IN MY OPINION - Chartered Management Institute companion Michael Bailey, CEO of food services provider Compass Group, on motivating and developing employees.

by Michael Bailey
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Chartered Management Institute companion Michael Bailey, CEO of food services provider Compass Group, on motivating and developing employees.

I was intrigued by a recent radio interview with Laura Tyson of the London Business School. Professor Tyson has been chairing a group appointed by the DTI to review the role of non-executive directors in UK business, and its findings have recently been released. Tyson challenged business leaders to increase diversity within plc boards and suggested greater inclusion of HR directors. Happily, we are already there, having appointed our HR director to the board earlier this year.

For the Compass Group this is not some fluffy concession. It is a straightforward commercial decision to ensure that we maximise talent and marshal our teams to deliver the best, most competitive performance. As a service company, the old cliche is true: 'We are only as good as our people.'

I started life as a chef. All my life I have loved food. As I visit people around the business, I'm often asked how I ended up running the company.

For me, the transforming moment came when I was working as a chef in the executive suite at Ford's Brentwood offices in Essex. The head of Ford Germany used to stay there, and after work we used to chat. He became a mentor and, eager for me to move up, kept pushing me to think about business management. One evening, quite cheekily, I said to him: 'Hang on a minute, you're right ... How come you're running the company and I'm cooking your dinner!'

I never thought about leaving the catering industry, but at that point I started to think more seriously about management.

Now, as CEO of one of the leading catering companies in the world, I do not want any of our people feeling that they haven't been given a chance.

People should stretch themselves out of their comfort zone and be ambitious for both themselves and their business. They should feel confident that they work in a meritocracy that provides them with the scope to grow and progress.

I feel proud when I think that Compass must be one of the few companies in the UK where you can start life as a kitchen porter and find yourself running a unit in quite a short space of time. In my view, there shouldn't be any doors - particularly the boardroom door - that are closed to those with the talent, drive and determination to succeed and to lead others.

We will be failing as managers if our people decide to move elsewhere.

For me, losing a good manager is worse than losing a good contract. It sends out a clear signal that there is something more attractive about the competition. And if our own people feel that way, then our clients certainly will. And that can quickly develop into a very corrosive cycle.

At Compass, we see the human resources role as the 'red thread' of quality that binds the whole business together. In 1993, we had about 20,000 employees, and we now have 400,000 working at 40,000 locations in 98 different countries. Having grown at such a quick pace, we have always felt it important that we establish and cultivate the right ethos and values across the business.

Very early on, we adopted a vocational approach to personnel management.

We want to ensure that everyone sees their time at work as more than just a job for its own sake. I firmly believe that if people are encouraged to see their work from the perspective of opportunity, they approach it with a greatly enhanced level of effort and enthusiasm.

We were also determined to be inclusive. In the mid-90s, the 'balanced scorecard' measurement of companies' performance was coming into vogue, focusing on specific key performance indicators such as financial performance, market leadership, preferred employer and so on.

We developed our own scorecard system, compiled after consulting people at the frontline through focus groups and discussions. We now have a method of evaluating performance that our people feel is appropriate, transparent and fair.

Since then, very few HR initiatives have been designed in the boardroom.

By and large, they have been generated out in the field, a key example being the development of our Reward and Recognition scheme. To get this right, we interviewed 210,000 people over a period of six months. This enabled us to assess how people like to be rewarded and recognised in the workplace. From this, we developed a system to meet the local and international need, and part of this was our own hybrid Be a Star programme.

Every year, units nominate outstanding individuals, who are then brought together at a conference to share their achievements and experiences.

There is no substitute for having world-class training, and we try to keep this on a high burner at all levels of the business and at all times. We are currently running a leadership programme, 'Good to Great', with groups of our top managers. It's costly but it's worth it, and it gives our people the opportunity to conjure up, share and develop ideas that will ensure that Compass Group moves from being a good company to being a great one.

Each and every one of us takes on the responsibility of striving for improvement and innovation. After all, in our business, we really are only as great as our last meal.

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