Winning Words

MT presents the winners of the second annual MCA Management Writing Awards, sponsored by Propaganda Marketing Strategy. The response received this year was testament to the wealth of business publishing in Britain, and we can report that lively, groundbreaking management writing is alive and kicking.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Readers may recognise last year's winner of the New Writer award, Sathnam Sanghera, who this time round wins the Best Management Article category for his first-hand account of the hurly-burly of a Pret A Manger kitchen.

Entries were judged on contribution to management thinking, originality and clarity of language. A trophy will be awarded to each section winner, together with a £500 cash prize. Here, we publish Sanghera's piece in full, and an extract from the Mind Gym best-seller, winner of the Management Handbook category.

THE JUDGES

This year's judges were a prestigious bunch, drawn from the ranks of Britain's top journalists, management thinkers and doers. They were Sir Paul Judge, chairman of the Royal Society of Arts; John McLaren, chairman of the Barchester Group; Cilla Snowball, chairman of AMV BBDO; Henry Stewart, CEO of Happy; Lucinda Kemeny, M&A editor of the Mail on Sunday; David Bailey, president of the MCA; Fiona Walsh, business journalist; and MT editor Matthew Gwyther.

THE WINNERS BEST MANAGEMENT ARTICLE Winner 'The organic milk of human kindness overflows at Pret' by Sathnam Sanghera, FT, 14 January 2005 Highly commended 'Clever tactics for the brilliant young things' by Stefan Stern, FT, 23 May 2005 BEST MANAGEMENT INTERVIEW Winner 'Loiter with intent, says Dr Goodnight' by Stefan Stern, Daily Telegraph, 25 February 2005 BEST MANAGEMENT BOOK Winner The Growth Gamble by Andrew Campbell & Robert Park (Nicholas Brealy) Highly commended Living Leadership: A practical guide for ordinary heroes by George Binney, Gerhard Wilke & Colin Williams (FT Prentice Hall) BEST MANAGEMENT HANDBOOK Winner The Mind Gym: Wake your mind up (Time Warner Books) Highly commended The ICSA Corporate Social Responsibility Handbook: Making CSR work for business by Tony Hoskins (ICSA Publishing) BEST YOUNG MANAGEMENT WRITER Winner 'Don't forget your toothbrush' by Lisa Miles, Newsco Insider, 7 May 2005

WINNER BEST MANAGEMENT ARTICLE

THE ORGANIC MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS OVERFLOWS AT PRET - BY SATHNAM SANGHERA

If you recently visited the Pret A Manger outlet on City Road in London, ordered a Superclub sandwich and found it a little heavier on the seasoning than usual, I'm afraid it was probably my fault.

In my defence, I was a little stressed when I 'shivered' the pepper pot over the filling, as directed: I had been up since 5am, Luther Vandross was blaring out of a stereo on my right and an Algerian was blaring along to Luther Vandross on my left.

I had ended up in the kitchen after a conversation with a colleague, who had remarked that Pret A Manger was pretty much the only fast-food chain in Britain where you could expect consistently good service. I had agreed. Staff at British fast-food outlets are invariably inarticulate and depressed. And I understand why: I was inarticulate and depressed too when I worked for a burger chain as a teenager.

But, for some reason, the staff at Pret A Manger, which was founded in Britain in 1986 and now has 125 outlets around the world, are different.

They are chatty and cheerful. What on earth have they got to smile about?

I volunteered for a shift at a nearby Pret to find out.

Before I put on my blue hairnet for kitchen duty, I read through a document that listed some of the reasons why Pret A Manger's managers think they are good at customer service. For instance: from day one staff are eligible for a bonus; Pret holds a huge party for all 2,600 staff twice a year; staff are invited to Friday-night drinks once a month (drinks are £1); staff get generous awards if they get commendations from customers and mystery shoppers.

However, having spent a very long morning working at City Road's Pret, I would not say any of these things are particularly important factors behind the company's curiously impressive customer service. The real reasons are:

1. The customers are nice. Let's face it, only a certain class of person will pay extra to know that the dead chicken in their sandwich enjoyed a GM-free vegetarian diet. It is this type of person who frequents Pret and nothing does more to promote high-class customer service than high-class customers.

2. Managers are not over-qualified and embittered. Pret does not aim to recruit graduates: 75% of its managers are promoted internally and the remaining 25% are recruited with at least two years' relevant work experience. This means that managers do not, like my embittered former boss at the burger chain, resent the fact that they 'only' work in the fast-food industry. And if City Road's Renata is anything to go by, Pret managers do not bark orders from a distance and are happy to pitch in when necessary.

3. Staff are not routinely humiliated. If I had to list the worst things about working at a fast-food outlet, they would be, in ascending order of horridness: wearing a ridiculous uniform, cleaning the customer toilets, entertaining groups of children dressed as the corporate mascot. Pret employees do not have to endure such horrors: the uniform is smart, only the biggest shops have customer toilets, the company hosts no children's parties.

4. Staff are paid relatively well. Pret does not pay the minimum wage.

It aims to pay 'best in class': on average, a team member earns £6.58 an hour (compared with a competitor average of £5.68, according to one industry study), and on average a team leader earns £8.39 (compared with a competitor average of £7.52).

5. Staff have a say in who joins their team. When Pret recruits new employees, they attend an interview at a recruitment centre and then spend a day working alongside their prospective colleagues. At the end of the day, the team votes on whether the person should get the job or not. Clearly, this increases the likelihood of a happy ship remaining a happy ship.

The contentedness of the City Road branch, for instance, is unlikely to be shattered by someone who cannot bear listening to Luther Vandross at eight in the morning.

6. Staff are not British. Or, at least, there are enough non-British people among the staff to dilute the natural British distrust of corporate 'passion'. For instance, Ladislav, the 25-year-old Czech who taught me to make Superclub sandwiches, was shockingly enthusiastic, routinely describing his sandwiches as 'delicious' and customers as 'wonderful'. And Piotr, the Polish man who taught me how to make coffees, said he 'adored' working for Pret.

British people would rarely say such things, and it is good for Pret that such scepticism is curtailed. In the City Road branch, only one member of staff was English. Across the company, Pret employs a high proportion of foreigners, many of them students. About 31% of employees are from ethnic minorities, compared with a UK average of 7.5%.

Of course, Pret is not perfect. While writing this piece, I have come across a fair few people who claim to have had bad customer-service experiences at the sandwich chain and even more people who find the friendliness of the staff a little forced and soulless.

And then there is the annoying fact that Pret tries to glamorise ordinary jobs: coffee-makers are 'baristas', shelf-stackers are 'team members' who stack 'langers' and the human resources director is the 'director for people'.

Nevertheless, in an industry that is notorious for low pay, poor working conditions and making the customer-service experience about as much fun as drowning, Pret A Manger is a beacon of hope.

This article first appeared in the Financial Times on 14 January 2005

WINNER BEST MANAGEMENT HANDBOOK THE MIND GYM: WAKE YOUR MIND UP (Time Warner Books) Presence - what is it? Everyone else stops and listens when you start to speak. You get attention from the people around you without apparently trying. Your views are often quoted. People want to know what you think. You are talked about, though always with respect. What have you got? Presence.

Although it is easy to see when it's there, presence is hard to define.

Perhaps the best place to start with is what presence isn't. It isn't, for example, being invisible and it certainly isn't being arrogant, but perhaps somewhere in between. The following may help explain this elusive characteristic.

Not liked

The other thing presence isn't about is being liked. In some senses, having presence is the opposite of building rapport. When we want to be liked by someone, we may go out of our way to demonstrate similarities and adapt our behaviour to increase their approval.

Presence is often about mismatching or doing the unexpected. Our presence may irritate people, at least in the short term, and leave them unclear where they stand. This is why we don't want to have presence all the time.

Just sometimes, at the right times.

When do you want it?

Higher presence is helpful when we want respect. For example, when

- We are being judged based on how authoritative we are; say, trying to sell an intellectual service (consultancy, advertising, project management) or convince someone older or more senior to change their mind.

- The other person has decided to play at presence; for example, the demanding father who wants to see if you're good enough for his daughter (or son).

- What we are proposing is likely to be unpopular.

- We are talking with a large group who may be easily distracted; say, telling a story to a table of people or making a speech at a leaving party.

Low levels of presence, by contrast, are particularly helpful when we want the focus of attention to be more on the other person or people.

This could be when

- We want other people to talk openly. A journalist eager to uncover secrets in a celebrity interview, for example, or when a close friend is telling us something important and personal, and we want them to share fully.

- We want others to shine and enjoy the limelight - your son's birthday, your whole team's achievement.

- We want others to feel that they are in control of the situation - a boss, a client, a nervous lover.

- We need to calm things down. We're stuck in the middle of a heated row and another ego would only make things worse. Instead, empathy and sensitive questioning to find out what the disagreement is really about are far more effective antidotes. But we may need to raise our presence so the two warring parties give us their attention in the first place.

- It is very important that the other person likes us. This can be true when dating, asking for a favour, meeting someone new or working with colleagues with whom we need to have a strong relationship. Sometimes, though, they may like us more if we are not too eager to impress.

In many situations we may raise and lower our level of presence as we go along. For example, if we are interviewing someone for a job we may choose to have very low presence at the beginning as we encourage them to share as much as possible about themselves. Once, however, we have decided that we do want to hire them, we may well increase our presence if we suspect that this will help convince them to accept our job offer.

If you are the person being interviewed, you might well start with rapport, so they like you, move to presence, so they think you are worth hiring, and then ease back to rapport so that you leave on good terms.

How much presence have you got?

Think of a 'domain' or type of situation where having presence is important.

Ideally, it will be a situation that you have experienced already and are likely to experience again. It could be client meetings, when you are with a particular group of people (old college friends) or when you are in a particular place. Write it down.

With this situation in mind, tick the most appropriate box for each of the following questions... (see panel)

Extract from The Mind Gym's second chapter, 'The right impression'

IN MY MIND No/little presence Presence Arrogance I'm not sure what to do Calm - it will all I need to show who's boss They are so important/ work out well I'm right impressive I know what I'm Attack is the best form I'm worried I'll make a doing (or at of defence mess of it least, where I'm I'm nervous, but I don't going) want to show it OTHERS' PERCEPTIONS No/little presence Presence Arrogance Walkover Respect Pompous Ineffective Worth listening to Doesn't listen Who are you talking Wise Loud about? Knows what they Aggressive I don't remember them are talking about Irritating Inexperienced/junior A bore

Before you start scoring, remember that the results are only for the particular situation that you chose and are likely to be very different for other occasions. You can fill in the questionnaire as many times as you like for different types of situation and you will probably get different results.

Given what you have ticked for the situation that you have chosen on this occasion, allocate yourself the following points based on the table above.

Add up to make a total that will be from 10 to 40.

34-40 Respect In this situation, you have a great deal of presence and are likely to get all the attention you need. Your views will be valued and the people you are with may often refer to you and what you have said when you are not around. Don't worry, what they say is likely to be polite. And they won't forget you.

If you want to gain gravitas in other situations, consider what you are thinking and doing in this situation and see whether you can copy some of it.

Watch out that you don't come across as a little too pleased with yourself - see arrogance alert, below.

26-33 Up there You do have presence. There is no fear that you are going to blend into the wallpaper. Equally, you probably don't have the undisputed gravitas that you would like and you may well be competing with other people operating with a similar level of presence.

There are probably some relatively simple things that you could do that would give you that extra presence to mark you out from the rest of the crowd without coming across as an oddball or as arrogant.

18-25 In the game In this situation, you are one of the crowd. You aren't invisible, but you aren't particularly noticeable either. The chances are that people will remember your contribution if they are prompted, but may not give particular weight to anything you said without a nudge.

In the domain you have chosen, you have made a start but there is much you could do to gain gravitas.

10-17 On the sidelines Your presence is very low in this situation and you are in danger of being ignored or dismissed as irrelevant. If having presence is very important, you may want to avoid this situation. Alternatively, you can rethink how you see yourself and the other people who are there and take significant steps that will help you gain gravitas. It won't be easy, but the effect may be remarkable. 'You're a different person these days' could well be the reaction if you get it right.

Arrogance alert - The challenge with gaining gravitas is that it can easily veer into arrogance.

How did you score on questions 3, 5,7?

If you scored 1 or 2 in any of these, then watch out.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime