Creating an awesome company culture. It’s a tribal thing.
This Summer, we created the first Cooper Parry Culture Carnival. And, as the sun blazed on a glorious July day, everything went down an absolute storm. Over 130 leading figures from the UK’s most disruptive, innovative, entrepreneurial companies gathered at our Sky View office. Hand-picked culture connoisseurs were keen to pass on their deep knowledge through talks and interactive workshops. Experiences were shared, insights were gained and a whole load of fun was had.
An accomplished audience deserves inspiring speakers
It’s only polite. And that’s why we were joined by Chris Hill, CEO of The New World Trading Company. They’re behind a host of the UK’s most impressive restaurant and bar brands, including The Botanist, The Smuggler’s Cove and The Trading House.
On top of that, they’ve successfully engaged 1500 people, split across 26 locations, and made it into the Top 10 of The Sunday Times Best Companies list for three years running – all while operating in the hospitality sector, which as Chris noted, isn’t a traditionally positive cultural environment.
The New World Trading Company’s exploits piqued our culture curiosity, and they left one question on everybody’s lips:
Chris, how on earth did you create such a remarkable culture?
The answer wasn’t as complex as you might have thought, and for Chris, it boils down to five top tips:
Define the values and personality of your business
Six core values lie at the heart of The New World Trading Company: ambition, integrity, individuality, happiness, exploration, and expertise.
“Exploration is for our customers and our staff. We want to give people things they’ve not experienced before; in environments they’ve not been in before”.
“You open up the menu and there are drinks you’ve never seen before, containing spirits you’ve never seen before, beers you’ve never seen before. It’s all about offering new and exciting frontiers for people, and the same goes for staff. We encourage that exploration. We encourage them to go and learn new skills for themselves”.
These values are the guiding light for everyone at New World; steering their decision making and driving their passion. And in addition to outlining the company’s values, Chris and the team took moulding a distinct identity a step further. They wrote down the key characteristics of the company and asked, “If The New World Trading Company was a person, what would its personality be like?”
Once that was decided and agreed, the foundations were laid and the stage was set for the next step in his recipe for success:
“There’s nothing you should work harder at than recruitment because one bad hire takes five times the time and cost to take out the business than the vacancy itself”.
One thing underpins Chris and New World’s recruitment strategy: patience. They only recruit people who show the same traits and personality as the business itself. And if that means turning away people with great CVs, so be it.
“We want the customers’ experience with us to be the best. We want it to be high street leading in all corners of the country. For that I need very specific people who are highly trained to deliver that. We’re going to have to work really hard at the recruitment stage because having someone who isn’t capable or doesn’t have the right personality or the right level of friendliness or whatever it might be can completely destroy our product”.
Recruit for talent, energy and personality – not experience. Because after all, as Chris said himself: “Life’s too short to work with dicks”. Hear, hear.
Be specific – courageous conversations and feedback
“One thing I’m a big advocate of is having difficult conversations. Too many people skirt around tough decisions and people love direction. So, if somebody’s doing great you need to tell them that, but if somebody’s doing not so great it’s your job as a leader or a manager to be very straight with them and tell them to get it right”.
“People avoid it because it’s hard to do, and when you’re in an industry that’s built on nice people doing nice things, quite often, those are the bits that nobody wants to do. You can sneak into habits that these things get put off, and they just become ten times harder. Management have to make it their responsibility to raise things as they happen”.
Create a culture of honest, regular feedback. The feeling that you’re being listened to is a powerful one when it comes to engagement and motivation, so make sure the feedback is two-way.
Why does your business exist? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Defining, communicating and pursuing a clear, inclusive purpose is vital in engaging your people. And working with purpose and contributing to a vision you believe in is one of the fundamental elements of the Gallup wellbeing wheel.
Chris and The New World Trading Company have a simple ethos: “to find and develop likeminded people who share our values”.
“We’re a training company that happens to serve food and drink, and that’s the way we see it every day. Purpose comes before profit. I could make decisions tomorrow that would make the company more profitable, but it would mean the company wouldn’t operate in the way that I want it to run”.
“Be clear and honest about the career you’re trying to sell”
“I’m not looking for everybody who comes into The New World Trading Company to want to be a CEO or even a restaurant entrepreneur… That’s silly. We’re not going to have 1500 people all leaving the company in five years’ time and running their own businesses”.
“Come and have a great three or four years with us. You’re going to learn skills you never knew you had, you’re going to learn product knowledge, you’re going to make some friends for life, you’re going to learn soft skills. Come and have some fun”.
“Where I think we’ve won is we’ve realised, actually, we’re not looking to hire future CEOs or managers every time we recruit. What we’re looking for is a whole range of people’s ambitions and length of service expectations. But ultimately, it’s about getting the personality right at the start”.
Then comes the eye-catching engagement methods
Those five tips pave the way and create a platform for some of the more eye-catching, quirky elements of The New World Trading Company’s engagement strategy:
“The entire company is divided up randomly into six teams that we call Tribes. They’re named after famous vessels of discovery and adventure from the past”.
In many ways, these ships and the journeys they embarked on tie together and embody all six of the company’s values that we touched on before. They were fuelled by ambition, integrity, individuality, happiness, exploration and expertise; in the same way The New World Trading Company is fuelled by them now.
Tribes is centred around an app that was designed and developed by their in-house technology team. It’s a social media platform. It’s a news feed. And every day their people are encouraged to represent their Tribe and engage in caption competitions, crossword clues and quizzes.
“On top of all that, we do our national events. Every five or six weeks we’ll take 100-150 staff off to a central location and do something like ‘It’s a Knockout’, or ‘Ninja Warrior’, or other high adrenaline events. You enter through the app, it goes into your diary, and it’s all paid for by the company”.
Tribes was Chris’ “Eureka moment”; it’s broken down any geographical divides and been essential in engaging his people across the 26 locations. They invest £250,000 a year into it and have two full time staff dedicated to Tribes. Chris showed a video from their Wet ‘n’ Wild Tribes challenge at our Culture Carnival, and when you combine that footage with New World’s continued success; it appears to be worth every penny.
Message in a bottle
“I think this is one of the best things we do. You can send a nice message to anyone else in the company through the app. The message is printed out and put in a tiny glass bottle and delivered to the person”.
Again, this is done through the Tribes app, and it builds a culture of recognition, feedback and gratitude.
“Last year we sent about 9,500 of these messages. They take recognition and communication to the next level – it’s about the feeling”.
Whether you’re visiting The Botanist, The Smuggler’s Cove, The Trading House or any of The New World Trading Company’s other brands, there’s one constant: the settings are stunning.
“We operate in spaces designed to delight people that come in, but also make people proud to work there. You’ve got to have staff that are just as proud to be in the venue as the customers are delighted”.
“The more metaphorical badges of honour that you can put on somebody’s arm, the more you’re winning”.
But they only work if you’ve got the basics right
“You can’t just throw sweets and pizza at someone who’s not enjoying their job. You’ve got to make sure the fundamentals of the business are working; everyone’s properly resourced, properly trained, their line managers are caring and consistent”.
“Once you’ve got all that, you can do whatever you want. Things like Tribes are there to engage the team and maintain the story of being a great company. But you can’t just do Tribes and hope the staff are going to have a good time”.
So, there you have it; a glimpse into one of the UK’s hottest entrepreneurial businesses. And hopefully, some inspiration for you, as you set sail to join The New World Trading Company on their voyage of culture-driven success. Proof, if ever it was needed, that culture trumps strategy.