Employee Engagement in Five Steps

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It’s great to see so many new forums, focus groups and initiatives flourishing in London, that strive to make hospitality careers and working environments better. For an industry plagued with gender imbalance, big egos and poor behaviour, long hours, low pay, high stress, addiction and mental health issues, the various standpoints being taken by initiatives such as Andrew Clarke’s Pilot Light Campaign, Victoria Stewart’s Hospitality Speaks, Natalia Ribbe’s Ladies of Restaurants and most recently, Ravneet Gill’s Counter Talk are beginning conversations about how a vibrant, interesting and thriving industry can work better for everyone and remain sustainable in the face of myriad challenges and pressures.


Counter Talk

Counter Talk specifically focuses on matching great candidates with great employers, vetting both parties for positive cultural fit whilst hosting events to bring the conversation to the widest possible audience.

It was a pleasure to speak at their event last night, which was all about great on-boarding, retention and off-boarding practices. At Rebel, we’ve done a lot of work in this space with a variety of clients and it was great to be able to present how we’ve developed our own culture and purpose as an organisation, whilst showcasing how the brilliant Rosa’s Thai Cafés benefited from a long standing relationship with us across the business, but most notably the work we did on their culture and how to implement this through robust, measurable processes and systems.


The Triple Bottom Line

It’s our firm belief that success of any kind and in any business is achieved by focusing on three key things - People, Purpose and Profit. Businesses need to stand for something, put caring at the heart of their activities, and ensure that relationships are win-win all round.

Here’s a summary of my talk last night, along with keynote excepts that communicate some of the ways we frame and communicate our approach to building engagement and great cultures, and how we implemented this throughout our time working with the team at Rosa’s.


1. Defining Purpose

Rosa’s is a really special business. A product of two individual’s differences and shared passions has led to critical and financial success, leading a dynamic and genuinely interesting company that has pursued its goals with clarity, focus and a bucket load of purpose. A business that strives to “Create an Inspiring Environment that Makes People Happy”, Rosa’s is organised around this principal and it has become the yardstick for decision making within the company.

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Whether in terms of staff, guests, shareholders, suppliers or the wider community, “happiness” is measurable and something we all want and need in all areas of our lives. And when it comes to an ‘inspiring environment’, this could relate to how the company creates opportunities for its people as much as transporting guests away from their everyday lives, to sunnier climbs and fond food memories of holidays to Thailand. And on an academic level, a great way to measure how the ‘Producers of Happiness’ (we let people choose their own job titles as part of this project) or café managers are maintaining their physical environment and the music, lighting, heating and general tidiness of their sites. I could go on but I hope you get the point.

Veteran brand strategist Robert Bean calls this “The Single Organising Principal” that unlocks and defines everything a company does, and as an aside his new podcast series is really worth a listen.



2. Telling a Compelling Story

Once an organisation has defined its purpose, telling a compelling story as a part of the recruitment and on boarding process is crucial, communicating exactly where the business came from, what kind of organisation the candidates may be joining, and where they can help the business go.

Rosa’s mantra is “Born in the East, Raised in the East End” - perfectly marrying founder Saiphin’s Laotian/Thai roots, meeting husband and co-founder Alex in Hong Kong, and then moving to London to open Rosa’s first as a food stall on Brick Lane and later their first café on Hanbury Street.

We wanted to visually celebrate this journey and meeting of cultures and minds, by creating a timeline that clearly shows Alex and Saiphin’s personal history as much as the progress of the business itself. The keen eyed will notice that that left half of this graphic follows the path of the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, with the right half following the path of the Thames. The journey concludes with the phrase “Only you can help tell the next part of the story…”

This cornerstone piece if collateral was reinforced with a high energy, engaging induction video, a Rosa’s ‘Storybook’ induction manual, and key in-café collateral available for both staff and guests to see and demonstrating a commitment to transparency in the businesses.


3. Aligning Needs

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A clearly defined purpose and a compelling story are great foundations for building culture, but nothing without a commitment to aligning the needs of all stakeholders in the business. For the purposes of last night’s talk, I wanted to focus on the business, its leaders and its teams. 

We see key line managers as a conduit for information between those setting the direction of the business and defining its success, and those with their own individual needs and definitions of success who are employed to help the business achieve its goals. Focusing on this crucial group of people is essential. Left to their own devices, managers run the risk of falling into a rescuing, empathetic role when faced with unhappy teams. This jeopardises everyone’s happiness, not to mention the business’ ability to achieve its goals.

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“We used to be one big happy family, now it’s just every man for himself” was a telling line we once heard from a floor manager in one of our client’s restaurants.   

So if you’re going to invest in one area of your operation, make sure its the managers on the frontline who have a responsibility to translate and reinforce company goals, whilst making sure that the company honours its duty to help each individual on their team achieve their own version of success.


4. Building Culture

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Culture is a big word. Hard to define. And brilliantly fluffy. Wikipedia defines it as “the behavior of humans within an organization and the meaning that people attach to those behaviors”. For us, it’s the glue that holds a business together and helps to ensure that everyone cares, and wins from the time they spend interacting with a business. And good culture does not happen by accident or without design. A great place to start is to develop an understanding of how the way people engage, communicate and think about their roles can have a dramatic effect of the overall culture of the business.

With Rosa’s, we explained this using a simple graphic based on the Karpman Drama Triangle (explained in this brilliant YouTube video by Lauren Kress) which seeks to move conversations away from finger pointing to a culture of self-responsibility and positivity. based on the key attributes of transparency, empathy, patience and respect.

“The company doesn’t offer me enough training and they expect me to learn everything myself” is better phrased “A few of us have been talking and we feel that we could benefit from some extra training on [insert specifics].”

5. Build Routine

Rosa’s founder Alex and I share many cultural ideologies, and the stolen phrases and ideas have made both of our lives and businesses better. “Routine will set you free” is one of his favourites, and something I’ve wholly adopted in the way I plan my diary in and out of work.

Defining and building Purpose and Culture needs to be underpinned by structure and routine, and there are many key touch points that can be put in place without enormous investments of time and effort that help to change and improve the way businesses function. Both at Rosa’s and elsewhere, here are some of our top tips - 

  1. Hold quarterly “retreats” with key members of your team. Whilst these can be used for a number of purposes; from cultural and communication standpoints, use these days to create ‘squads’ that are cross departmental, non-hierarchical and set up to address a particular area of a business that’s supernumerary to the day to day, and result in a return on investment in People, Purpose or Profit. These squads then have the autonomy to deliver on mutually agreed targets and goals by the next retreat, resulting in a three month sprint in between

  2. Retreats are also great times to send out employee happiness and engagement surveys and Survey Monkey have some great templates for this

  3. Thinking about daily engagement, a ’10@10’ meeting or call for ten minutes and 10am each day, is a great way to deal quickly with issues from the previous day, discuss issues around culture and people, and work together to continuously and incrementally improve certain urgent by easy-to-fix issues in the business

  4. Pre-shift briefings are a must for any hospitality business and can be used to communicate guest and staff-centric information, financial targets, and quickly reinforce a particular aspect of your purpose and story if there is a current issue in a particular location

  5. Then thinking about weekly and monthly engagement, and depending on the size and capacity of your business, set repeating events such as a weekly managers conference call on a Monday afternoon and a monthly all-hands meeting and make sure conversations around employee satisfaction and culture are top of the agenda

  6. Annually, there’s nothing like a summer party or Christmas knees up to get your entire workforce together, and both are a great way to end an informative, inclusive day of workshops, presentations, and transparent reflection on how well the business is doing in its pursuit of success, to celebrate achievements of some individuals in the organisation, and create forums to get real, unbiased, honest opinions on the table before setting a plan in place for the year ahead


Making Engagement and Culture Daily Priorities

Using your purpose and story as a benchmark for everything in your business, and building dialogue around how behaviours and actions match up to expectations is crucial. Only this will ensure that you see the improvements you’re looking for. Make sure these five steps are front of mind and an integral part of your business all day, every day

  1. WHY does the business exist?

  2. WHAT are people buying in to?

  3. HOW do we make it win-win for everyone?

  4. FOSTER a culture of fairness and transparency

  5. MAKE it a daily priority


Ed Francis is the Founder and Creative Director at Rebel.

Edward Francis