best training practice across five restaurant brands is no mean feat. Lucie
Carrington reports on the approach taken by Whitbread’s learning and
development director Alison Clarke
sure that good ideas and methods are not confined to one section of the
business is a major preoccupation for most organisations. The restaurant
division of Whitbread decided to tackle this head on and last year set to work
on a massive learning and development strategy to share best practice across
their five different brands.
are bringing together many talented people across the brands and creating
something unique within the industry,” says Alison Clarke, divisional director
of learning and development.
unique because branding is what the business is about. Whitbread owns five main
brands: Beefeater, Brewers Fare, TGI Friday’s, Costa Café and Pelican, which
consists of Café Rouge and Bella Pasta.
Beefeater experience is designed to be different from a Café Rouge experience –
both for customers and employees. But Clarke and her learning and development
team are pulling together common recruitment, induction and management training
programmes, which they believe, can meet individual brand as well as corporate
strategy has come out of a major company reorganisation. Over the past year,
Whitbread has sold its interests in brewing and pubs, and introduced a matrix
management structure. Within the restaurant division, brands are no longer
entirely independent and many of the senior managers, including Clarke, now
have two roles – a brand one and a central one.
“other job” is as HR director for the largest brand – Brewers Fare. She moved
there at the time of the reorganisation last September, having spent 14 months
as HR director of the Pelican brand. It was her decision to add training to her
had a feeling that learning and development was going to be the most strategic
part of HR,” Clarke says. There are, she insists, only occasional conflicts of
interest between her two roles.
L&D chief, Clarke has pulled together a central team to spearhead
cross-brand solutions. Jo-Anne Miller is currently learning and development
manager, operations, within the division, but was group training manager for
the Pelican brand.
Thompson-Lee joined Whitbread 11 years ago. At the time of the restructure she
was training manager for the Beefeater brand, but she now works as a project
manager on the division’s First 90 Days programme. Her fellow project manager
is Grace Coleman, who recently joined Whitbread from Marks & Spencer.
are not working in isolation. A team of regional L&D specialists keeps them
in touch with local needs, and each brand has a link person on the central
are two central planks to the shared development strategy – the First 90 Days
induction framework and a centralised programme of legislative training. This
latter programme covers issues such as health and safety, food hygiene and
licensing laws. There were clear economies to be gained from bringing this
under one umbrella. Every brand has to comply with the same laws. So, the whole
legislative programme has been outsourced to a single provider.
First 90 Days programme is run in house. It is aimed at frontline staff, whom
Whitbread calls team members, and unit managers. With up to four in 10 recruits
to the industry leaving within the first three months, getting people through
that first 90 days is critical.
had tried it before,” points out Miller. “But because of the way the company
was structured and brands acquired, it didn’t work.”
90 Days is the working title for an induction project that is still evolving.
Most of the work that has been done so far has been aimed at unit managers. A
new leaders’ welcome programme was introduced eight months ago for anyone new
to Whitbread management. It is now running across the brands.
starts with a two-day programme designed for anyone from any brand. On the
first day, participants are introduced to Whitbread Restaurants as an employer.
New leaders learn about different brands, the jobs they will be doing as
managers, the people they are responsible for and accountable to.
a very powerful programme because it gives new managers an opportunity to find
out what the business expects from them and that job,” Miller says.
second day is devoted to helping managers draw up their personal learning
plans. These are based on their own assessment of their strengths and
development needs. They take the initial plan back to their line managers and
between them agree a final plan and learning processes. These could include
courses, coaching or perhaps secondments.
the welcome exercise the L&D team have put together a management
development programme of six modules. It’s based on Whitbread’s management
competencies, which are grouped into five areas including leadership, working
with people, and drive for results. New leaders can pick and choose whichever
bits they need.
aim of First 90 Days is to be as flexible as possible, while recognising the
core skills the division and brands need their managers to have. “At the moment
these are being delivered in a course format. But we are looking at other
media,” Miller says.
First 90 Days is not introducing lots of new training tools and techniques.
Instead the project team is making a point of using the good things that are
already going on within brands.
about pulling together existing best practice. Different brands have things in
place that work for them,” says project manager Grace Coleman.
takes up the baton. “In the old way of doing things there was the most
fantastic best practice within brands. For example TGI Friday’s was up for
training awards. But we were missing out on sharing that,” she says.
desire to share good practice stretches beyond the division. Clarke is part of
a corporate learning steering group. Once a month senior learning and
development managers from across the plc meet to exchange news and information.
Now that Whitbread has sold its pubs and inns it has become a much smaller, but
arguably more focused group, Clarke says.
cites several reasons why sharing good practice is such a great idea. To start
with there are some economies of scale to be gained – as in the legislative
programme. “In the old world there was a huge amount of duplication,” Clarke
there are more strategic motives behind the change too. The whole issue of
retention is high on the agenda. The division employs 35,000 people and
turnover is high – as in any restaurant business in the UK. But Whitbread wants
to be sure it can hold on to the best.
First 90 Days is about positioning the firm as the employer of choice within
its market. “We know that Generation X is going to decide to join us or not
based on whether we have the capacity to learn and grow,” Clarke says.
also about Whitbread restaurants gaining the competitive edge in its broadest
sense. Clarke talks a great deal about renewal and the importance of staff –
especially managers – being able to renew their skills. “We have a very
competitive market, which is at best flat,” Clarke says. “We have to be the
best and be able to create new brands for the market. And if people can’t learn
and keep recreating themselves then they won’t be competitive.”
reaching the nirvana of renewal requires significant cultural change. With
1,500 units to reach, managers are Whitbread’s key players here. Recognising
this, Whitbread has set up what it calls its Enabling Leadership programme –
open to all managers who have got beyond First 90 Days.
seems to be more of a philosophy than a training and development programme. “We
are moving from saying, ‘I’m a manager, let me show you how clever I am’ to
‘I’m a leader, let me show you how clever you are’,” Clarke says.
of this is delivered on the job through coaching and secondments. But the
L&D team is also introducing action learning sets. And a link with the
International Management Centres Association is designed to provide
participants in Enabling Leadership some form of accreditation towards a
certificate or diploma in management studies, or even an MBA.
are not just thinking about the people who will lead today, but also our
leaders of tomorrow,” Clarke says.
all this, Clarke and her team insist that the brands and their needs remain
paramount. This means consulting with brands at every turn, says Lynn
Thompson-Lee, and talking their language – whether its colleghi in Costa Coffee
or the “can do” approach of TGI Friday’s.
commonality is the approach, Clarke says. She cites the example of brand
development. “So many businesses see refurbishment as a lick of paint and a new
sign. We see it as new style, new service quality and new behaviours,” she
this in mind, she has introduced a brand development role to the L&D team.
Someone with L&D expertise can sweep in, identify potential trainers within
the brand and eventually hand the learning side of rebranding over to them.
who do people work for when they join a Whitbread restaurant: the unit, the
brand, the division or the plc? Clarke and her colleagues have chewed several
pounds of fat over this.
the end we decided that team members must decide for themselves,” Clarke says.
“If we are talking about vision, mission and values, then we want that to be
brand-, even restaurant-specific. But, ideally we want people to feel that they
belong to Whitbread too – as I do.”
serves top tips on best practice at work
Involve brands at every stage
– Use best practice
– Create brand champions to drive activity
– Protect brand integrity
– Make learning integral to the way your people work
– Think about who owns the learning