Editor’s note: this piece was originally written in earlier this year for the February 2020 edition of FFT. magazine.  While a huge amount has changed since, we believe the basic principles discussed about the importance of people are as relevant as ever – if not more so in the coming age of remote working.

With the industry still crying out about staff shortages, while we live in an almost full employment market in Ireland, employee recruitment and retention can be one of the most difficult tasks. That is, however, what Alan Russell has set as a goal for himself and his management team in BaxterStorey Ireland. To create a better working structure, environment and culture to retain people, to invest in people.

“When you invest in people, you are investing in a more sustainable team long-term,” Alan said. “Every time you have to replace someone there is a cost so it makes sense that it’s better to retain, if possible. It’s not just the monetary costs when people leave, it’s the loss of knowledge and you have to start that process all over again. You are trying to eliminate this revolving door syndrome really.

“If we bring people into a team, you have to build them a path. That might be starting as a catering assistant, barista or supervisor, but you need to have a 12-month development programme for them for their first year. We need to be able to show you that we can put you on a management development programme, one of our chef academies or even a senior management programme and then by completing that over an extended 18-month to two year period, that the end goal is you can train to become a marketing manager or operations manager and earn the salaries thats allows you to support your family in modern day Ireland. Now, we have found during recruitment that it’s not all about money for people, that it’s about job satisfaction, career progression and working for a company where you feel valued.”

Ireland is a very small market and hospitality is a very small industry within that, so an employer’s reputation if negative can be damaging. “We need and want to be an employer of choice,” Alan explained. “We want to come across as somewhere you are treated well, respected, rewarded and given the opportunity to grow. As I said, we’ve got our development programmes for baristas, chefs, managers and we also encourage people to go on to do additional third level, which we will sponsor in a lot of cases. We need to front-up as an organisation and develop our people and that’s how we retain our people.

Creating a Culture

“I think with culture the biggest part of it is communication… we are going through a programme at the moment with our senior management team and that’s filtering down now to our operations managers, which goes down to the unit management level. You have to find a way to communicate openly with everyone and within your own team, you have to set parameters of what’s acceptable and not, from behaviours to how people communicate, how they talk to each other. It’s really important to say ‘well done’ and not use negative language. To try and be positive even in a negative setting and always come up with solutions. We have engaged with a company called Positive Success, who are helping us with our coaching and development programmes, to change that culture. We’re investing heavily in that over the next year.

“It’s also about how we communicate with our teams, whether that’s through newsletters, employee roadshows, one-to-ones… it’s not easy, we have 900 employees across 90 locations. To try and get a consistent message down through the business sometimes can be difficult, but we need to find a way of doing it. 

“That’s where we are at the moment. In the future, we are looking at how to do it through technology by developing a platform where everything for that employee is based on that platform on their phone, that’s easy for them to access and use. That will include everything from accessing your payslip, rosters, booking holidays, to giving employee feedback – that is the long term aim. However, we don’t want to lose that face-to-face piece either so it’s trying to find a balance between the two.

“Externally, there are two sides to our communication: 1) we want to get the message across to clients that we work with, potential clients and the wider industry, that we are respectful employers and looking at ways of developing employees continuously, and 2) we recognise we need to get young talent into our business and develop those young people as they are the next generation. We have recently met with Tallaght IT, for example, to look at how we work with them around bringing students in on internships to then graduate them to full employment with us.

“I think we need to shout about what we’re doing externally. It’s not just about promoting ourselves, it’s about sharing our experience so that we might be able to lend that to other businesses whether they’re in the contract catering world, restaurants or hotels. A network needs to be created within our industry – the Chef’s Network do great things – but I think we can do more to help each other. We are the type of business who is going to work with our competitors, to work together to make this a better industry to work in.”

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