Page 2: Business culture
The pattern of relationships within an organisation reveals its culture. In a hierarchical culture, decisions are made ‘on high’ and passed down to lower levels. In an inclusive culture, everyone is encouraged to take part in decision-making within multi-channel communications. Modern service industries require an open culture that encourages employees to participate. Service-oriented employees must regularly decide how best to deal with a customer’s complaint or unusual request. Companies have general guidelines for such eventualities, but many situations still require a personalised response. Well-trained, trusted and motivated employees will tend to respond in a way that is beneficial both to the customer and to the company’s reputation. So good employee management is in everyone’s interests.
Wetherspoon operates in a highly competitive market in which it is important to stay ahead of rivals who are themselves improving. Often the people best placed to suggest improvements are the front line staff responsible for operations. Enlightened firms show trust in their employees and display a willingness to learn from their experiences. With its open approach, Wetherspoon actively encourages its staff to challenge existing ideas and practices in pursuit of continuous improvement. This often involves adjusting many things a little rather than making a sweeping change. Suggestions mainly come from employees, based on their experience at work. Ongoing improvement includes identifying ‘best practice’ within parts of the organisation and applying it throughout. Only an open culture fully achieves this sharing of good practice.
Many of Wetherspoon’s initiatives stem from ideas put forward by its ‘Associates’: employees who are paid an hourly rate. For example, Kitchen Associates are encouraged to suggest ways of improving menus or food preparation, or to advise the company on which products to promote. Often the best ideas are glaringly obvious in retrospect but may be missed by a higher level manager who is not interacting with customers on a day-to-day basis. Associates are encouraged to communicate their ideas for improvements to their line manager. Good ideas are then rapidly implemented, normally within weeks.
Every two weeks the company holds a ‘Big Meeting’. Over 100 employees attend, including the company chairman and directors, pub managers and some associates. These meetings consider company performance and ways to improve it, ranging from small operational decisions to major strategic plans. For example, the marketing manager might present a selection of posters proposed for a promotional campaign and the meeting decides which ones to use.
Because individuals are included in decision-making, many Wetherspoon employees have a high level of commitment to the company and are proud to work for it. The company firmly believes that a key factor that differentiates it from rivals is the quality of customer service that comes from having committed employees. There are no hidden secrets in Wetherspoon’s approach. It is based on an understanding of, and belief in, some key ideas about human motivation.