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Fri 3rd May 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Accelerating senior hire performance, the future isn’t necessarily orange and MUP threatens pubs amid bonfire of the vanities
Authors: Chris Edger, Glynn Davis and Paul Chase

Accelerating senior hire performance by Chris Edger

All organisations need refreshment, an injection of external senior talent that can propel them to the next level. In our industry, where significant restructuring is taking place, most notably in the casual dining sector, there has been a lot of senior movement in and around the sector. In normal times external senior hires account for about 30% of all senior leadership transitions in hospitality, but the risks and costs of hiring externally are high.

In its 2017 global research into senior recruitment, executive search company Egon Zehnder found almost two-fifths (38%) of all external senior appointments resulted in outright failure, with three-fifths (60%) of those that hung on experiencing severe delayed performance. Tangible costs of outright failure are obvious – lost search fees, wasted recruitment time, operational disruption and negative morale. Intangible costs of delayed performance include the hidden costs of senior hires remaining consumers rather than producers for too long. But, broadly speaking, what do successful senior hires do and how can organisations learn from these insights to accelerate their performance from day one?

During research for my forthcoming book Coaching Senior Hires – Transitioning Potential Into Performance Quickly! I spoke to and analysed the performance of ten smart senior hires in our sector who had made a game-changing impact in their new role. I found whatever the lifecycle position of the organisation they joined, they carried out six mutually interdependent tasks better than their peers. These are the “big six tasks” they need to carry out:

Drive strategic clarity
Senior hires are often confronted by organisations and functions suffering from group-think, strategic imprecision and drift. Looking at the problem from a fresh perspective – seizing the window of opportunity in which they are expected to ring changes – smart senior hires drive a clear strategic direction that inspires hope and confidence at their new organisation, from top to bottom.

Achieve operational grip
Standards frequently slip and the organisation has lost sight of what it’s there to do, namely satisfy and delight customers. Getting into the business quickly, smart senior hires identify the root cause of operational failure by listening to their front-line people and closely watching customer behaviour. Back at base they quickly get a grip on the resources, processes and enablers to have a positive impact on the customer experience to produce an immediate discretionary dividend on the front line.

Navigate cultural sensitivities
Cultural mismatch is the greatest single reason for senior hire failure. Why? Senior hires often find it hard to stomach some of the cultural idiosyncrasies of their new home, taking intemperate steps to change things too quickly. Paternalistic organisations might need toughening up and bureaucratic organisations might need loosening up. The smart senior hires I spoke to tread cautiously, respecting the traditions, customs, norms and central belief system of their new environment. Smart senior hires avoid the culture trap of attempting and failing to change everything at once.

Shape team cohesion
Senior hires are often confronted by resistance from their new team. Why? Resentment and jealousy from those who didn’t get the job and fear of change that might threaten vested interests. Senior hires who succeed have the emotional intelligence to co-opt mission-critical teamers quickly while swiftly rooting out toxics and saboteurs. Putting together a strong, united and multi-talented team quickly lies at the heart of senior hire success.

Create stakeholder alignment
Senior hires frequently enter highly political, fractious environments riven by secret agendas and self-interest. Smart senior hires quickly map their stakeholder needs and motives, understanding where they can generate mutuality and reciprocity rather than conflict. They are effective at getting key opinion-formers and resource holders onside through win-win solutions so they can move things forward quickly.

Optimise personal impact
Finally, smart senior hires are conscious that first impressions make lasting ones. In the early stages of their appointment they recognise their every word, gesture and deed will be judged and analysed. They actively seek to convey a sense of authenticity, humanity, courage and discipline in their dealings with others, which generates a climate of trust – the most important component of successful leadership.

So if that’s what smart senior hires do, what can your organisation do to speed up senior hire delivery?

Precise onboarding
According to Egon Zendher’s research, less than one-third (30%) of senior hires believe they receive meaningful support during their transition into a new organisation. However, four-fifths (80%) of those who do think it makes a real difference! Let’s face it, in our sector most senior hire immersion is derisory and unprofessional – a tick box, sink or swim exercise. I would suggest recruiting organisations should put accelerated, precise onboarding programmes in place built around the “big six tasks” listed above to ensure their expensive new hires deliver quicker. How? Plan, facilitate, monitor and measure how senior hires achieve strategic clarity, operational grip, cultural insight, team cohesion, stakeholder alignment and optimal personal impact within their first 90 days. Support, challenge and stretch the senior hire to achieve these “big six tasks” quickly.

Accelerated transitional coaching
In addition to a more precise onboarding programme, expert transitional coaching that focuses on the big six tasks will accelerate senior hire performance. Coaching is often perceived as a soft, woolly intervention – but if the coach focuses on the big six, raising levels of awareness and accountability while helping resolve interference, senior hires will stand a far higher chance of success.

In summary, there’s a lot of change at the top in our industry as it remodels itself to face some pretty challenging headwinds. New people are being drafted in with recruiters hoping and expecting they’ll make an immediate impact. What I would argue is companies need to first understand what factors lie behind senior hire success – the big six tasks outlined above are a good start. Second, rather than leaving the senior hire to their own devices or the mercy of the organisation, they should accelerate their performance through precise immersion coupled with targeted transitional coaching. 

If it works, you have turned senior hire potential into performance quickly. If it doesn’t, you’ve found out earlier rather than later that you’ve got the wrong person!
Professor Chris Edger is a lecturer, coach and multiple author on multi-site franchising, branded and service leadership 

The future isn’t necessarily orange by Glynn Davis

While beer has been enjoying some time in the limelight recently and attracting lots of new drinkers to the category through the craft revolution, it’s fair to say the wine industry has been having a rather tougher time of late.

Some pub chains have reported disappointing sales and it seems the category goes from making great strides in ridding itself of its elitism tag to retracing some of its steps without making the big breakthrough of a long-lasting embrace from mainstream consumers.

Numerous interested parties – including vineyards, brand owners, merchants and supermarkets – are trying to make wine a more accessible drink but it remains a bit of a challenge. Moves by hip wine bar owners have been most interesting of late as they create environments that seek to rip away the bodice that holds in the stuffier elements of wine.

Often these bars align themselves with natural and orange wine. I’m no expert in the field but I know one when I see one – and I pretty much know one when I smell one too. The emergence of this category, which basically seeks to strip out some of the “intervention” in the wine process such as the use of preservatives and other chemicals, has been welcomed by many as a refreshing development in the category.

Not me, I’m afraid. I feel it clouds the situation – literally and metaphorically. One of the most daunting parts of buying wine is the indecipherability of the product’s labelling and classifications – grapes, regions, appellations, growers, brands, producers, vineyards – all contribute to people not having a clue what they are looking at when reading the average wine list and label. In my opinion, orange and natural wine potentially add to the confusion.

The key reason for my taking the WSET Level 3 sommeliers course last year was to be able to “properly” read a wine list. It was great value to me to learn what a wine from a certain region tastes like and what characteristics a grape has in certain areas. The course gave me a terrific platform that has enabled me to make sensible decisions about what wine to choose with a meal. It also, sadly, gives me the ability to bore my wife senseless when detailing all the options on a list and detailing their pros and cons aloud.

When walking to dinner recently with my aforementioned wife we passed Westerns Laundry restaurant in the Highbury area of north London. With the lights twinkling inside it looked particularly enticing – especially as the reviews have been extremely good. But the only one I could recall in detail was from the Financial Times, where food critic Tim Hayward had his evening spoiled by a wine list that focused solely on natural wine. It left him without a compass with which to navigate the list – and when he did make a selection he hit the rocks as it tasted nothing like he expected. The lambrusco was unlike lambrusco and the gamay he chose wasn’t like gamay either.

Rolling on to our chosen destination for dinner – the newly opened wine bar and bistro Top Cuvée – we knew we’d made a good choice as the buzzy ambience and warm welcome from the team created an immediately positive impact. The food was also top-notch, with perfect small plates designed to complement the interesting looking wine list with plenty of options by the glass.

What I hadn’t realised was the focus of the list is on small producers showcasing natural wine. When my Austrian selection arrived at the table its “natural” persuasion was immediately obvious – in colour, aroma and then taste. It reminded me a little of the bottle of excellent saison beer from London’s Partizan brewery I drank earlier that evening in a little wine bar and shop called Provisions in Holloway Road. I didn’t particularly want the cider-like aspects of this style of beer in a wine.

The ability to buy such interesting beers at many regular food and drink establishments is testament to how far beer has moved on. In contrast, I hope the natural and orange wine movement doesn’t do the complete opposite for wine and make it even more indecipherable and unpredictable.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

MUP threatens pubs amid bonfire of the vanities by Paul Chase

I wrote an article on minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland last month in which I argued early sales data indicated it wasn’t delivering the reduction in consumption predicted by the researchers at Sheffield University and the Scottish government – it just raised the cost for consumers. 

An article appeared in the National from Scottish public health minister Joe Fitzgerald yesterday in which he declared: “A year after Scotland made history, we are a healthier country.” The “history” he’s referring to is the introduction of MUP in Scotland in May 2018.

Readers may recall the headline predictions were a minimum unit price of 50p would reduce alcohol consumption as measured by units of alcohol by 3.5% across the whole population and 7% for heavy drinkers. As a result there would be a fall in hospital admissions, alcohol-related death, crime and disorder, and so on. We now have the data for the first nine months (40 weeks) of MUP and can make comparisons with the corresponding period a year earlier.

It’s clear Joe Fitzgerald’s declaration is wide of the mark – and by a long way. Here are the headline figures:

Compared with the corresponding period in 2017-18, alcohol consumption in Scotland has risen, not declined, since the introduction of MUP. It has risen by value (spend) 10.7%; by volume (in litres) 2%; and by units of alcohol 1%.

In fact, in the 40 weeks since MUP was introduced Scottish drinkers have bought, and presumably consumed, more than 25 million extra units of alcohol compared with the corresponding period the year before.

Winners and losers
There have been winners and losers because of the way in which MUP has distorted the market.

The big losers in terms of volume sales are cider (down 12.2%) and perry (down 35.8%).

The big winners in terms of volume sales are ready-to-drink (RTDs), which are up 28.7%, fortified wine such as Buckfast (13.2%), ale (9.2%), lager (5.7%) and spirits (5.2%). 

In terms of the value of sales (consumer spend), the big winners are RTDs, with a 24.9% increase, fortified wine (18.6%), lager (16.9%) and spirits (9.9%). 

Despite the reduction in volume sold for some products, the only product where consumer spend has fallen is perry, down 10.6%.

MUP is a threat to pubs
Have pubs benefited from all this? There’s no evidence to support the proposition MUP has tipped people out of the living room and into the taproom. On the contrary, in retail terms it would appear the main losers are supermarkets and the main winners convenience stores – as MUP has reduced the price difference between the two. In fact, an increase of 10.7% in consumer spend on alcohol, most of which is spent in the off-trade, leaves even less for consumers to spend on a night out visiting a pub, club or bar. MUP is a clear threat to the pub trade.

Without doubt MUP has resulted in a government-inspired rip-off of consumers. In essence, consumers are getting 1% more alcohol in return for a 10.7% increase in what they spend on it.

MUP can’t be allowed to fail
There are already signs the goalposts are being moved as politicians seek to redefine the purpose of MUP. It’s no longer about reducing consumption but slowing its increase compared with England. Expect advocates to say they never claimed MUP was a silver bullet but part of a co-ordinated approach, while the refrain “it’s too early to tell” is already ringing out.

MUP is a policy in which the politicians and temperance groups have invested so much political capital it cannot be allowed to fail. Expect the politicians to double-down on their mistake by declaring MUP is moving things in the right direction but the 50p price is too low. So all that virtue-signalling about how cheap alcohol made health inequalities worse will come home to roost as the political class in Scotland raise the minimum price further to the detriment of consumers. Making the poor poorer won’t end health inequality in Scotland – but nothing matters more than the vanity of politicians.
Paul Chase is director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on alcohol and health policy

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