivered Christmas hampers to the company's 445 staff, producing an overwhelming response from employees.

"We received many warm notes of thanks, and the personal thanks when out on site made the logistical problems of doing something like that fade into insignificance," Parfett says. "This year, we are celebrating our 10th birthday, so we are adding a special commemorative gift to all the hampers."

With the target of "a food standard that can't be bettered", Brookwood certainly does not expect its staff to flinch from hard work, but its personnel policies mean that it is a company where people enjoy working, and one of which they are proud to be a part.

How to enter the Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards

Do you run a successful business and treat your staff well? Why not get greater recognition for your achievements? Enter the Caterer and Hotelkeeper Best Places to Work in Hospitality Awards 2007. Go to www.caterersearch.com/bestplaces and complete the application form.

2007 award categories

  • Hotel chains with 1-10 sites
  • Hotel chains with 11 or more sites
  • Restaurant and bar chains with 1-10 sites
  • Restaurant and bar chains with 11 or more sites
  • Contract catering companies
  • Public sector operators
  • Individual units
  • Hospitality supplier companies

The closing date for entries is 31 October 2006.

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