Staff at Connect Catering have no doubt that the small-but-perfectly-formed contract caterer is serious about putting its people first. Daniel Thomas reports.
Most companies claim that people are "at the heart" of their business, but for Connect Catering it is more than a hollow promise. The family-run company, which has annual turnover of £9m and employs nearly 300 staff, believes that its employees are essential to the quality of the service it delivers to its clients.
Connect operates to a "statement of value", which reads: "To deliver professional management, quality fresh food and excellent service whilst building mutually beneficial relationships with our customers, staff and suppliers, through integrity, innovation and professionalism."
Of course, these are only words but Connect certainly backs it up with action: short communication lines ensure management has regular contact with employees, while training, award schemes, interest-free loans and other benefits are all in place at the company, which has ambassador status with staff accreditation scheme Investors in People.
The focus on communication is evident through the monthly Connexions newsletter, which is sent to every contract and features details of site events, purchasing and general news and views, including a list of everyone's birthday for the next month. "Congratulations" and "With our thanks" are other regular features, allowing a company-wide acknowledgement for noteworthy work.
The commitment to employee relations was reflected in the positive reaction from all staff to winning the Best Places to Work in Hospitality award, according to Liz Mbaziira, HR manager at Connect.
"There was a real buzz around when it was announced that we had won as everyone was pleased," she says. "The loyalty to Connect is fantastic, everyone wants to see it do well, and this award was an external recognition of the whole company's commitment."
Mbaziira reveals that Connect was particularly pleased with the results of the employee survey that formed part of the judging process for the award.
"We were well above the industry average on all the 31 questions," she says. "With this level of employee satisfaction, absence and staff turnover levels are low, with everyone focused on creating a brilliant service for both clients and customers."
Induction is a key strand in Connect's HR strategy, with a number of measures put in place to ensure every recruitment decision is the right one.
When employing a new member of any team, applicants are given a day's work so both parties can assess each other; chef managers are employed at site only after approval by the client; when starting work with Connect, all managers and head chefs have an induction day at head office, allowing them time with each department, not only learning bookwork, systems and procedures but meeting the head office team.
And, as you would expect, training has remained the number one priority, despite the economic slowdown, says managing director John Herring.
"Training needs do not disappear during a recession," he says. "Developing and training staff is a key ingredient to retaining employees. When an employee is trained and becomes respected as a member of a team, the workplace becomes a supportive and friendly place to work. Customers and clients alike receive a responsive, welcoming service, ensuring the smooth running of each contract."
It is a Connect policy to ensure all managers and chefs are trained to level 3 (advanced) hygiene, while chefs also receive regular training in new food trends and healthy eating, in an attempt to ensure menus and food are always interesting and nutritious, Mbaziira explains.
"A recent addition to the training calendar is nutrition," she says. "With the growing interest in healthy eating we decided that this course would be of significant value to many of our chefs and managers."
In addition, all chefs and managers are invited to the operation team meeting that takes place every two months, with various themes including sushi, Norwegian Cold Table and, last month, appraisal training.
This focus on ensuring close links between senior management and employees means there has been no outsourcing of functions such as accounts, personnel and payroll and marketing, reveals operations director Felicity Aska.
"This allows site and operations managers to easily query all aspects of site management and receive knowledgeable and friendly advice," she says. "The support from Connect's off-site teams is coupled with a highly trained manager, who works hard on site to ensure a team ethos is standard. This ranges from making sure teams take breaks together to group on-site training."
Looking ahead, new HR developments include online training records, allowing staff to access course information, book on to courses and ensure their training records are up to date. Work design is another developing area of HR strategy, looking at ways to ensure staff can perform their duties with ease and making sure that work rates are achievable.
"The constant aim is to stay ahead of the industry-recognised standards," Aska concludes.
**WHY IS CONNECT CATERING THE 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 Connect staff:
- "Connect Catering is a company that values its staff, customers, clients and suppliers. It has great integrity and is a fun organisation to work for, great training and development opportunities for all and a passion for food and service. What could be better?"
- "The company ethos is based on empowerment. Training is offered and encouraged. If you want to better yourself, you easily can. The management style is to encourage and enable. This allows everyone to achieve their best."
- "Everyone is always very helpful and willing to help in any way they can and are very interested in seeing you succeed. My manager is always fair and honest with me and I feel that I can be honest with him - he is very approachable and fair."
- "There is plenty of opportunity to do further education and develop. It's never boring; there are plenty of challenges and I can use all my skills and experience to help others succeed. After more than 30 years in catering, this is the best company I have worked for."
HONESTY AND TRUST
Great businesses have employee engagement at the top of their agenda. It's about creating a culture that is tangible for employees to understand and feel connected with. Share your business plans with your team, give regular feedback and input about progress, share ideas and listen to their opinions. Just like any good relationship, the relationship with your employees should be based on honesty and trust. It's as simple as that!