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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 13th Nov 2015 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Great leadership, cyclical trends and nanny-watch
Authors: Ann Elliott, Glynn Davis and Paul Chase

Great leadership by Ann Elliott

Earlier this year I saw Alastair Campbell present at the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) conference on winning and leadership. And, of course, he was promoting his latest book. I have to say, I was really impressed with the man. He was funny, honest, self-effacing and very entertaining. And he was also thought-provoking. He made me think about leadership and what constituted great leadership in our sector. Like everyone, I have worked for some fantastic leaders who have totally and utterly inspired me, but I’ve also worked for some people I wouldn’t follow out of a door. Why is that? Is it just charisma or is there more to it than that? Is leadership innate or can it be learnt? Ultimately, what does make a great leader – especially in our sector?

I felt these were really important questions. If I knew the answers I thought it might help me be a better leader to the people I have in the agency and I also thought it might help some people who want to be leaders or even just be better leaders. I once worked for a man called Wes Van Reimsdyk who was chief executive of Pizza Hut. I was his marketing director. One day, after I had been there about three months, he came into my office and asked me to join him for my one-to-one. Instead of heading into his office as usual, we headed out of the door, climbed into his chauffeur driven car, and ended up on a park bench in a north London park somewhere overlooking the city. Odd. And a bit disconcerting. I thought I was going to be fired. “How do you think you are doing?” he asked. “Still lots to learn but I think I am doing well,” I answered. “Well,” he said, “actually you aren’t.” He then spent the next hour coaching and guiding me on how to be better at my job, how to be a better leader and how to be accountable. It was an hour that changed my life. I can honestly say that without that hour I wouldn’t be doing what I am today. And today I am doing a job that I absolutely love. Wes was always impeccably dressed, not a big man, but a man who lit-up the office the moment he walked through the door. He was charming and he laughed a lot. But the thing I remembered most was that he cared. He could stand on a stage and inspire an audience of Pizza Hut managers but he could also speak to them heart-to-heart. And that to me made a huge difference. I adored him. He was a great leader. Wes has since died so I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to him about leadership. I wish I had done. But there are some fantastic leaders now in our sector so, earlier this year, I interviewed more than 50 who I know and admire. They gave me lots to think about and reflect on. Particular thanks must go to Tony Hughes and Mike Tye who spent ages with me but many more gave their time very generously.

The findings are relevant for anyone who has to lead, inspire and motivate a group of people to achieve a common goal. They could be restaurant managers, shift managers, team leaders, area managers or functional heads. They may need leadership skills in their private lives too – when they train sports teams, run youth groups, lead parish councils.

My first question in my research was: “What to do you think makes a good leader in our sector?” The first of these attributes (though they are not in any particular order), not surprisingly, was to have real clarity of vision and purpose. Without a sense of purpose, there is no leadership and teams don’t really know what they are working for. It’s the old saying: “If you don’t know where you are going then any road can lead you there.” If you do know where you are going, then there are usually one or two clear paths to get you there.

This vision must be understandable to absolutely everyone. Mike Tye, one of the leaders I most admire in the sector, had a vision to make Spirit “the best hospitality business in the UK”. At pub level this meant “every customer leaves happy”. He made sure his vision translated into very simple language for those at grass roots level.

The second attribute of a great leader was the ability to practice clear and simple communication. I had breakfast with Ian Burke, the chairman of Rank, who was illuminating on this. He said it’s very tempting to think about communication being a one-way process – making sure your message finds its way into the minds of those being talked or presented to. But it’s not just about that. It’s as much about listening, non-judgemental listening, as it is about talking. One of the key questions he asks in his employer survey is: “Is it safe to speak up around here?” He has a 20% team turnover rate because his company listens. As one leader said to me: “The ingredients for success in retail are remarkably few. Listen to the people in your company and figure out how to do what they tell you.” Peter Dalzell, who I rate enormously, from Marston’s, said: “Listen. Listen. Listen.” Lots of the leaders I interviewed think getting out onto the floor wherever you are is absolutely vital. Not just getting out but asking insightful questions. I really liked the questions Neil Wickers, at Carluccio’s, asked when out and about – most of which start with the word “Why”?

Another important attribute of a leader is emotional intelligence. As one of those chief executives brought up on Jack Welch then this was a bit of a surprise. But the best leaders have a deep and genuine concern for those they work with. Being able to understand, as one leader put it, the common man or woman. One leader told me leadership was a combination of inspiration, vision and caring for people whilst another talked about it being a combination of IQ and EQ along with drive, restlessness and passion. Without doubt, in our sector, great leaders know that everyone has an important leadership role to play in the business – because, as one person said: “They want to make a difference to the most important things of all – delivering the best guest experience and truly outstanding hospitality.”

Ken McMeikan from Brakes, who is making a real difference to that business, echoed the thoughts of many when he said: “The single biggest thing is to be able to engage with people at all levels and in very different scenarios from board to floor.” And that’s what makes a difference in this sector. We create experiences for our customers. How can we do that without teams who are emotionally intelligent and how can we have teams who are emotionally intelligent if their leaders aren’t?

The fourth attribute for a leader is the ability to engage a high performing team. I found in my research being able to identify great talent, to retain it and to engage it in delivering high performance was seen as absolutely fundamental. And then, of course, ensuring the work environment gives them the opportunity to do well.

Undoubtedly recruitment of people is the most challenging part of being a leader and they do not leave it to chance. As someone said to me: “We are slow to hire and quick to fire.” They will interview potential candidates many times with different people and in different situations. They employ specialists to assess skills and personality because they want teams who are going to work well in their culture. Chris Hill said: “Trust nobody. Hire hard”, whilst Peter Furness Smith, of McMullen, told me: “A good leader is someone who builds good teams – it’s about recruiting, motivating and getting rid of the average.” No leader can deliver their vision without recruiting fantastic people around them.

And the fifth attribute of a great leader was to have confidence in self, business and brand. If as a leader you don’t live the business and walk the talk then no one else will. If you don’t have confidence and belief then why should anyone else? Charlie McVeigh, the wonderful leader of Draft House, said: “I think it’s increasingly about living the brand values with confidence and calmness.” Glyn House, from Wagamama, talked about having “confidence, optimism, resilience, humility”. Anyone who knows Glyn would know he embodies those sentiments.

I had a lot of input on what made a great leader but I think these five, on reflection, accurately summarise the key attributes of a successful leader. So what advice have our leaders had about being a leader and what advice do they give others? As might be expected, the most consistent piece of advice was to hire and inspire the very best people. Without the right team, leaders do not become great.

In particular, I liked the quote from Alan Morgan who said: “Help people achieve things they never thought possible either for the organisation or for themselves. I would hope my team would say we achieved something we never thought was possible.” Julian Metcalfe, one of my heroes, said: “Say thank you.” Tom Molnar, leader of Gail’s Bakery and a very intuitive leader, said: “Care for and nurture the people who make the product.” Ultimately, as Richard Hunt, from Tortilla said: “Surround yourself with great people and never feel threatened by them – they will help you run a better business.”

Have a vision was, not surprisingly, offered as advice by most leaders. Starting with objectives and not with the plan. I did like the comment from Ted Kennedy from Pebble Inns who said: “Give people a vision and then you don’t have to work too hard.”

Thirdly, lead beside people and lead with conviction was heartfelt advice. I love this concept of not leading from the front and hoping those will follow, or leading from behind and pushing the team forward but leading by the side of people.

John Hutson, from JD Wetherspoon, quoted Lao Tzu when he summarised this saying: “To lead people, walk beside them. As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honour and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate. When the best leader’s work is done the people say, we did it ourselves.”

Under-promise and over-deliver was offered as advice by many in one way or another. It’s not easy to do but so vital. This is about not letting people down. Keeping your word. There was a strong theme amongst those I talked to of doing what you say you are going to do and not making promises you can’t keep. Or put another way, in the words of the irrepressible Phil Thorley, be “Ronseel”.

Another piece of advice was to put on your customer’s hat – nobody can really argue with you if you know absolutely what your customer wants, needs and expects. It stops all arguments. “Never stop looking through your customer’s eyes and never underestimate them” was relevant advice by our leaders. I had lots of comments around be yourself and take time to breathe. Leaders have to take time out to listen to themselves, to their teams and to their customers. Guidance included leave time in your diary to think and walk the floor, listen and bury your ego and find time for family and contemplation.

Gillian Mclean suggested that it was a good idea to: “Get a fantastic mentor or coach and, of course, remember to be kind to yourself. It’s such a short journey.” And I loved the comments from Chris Welham: “The first role of a leader is to manage your own energy and the energy of others. Give confidence. Lead with conviction. Win hearts and minds. Establish credibility. Build effective relationships. Be a first class version of yourself and not a second class version of someone else.”

Many of the leaders I spoke to realise they are on a journey too – they haven’t finished just because they have reached the top (as it were). They constantly ask for feedback on how they can improve their own performance. Mike Tye commented that one of his challenges was “How do I better find out who I am? How do I work out how to be better leader? If don’t know it then I am not a good leader. Self-awareness is critical. It starts with self-honesty”.

So that’s what our leaders do in terms of giving and taking advice. How about how do these leaders coach others? Not surprisingly leaders coach others by giving them the advice they have been given or the advice they live by. It’s very much about following the rules they set for themselves and by being a role model to those around them although Julian Metcalfe was very modest when he said “with difficulty”. Generally, if they have recruited the right people and given them a vision, then they believe their role is to continuously inspire and motivate them. To encourage them to take risks and be human. To be the best version of themselves they can be and give them jobs that bring out the best in them.

And they spend time with them because they know the attitudes and approaches taken by their lieutenants are a direct reflection of them and their business. They want to build their confidence and independence and as one leader said then: “Focus my energy on their judgement, willingness to lead, authenticity and their commercial acumen.” These leaders coach first by having open and honest dialogue built on mutual trust, secondly by allowing them space to try things and to learn from their mistakes and then finally by giving constructive feedback. They expect them to take full accountability for their future. They invest time in their development and focus on why and how they do, not what. They help them realise their strengths and understand their weaknesses.

In summary the leaders I spoke to coached by practising what they preached. It’s very easy, when talking about leadership, to think about charismatic men and women, those who are visible and out there, those you know and hear about regularly. But there are many fantastic leaders who lead quietly, who don’t seek the limelight, who just get on and do it. But how do they just get on and do it? Is there a framework of leadership that our leaders use that everyone can follow regardless of the power of their personality? Well, yes there is, according to my research with industry leaders. Everyone can take this on board and practice it whether or not they seem themselves as the next Tim Martin.

First of all set your vision: a very clear, simple, understandable and compelling vision of the future. Know where you are going and where you want to be. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Then build the team and organisation you need to deliver this vision and manage their performance. They have to totally be aligned behind it and you have to be able to motivate and inspire them to deliver it. Thirdly, communicate that vision so that everyone knows why they come to work every day. One leader described it as a “pyramid of engagement” giving reasons why the organisation should be involved in creating success. Fourthly, make sure your team has the resources to deliver the vision – that maybe budget, people, IT or simply time. And finally clear away anything that prevents the business from delivering the vision. Ask the question: “What can I do to make the boat go faster?” If not, get rid.

When I set out on this research programme I wanted to find out more about leadership in this sector and to see if there were any lessons I could pass on to anyone in any sort of leadership position at any level in our sector. There clearly are. This is a sector absolutely and completely dedicated to the principles and practice of superb leadership. I have learnt a tremendous amount throughout this research and I feel very privileged to be able to talk to those I interviewed. I have found the framework invaluable and it’s helped me enormously. I do believe from my research that leadership can be taught and learnt – those who are interested in being leaders and have the desire to learn probably have the requisite characteristics to be great leaders.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of leading sector public relations and marketing firm Elliotts – www.elliottsagency.com

What goes around, comes around by Glynn Davis

So many things are cyclical. If you live long enough you’ll inevitably experience the return of fashions, trends and various other popular phenomenon that had run their course first time around. Micro-pubs are one such example in that they are returning us to a previous period when small, local drinking houses littered the country. In the 1850s when licensing laws were relaxed to encourage greater beer consumption (which was regarded as the antidote to that more powerful narcotic gin that was being consumed with wild abandon) the beer house was a very popular route to flog beer to the populace.

Today the modern equivalent of the beer house – the micro-pub – is springing up all across the UK as the ability to obtain alcohol licences have again been made easier (as a result of new legislation introduced in late-2005). The key change being a licence application cannot receive any objections from local competitors who had stymied many applicants’ efforts in the past. This easing, combined with a plethora of failed retail outlets in town centre locations (that simply needs a change-of-use agreement), has provided fertile ground for micro-pubs to spring up.

The first micro-pub was created by Martyn Hillier who opened The Butcher’s Arms (in a former butcher’s shop) in Herne, Kent, in November 2005 and this very much defined the model for the concept. It was about adopting a flexible opening-hours policy from a very small square footage unit with tiny rental requirements selling a very limited amount of products. It was all about cask ale (predominantly from local brewers) served straight from the barrel, and minimal snacks (maybe one or two flavours of crisps), along with a red and white wine (for the ladies) if you were lucky. Another vital important component, according to the Hillier model, was conversation. The small size of venues and a mutual appreciation of beer among the core, typically older demographic, customers provided a platform for chatter. To help this he had a no-music policy.

Another aspect was the lack of a bar in The Butcher’s Arms and this was added to the “manifesto” Hillier laid down to those licensees who wanted to join his growing Micro-pub Association that all the new owners of these outlets initially joined. This was an aspect I did not particularly agree with. Fair enough if you don’t physically have room for one but for larger micro-pubs what was the problem? The other element has been the rigidity of limiting the beer sold to cask ale. Times have moved on and keg products should now sit comfortably alongside cask offerings.

Sensibly over time the model has been relaxed and the micro-pub phenomenon continues to gain momentum. Having had the only micro-sized boozer in the country for a number of years, Hillier’s idea of the modern beer house has gradually gone on to spawn over 100 such outlets to date. This will undoubtedly grow because once a local council recognises such a pub has no negative impact on the local environment then it is relatively relaxed in allowing further applications to proceed unhindered. When this is combined with the low financial barriers to entry then it is undoubtedly an attractive proposition for beer enthusiasts to almost run them as part hobby. What they won’t make you is rich.

What we will likely see over time will be further iterations of the micro-pub. For starters there have been (god forbid) bars installed in some micro-pubs – The Thirty Nine Steps in Kent’s Broadstairs was one such early renegade bar-adopter – and no doubt the crisp selection in some micro-pubs has been enhanced beyond the original bare-bones options initially preferred by Hillier.

We have now also seen established operators taking note of this new format. David Grant, managing director at regional brewer Moorhouse’s, has for some years harboured thoughts about opening micro-pubs through which he could sell his beers. He recognises the need to sell more beer to ensure his expanded brewery remains viable and that micro-pubs look like an obvious compliment to the traditional pub model. He is now on the lookout for relevant shops and small spaces that would suit a remodel into a micro-pub. And he plans to have a first class – albeit limited – food offer.

Such an evolvement of the micro-pub is not only a sign that Hillier had an inspirational core idea back in 2005, which is now being widely copied, but that the cyclical nature of business and life in general will ensure that nothing stands still. It is maybe inevitable therefore the micro-pub will ultimately metamorphose into a fully-sized pub with all the bells and whistles of its present rather embattled forefather.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Nanny state watch by Paul Chase

Barely a day goes by without some new “threat” to our health being announced by epidemiologists or others health campaigners. For these people – I call them “healthists” – the meaning of life appears to be the elimination of anything enjoyable in order to achieve maximum longevity. Key to this is the elimination of “risk-factors” from our diet and our lifestyles. The key technique used to frighten us all into abstinence is to concentrate on cancer risks. Here an old trick is used: take a very small baseline risk and then measure the increase to that risk that arises if you engage in “unhealthy” eating or drinking. The effect of this is to give prominence and publicity to very large percentage increases in very small baseline risks. Here are some examples of this crack-pottery that have come to light in the past two weeks:

Firstly, inevitably, alcohol. The lower risk drinking guidelines are now being examined by the Department of Health (DoH) with a view to reducing them. The reason given by the DoH is there is “no safe level of consumption in respect of the epidemiological risk of developing cancers”, and “the cancer risks of drinking is a game-changer”. It is of course accepted excessive consumption of alcohol is causally related to a number of cancers, but the risk is dose-related.

So, taking oral cancers as an example, what is the overall risk caused by drinking alcohol? According to Cancer Research UK there were some 7,300 oral cancers diagnosed in the UK in 2012. Of these tobacco smoking was identified as the cause in 65% of cases. Alcohol consumption accounted for 30% of these – some 2,190 cases. 30 million adults in the UK drink at least once a week. Of those 30 million, 2,190 of them develop an alcohol-related oral cancer; that’s 0.007% of regular drinkers! And remember, these figures include very heavy drinkers as well as moderate and light drinkers – so should we panic and abstain? Well, about 30% of alcohol-related oral cancer sufferers do die from this condition. So, about 657 deaths out of 30 million drinkers – 0.021%.

Every such death is a tragedy, but the actuarial risk is minute. The proposition anything that raises the epidemiological risk of a cancer “isn’t safe” is therefore somewhat problematic. In everyday life people make trade-offs. They don’t ask “is this product or behaviour safe?” they ask “is it safe enough?” We do this all the time and not just in relation to food and drink. We don’t ask is driving a motor vehicle safe; we ask is it safe enough? In other words, do the benefits of driving justify me in taking the risks? When we are told tobacco smoking results in the premature death of half of all smokers that may well deter people from starting, or persuade existing smokers to quit. But if you were told that 0.021% of regular drinkers die from an oral cancer, would that put you off? It is this kind of epidemiological paranoia that leads healthists to call for abstinence and any lowering of the lower risk drinking guidelines is but a staging post on that journey.

In addition to the cancer risks of alcohol we’re had some real healthist gems in the past fortnight:

The official advice of the European Food Safety Authority is as follows: when you make a piece of toast only toast it golden brown, don’t burn it or you will ingest acrylamides, which are carcinogenic. Acrylamides are contained in crisps, savoury snacks, soft and crispy breads, biscuits, cakes, crackers, cereals and coffee. Or anything nice.

Fry your foods in butter or lard because frying them in vegetable oil raises your risk of cancer.

Less than one sausage a day increases your cancer risk. And be sure not to cook your Sunday roasties too dark and crispy because they contain acrylamides too!

Eating a steak once a week raises your risk factor for rectal cancers by more than two-fifths.

But my favourite was cheese addiction. Cheese contains casein – a protein that becomes super concentrated in the cheese making process and forms morphine-like compounds. These then bind with the opioid receptors in your brain making cheese as addictive as morphine. Pizza restaurant chains are nothing more than drug dealers who rely on addiction for repeat business! Dr Neal Barnard, founder and president of the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine, describes cheese as “dairy crack”.

And then we come to energy drinks. Doctors warn just one energy drink a day raises the risk for heart disease even amongst young healthy adults. This is a veiled attack on caffeine, which is of course contained in coffee. I was wondering when coffee drinking was going to be attacked by healthists. Anything that is successful raises their ire. My tip is the epidemiological risks of caffeine consumption will be the next “big thing” to occupy their small minds.
Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on on-trade health and alcohol policy
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