Nando’s spices up its leadership style

A rapid growth programme meant the Nando’s chicken restaurant chain needed to build leadership and delegation skills fast. Alex Blyth reports.

The business

Nando’s is a South African chain of chicken restaurants, which reached the UK in 1992. It now has 3,000 staff in 122 restaurants and an HR team of 10. Each restaurant also has two ‘buddies’ who are in charge of HR matters and training at that outlet.

Nando’s management places a strong emphasis on staff motivation, believing that happy employees provide good customer service. Every restaurant manager is known as a Patraos – Portuguese for head of the family. Area managers are known as MDs and each has a fun budget to hold parties and days out for staff. This year, the company took all of its managers to the famous Rio de Janiero carnival.

The challenge

By the end of 2001, Nando’s had 40 outlets and planned to open 20 restaurants every year until 2005. But with such rapid expansion would come a number of challenges.

“We were concerned that, in going from a small company to a large one, we might lose our values of pride, passion, courage, integrity and family,” says Marcelo Borges, Nando’s learning and development manager. “We didn’t want to become a large, faceless chain of restaurants.”

MDs would also go from managing six restaurants to managing 10, and Borges feared they would lack the skills needed to successfully delegate day-to-day management issues.

Finally, Nando’s wanted a higher proportion of its managers to come from within the business. In 2001, only 21% of managers had been promoted from within. By increasing this, Nando’s planned to save money and maintain its ‘family’ culture.

The solution

Nando’s decided that the answer to its talent management challenges would be to build coaching skills within the organisation. So, in 2001 it set up a two-day, in-house training programme in which all MDs and Patraos learned about leadership and the concept of the ‘one-minute manager’.

It also used the GROW model, which was developed by former racing driver John Whitmore. GROW is an acronym for Goal, current Reality, Options and Will.

Whitmore designed a four-day programme for all directors and MDs at Nando’s, followed by a two-day programme for all Patraos. But the coaching was not cheap. The first level, in-house introduction, costs £7,000 a year; the second, ‘developing coaching skills’, costs £40,000 a year; the third, Whitmore’s advanced sessions, costs £20,000 a year.

And adoption was not immediate. “Everyone was excited by the principle, but when it came down to giving up time for this, we did encounter some resistance,” recalls Borges. “We’re in such a busy industry that it’s not surprising. We had to work hard to make everyone understand that coaching is not a time-consuming activity. It’s all about empowering others to find their own solutions. We’re also trying to move away from coaching as a label. We want managers to coach as an instinctive reaction, not as a conscious decision.”

The outcome

Since the coaching programme was established, Nando’s has grown from 40 to 122 restaurants. Its MDs now look after 10 restaurants each, rather than the six they did in 2001. The company’s turnover of managers has fallen from 35% to 20%, which compares favourably to the industry average. Internal talent pipelines have also improved – Nando’s now gets 40% of its managers through internal promotions, and 90% of Patraos have come through this route.

Borges believes that all of this has been achieved while maintaining the company’s culture. He cites the quarterly staff surveys as evidence of this: 91% of staff say they have fun at work, 96% say they are proud to work for Nando’s, and 87% say their manager ensures they are trained for the job.

The company plans to continue its steep growth curve by opening another 25 restaurants a year and even launching in the US.

Guide to managing talent through coaching

  1. Use coaching to prepare people for a specific task, such as promotion or a new job.
  2. Use mentoring to provide employees with a relationship with someone who has experience of particular work and who can therefore provide regular, informal coaching.
  3. Create a bank of mentors who volunteer their services as a mentor to coach others with less experience.
  4. Link coaching, mentoring, and counselling programmes to the business plan.
  5. Integrate coaching and mentoring into graduate schemes.
  6. Include coaching and mentoring in any strategy for your business’ succession planning.
  7. Consider using coaching, mentoring and counselling to demonstrate a new culture – one that takes a softer, more people-focused approach.
  8. Offer coaching and mentoring through the senior management training programme, so that senior managers have direct experience of coaching, which should help them to achieve their own career goals, and mentoring, which should help them to help others achieve their career goals.
  9. Consider including coaching, mentoring and counselling as part of an employee care package. This helps to attract and retain staff.
  10. Consider buying into a telephone support service.

Source: Richard Smith, director, Croner

Talent: a diversity task list

  • Embed diversity into the organisation’s strategic talent management objectives.
  • Do a diversity health check on all talent management activities and programmes.
  • Ensure criteria to identify talent is fair and objective, without gender, age, race or religious bias.
  • Pursue several different pipelines and pathways when recruiting.
  • Provide development to make line managers aware of their own biases and stereotypes and ensure they are not reflected in talent identification and recruitment.
  • Monitor staff, obtain data on how particular groups are feeling to ensure they have equal access to career opportunities.
  • Track particular ethnic and minority groups to gauge whether they are being nurtured and developed in their roles.
  • Foster informal networks for particular groups.

If  I could do it all again

“When we launched the Whitmore programme, we put all our managers through it and they were all really enthusiastic when they went back to their branches, ready to implement it right away,” says Marcelo Borges, learning and development manager.

“But I think many of the staff were taken aback by the sudden dramatic change in management style. It would have been better if we’d done it all more gradually. It worked out in most places, but taking it more gradually would have allowed us to support the transition across the board.”

Nando’s an employee’s perspective

Louise Agran is the marketing director at Nando’s. She attended one of the early courses run by John Whitmore and was very impressed. She says: “I was blown away by the approach. It makes much more sense to encourage team members to take responsibility. You can only get so far by being directive.”

Agran says she introduced a coaching style of management to the marketing department as soon as she returned from the course, and she is convinced it has been highly beneficial. “People enjoy their jobs more now,” she says. “They know what they’re doing and are ultimately more effective. I’d like to send more of my staff on these courses.”

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