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Mentoring and the need for management buy-in

How Searcys combatted negative perceptions of catering to develop its high-potential staff with mentoring

Despite perceptions, Searcys is not actually just a catering company. While we do provide hospitality services at both luxury retail outlets and high-end venues we also manage venues in their entirety; taking on responsibility for everything from sales and operations to finances and long-term planning.

With such a service offering in place for most of our clients we have to approach staffing from a different point of view and manage people in a way that goes beyond standard industry practices. Few sectors have such a poor perception in the public eye when it comes to staffing – whether it is due to long hours, poor pay or attitudes to junior staff – and as an industry leader we see it as part of our role to bring about change.

So we saw a genuine opportunity and need to develop our high-potential staff across the portfolio, including those ready to progress to general manager, senior chefs, marketing, sales, even individual financial roles. For many organisations, particularly in hospitality, training is seen as a financial and temporal burden and a way to placate staff. But that is simply not the case; it has a measurable impact that frequently exceeds the initial investment when done right.

The board decided to help our team become better managers and help them work more effectively with their teams. Our sister company BaxterStorey was already running a successful mentoring programme, which we wanted to emulate on a more focused and personal level. That meant we had to develop much of it ourselves. But buy-in from senior management from the outset made the process simple.

Management buy-in is mandatory for such an endeavour. Because of this high-level endorsement we were able to rely on in-house skills to lead the programme, allowing each mentee to benefit from masterclass time with subject matter experts covering events, service delivery, marketing, commercial skills, sales and more.

The process was considered so valuable to the business that even our managing director led sessions on the position of the business and successful delivery of services. These sessions were also supported by ongoing one-to-one sessions with an appropriate mentor to check on learning outcomes, growth and potential.

Mentoring programmes have significant potential value to an organisation – even more so when they are approached in a way that balances the needs of the individuals and the business. For example, throughout our programme mentees also worked together to deliver a project focused on improving communication throughout the business, which in turn showed an immediate return on the time invested.

Companies considering such a process need to be aware of both the potential benefits and pitfalls. Through education individuals gain understanding and that leads to confidence, which is great for the company. It does also mean that they become hungry for more and could look to move on.

Mentoring programmes are not for every business; they are undeniably time- and resource-heavy. But they are so much more effective than off the shelf training. We could have spent a fortune sending these individuals on external courses that might only have been beneficial to a small minority. However, making it personal to them as individuals and personal to the business as a whole had a significant impact.

Richard Callaghan is head of HR for high-end hospitality company Searcys