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Three ways to help put people at the centre of business success

Cornerstone Editors

This past year has taught us more than anything that people really are organisations’ greatest asset. For many businesses, plans, projects, and even daily operations were put on pause during lockdown and everyone had to find ways to adapt. The one constant throughout it all was their people.

At Pret A Manger change came rapidly as the UK began to shut down, but one thing stayed the same – its belief that happy teams equal happy customers. We recently heard Andrea Wareham, Chief People Officer at Pret A Manger, discuss her insights and advice on three ways to help put people at the centre of your business.

Culture, Engagement, and thoughtful leadership

Putting people at the heart of the business is something that almost all companies claim to be doing but according to Andrea, “if you really want to put people at the heart of your business, they need to be at the heart of the business’s purpose.” Pret’s mission as a company is simple: to serve freshly made food and great organic coffee, whilst also trying to do the right thing. And for this to come to fruition, Pret needed to focus on its people.

For Andrea, the first part of implementing a people-first strategy is culture and engagement. Culture is at the heart of the business model and this holds true across the whole business, including its leaders. Andrea said: “We’ve recognised the importance of the style of leadership. We need leaders who aren’t only good at their jobs but are thoughtful and really care about their team. Someone could be the best for results but if they aren’t thoughtful that’s a big problem for us.”

Changing communications and working with change

With in-person meetings a rarity and the majority of the country staying at home, the pandemic really acted as a catalyst for change for Pret. It began to look into new ways of generating revenue, such as deliveries and recently announcing bake at home croissants. But with change comes the need for new skills, new roles and potentially new people.

“We’ve had to learn how to introduce a lot of capabilities. You can create new jobs and new roles but that’s not good enough – you need to learn how they interact with the other teams and look at how those tentacles work together,” said Andrea.

Pret has always been great at coming up with ideas, giving advice and offering suggestions in relation to its teams but in the past year, the focus has been placed on really listening to find the right way forward.

Using tools to push skills

When striving to push your people to the centre of the business, ensuring they are aptly skilled and prepared for any situation is key. For Andrea, the first step to fixing the issue is to identify it. “You need to be really clear what activities your organisation is going to be involved in. It’s a piece of organisational design work that can then be translated to look at what skills are required.”

In some cases, a new role may need to be created but it’s not as simple as just hiring someone with the right skills. “You have to work out more than just the skills and people – you need to know how they interact with the ways of the existing workplace dynamics. More needs to be done than bringing in skills and behaviours are just as important,” said Andrea.

For Pret, its learning platform, powered by Cornerstone, has been a powerful tool that has helped while many staff have been on furlough. A key means to keep furloughed staff engaged is to offer learning, and with modular and video-based bitesize learning, Pret was able to grant multiple opportunities to learn at home. This way, furloughed staff can keep up and improve their skills and even learn completely new ones while unable to work.

“With people strategies there is often a side plan, but I think it’s really about the whole organisation strategy and interjecting the people strategy into that. It then becomes a whole business focus. Make sure that the most important part of your people plan is in the master plan. In the past 12 months, we’ve realised just how important people are and how much people leaders have helped. We’re on the agenda and now is the time to really get stuck in there and make big changes,” concluded Andrea.

To find out more about how Pret puts its people at the centre of the business, watch this recent HR Grapevine webinar on demand and to learn more about the importance of skills, check out our Reskilling Hub.

Hungry for more success stories from our clients? Check out this blog from Generali on how they have managed to upskill and reskill in an ever changing world to help its people flourish.

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