Be At One: Why basic kindness is still a leader's greatest asset
By Elizabeth Akass, Editor, Engage Business Media
Be At One describes why appreciating and getting to know its staff, celebrating their successes, and making the workplace fun, have been the most successful, yet simple, factors in its employee engagement and retainment.
Be At One, the cocktail bar chain, was founded with the purpose of giving people a place to enjoy themselves and to feel comfortable letting their hair down, exactly as they are – treating its visitors as guests, not just customers. This amiable approach also extends to behind the scenes, where staff are encouraged to both work and play hard in the workplace, and any position of seniority comes with an expectation to prioritise building friendly relationships with subordinates.
Chris Lincoln, Head of Learning and Development at Be At One, explains this further. “I think that society overall has become really complex in all aspects, and I think that’s gotten in the way of the basic human contact that we all require. It just means building that connection with your teams, and looking for leaders to interact with people who do the job day in, day out, and perform the role that they require.”
He states that transparency and communication are vital in keeping employees feeling positive towards their managers and the business in general. “They really just want to know who they’re working for, and it’s nothing complicated; you’ve got to take the time to talk to people and learn about them. Once they know that we actually care, and we talk to them about the role and what’s expected of them, and what we want them to achieve, that’s really appreciated and they feel like they can buy into that, and into you, and the business – and that directly impacts their motivation.”
Staying true to these values, Be At One implemented a career pathway for its bartenders, maintaining simplicity as a key element. “The career pathway was a really simple way of showing people what was available to them, and what they needed to do to progress within the business. We wanted to make sure there were lots of achievable goals along the way that gave the teams nationally industry-recognised qualifications, so that they felt like we were giving them something back.”
Lincoln continues: “With that in mind, we became the first business in the industry to be accredited by the World Flair Association; we then set ourselves up with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, and then finally we actually built our own accredited programme with Highfield Qualifications, which was another industry first. This programme was built around the knowledge of our bartenders, which means that the certificate is theirs, and they own it. It demonstrates to the industry their level of skill, and recognises the hard work that they do day in and day out.”
He explains that all staff are automatically enrolled as trainees, and the initial training that allows them to qualify as bartenders takes around 6-9 weeks. This is when they “learn how to free pour, learn various types of cocktails, mental resilience to the hospitality industry, guest interaction, and all of the cocktails that we serve to our guests.”
“Once you become certified, we encourage everyone to continuously develop, but they can do it at their own speed. Nobody is forced to do anything they don’t want to, but Be At One’s bartenders are all very proud of the skills that they have, as are we, so naturally they look to improve themselves continuously. We have an extremely skilled group of learning and development managers as well who support the bartenders through their journey on the pathway, advising the teams on what is available to them and how they get there, along with what the return would be once achieved.”
This encouragement for development has resulted in 90% of staff working towards career progression goals at any one stage. Lincoln states: “This is really driven from our People Director, Gillian Lambden, who really sees the value in team involvement, and drives engagement and ensures that there are continuous avenues for communication between the leaders and staff on the ground.”
Lincoln highlights the fact that Be At One ensures to celebrate every single milestone of the pathway that is achieved with a party. “The Learning and development manager will meet with the team member to celebrate their success and then advise on the next stage, which again builds that engagement further throughout people’s careers.” He says that implementing a “culture of recognition” is easy at Be At One, as they believe that the dedication required to achieve a certification of any level deserves to be rewarded.
“We make a public display of our recognition because we are so genuinely impressed and proud of their achievements. This also encourages people to aim for their next goal, which in turn drives the engagement of the career pathway.” Lincoln says this is also done in line with the friendly and encouraging nature of the business in general. All senior and management personnel are highly encouraged to be chatty and inquisitive with employees – getting to know staff beyond their place in the business
Moving forward, Be At One is looking to implement further development programmes for their more junior staff, as well as placing more focus on their management training and development, in conjunction with Stonegate which bought Be At One last year. “We also want to increase the certifications of our bartenders to more advanced levels, which obviously leads to more offerings for them.”
This investment in employees’ development also benefits the company’s profits directly. “Ultimately, the more highly skilled the bartender becomes the faster they can serve the guests, leading to a higher income generated from them naturally. More importantly, they feel valued and pride in what they’ve achieved, which in turn then leads to improved retention.”
“If you show an actual appreciation for the people working for you, and for the business itself, the returns are simple: people want to work with you, and they want to stay.”