When I go on holiday for two weeks, I always find the first day back pretty tough. Having switched off my mind a little for that period, I find getting back into work on day one really hard, so much so, that I wonder if it is just easier never to have a holiday! I can’t imagine what this is like if you have had three months doing nothing during either major lockdown, but I assume the return to work is pretty traumatic. For those of us who have worked all through the pandemic, and worked harder than ever before, we probably struggle to understand what it is like for those who have slumped back into their school, student, or retirement mentality, and are finding it hard to get back out. For many, while they were excited to get back to work, the pro-longed rest has meant they have found getting up on time, working hard, and being nice to customers all very difficult. It really has been like having a whole load of 16-year-old kids starting work, all at the same time. Of course, the same is true for our management team. They have found that managing staff, motivating teams, and training and coaching individuals is tougher than normal. And they’re doing this while re-learning and adjusting so much of what we do, whether it be covid rules, outside seating or adjustments to opening hours and menus!
And let’s not forget the customer. While of course we love them, our experience in our three pubs is that they have expected the engine to be at full speed from the start, with little tolerance for slip-ups. Combine this with the annual price rises we put in right at the start of re-opening, and the customer piece of the jigsaw adds to the pile of stresses; I could swear some people have become ruder but maybe it’s me!
So, in that melting pot of challenge what do we need to do? Of course, the answer is completely obvious; We need to train, coach, and encourage like never before, and we need to overstaff so that the management team can focus on team development and training. Our added challenges in Malvern Inns, are that customer demand has exceeded our supply of staff. We have also had some changes in our management structure which means many people learning new jobs. Oh, and let’s not forget the outside trading, covid restrictions and supply challenges to throw in as well as mentioned above.
In all honesty, is has taken us until now to get back to focussing on these basics. In the last two weeks, we have re-established job chats and 1-1’s; we have been able to focus the managers on training all staff, not just new ones; and we have properly been able to praise staff when they are doing things right and improve the energy and motivation in the business. It has made me kick myself for not getting focused on this earlier. My main excuse is that we didn’t expect the level of demand early and thought we would have more time. Coupled with a cash crisis, that meant we wanted to save every penny. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I dread to think how much more we could have taken if we had invested more, in all these things, ahead of re-opening.
But it does teach me something I should never forget. The basics of running a good pub are all about how the management team work with their people. When the management team are on top of the business, the important three activities of training, 1-1’s, and praising good jobs all happen well, and when they are stressed, they all incorrectly fall by the wayside. It has taken us too long to get to this point, but the relief I feel for having got back into this rhythm is massive. I finally feel like we are now managing the situation, rather than reacting to events. We can now focus on growth and improvement in a little more measured way and get a little nearer to that back to normal feeling that we all crave.
Alastair Scott is CEO of Malvern Inns, which runs three gastro pubs and an events business, as well as founder and CEO of S4 labour; the people, productivity, and payroll business.