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No concerns over staff treatment here -- this company's Innocent

07-Feb-2005

Late last year Innocent Drinks was crowned employer of the year at the National Business Awards. No surprise really when you consider some of the things it does, says Stefan Chomka

It's not every day that a food and drink company (chocolate manufacturers aside) has people begging to work for them. But for smoothie and juice maker Innocent Drinks it's all part of a day's work. A quick glance at the company's internet message board says it all. Take, for example, a message posted in June last year which reads: "I may be only a lowly student but PLEASE give me a job! I worship you all."

Even putting such student exuberance aside, Innocent is clearly high on the radar of many job seekers. The company's Fruit Towers head office in Shepherds Bush has become a Mecca for those seeking work in the food and drink industry and Innocent admits it gets daily speculative applications for jobs that aren't even up for grabs. It is not only regarded as a manufacturer that offers good job prospects, but also as a fun place to work. It's young, dynamic, and dare I say it, trendy.

Now the company can add that it is an excellent employer to this list after being crowned Employer of the Year at last year's National Business Awards, held in November. Just the latest of accolades to be afforded Innocent for its approach to its staff, which have in the past included winning the National Business Awards People Development award in 2002 and being a finalist in the Outstanding People Development category the following year.

The creation of a company with such a glowing personnel record has certainly not been down to chance. Innocent was set up back in 1999 when three friends, disillusioned with the tedium of their working lives, decided to form a smoothie company that would not only make them money but that would bring some fun back into their lives. Just under six years on, and while the company has grown to now employ 50 staff -- 47 full-time and three 'really nice helpers' -- its ethos has remained the same.

Innocent puts its success with people down to staying true to its original five-point strategy. Although its central objective is to produce high quality drinks, its four other points, each of equal weighting, are the development of a strong brand, a robust supply chain, solid customer relations and a happy team of employees.

All laudable stuff, but Innocent is certainly not the first food and drink company to profess to putting the welfare of its employees high on its agenda. Only when you take a look at some of its initiatives is it clear it is true to its evangelism.

Take the company's induction process. New recruits are given a two-week timetable which consists of meetings with every member of staff to give a picture of what they do and where they themselves will fit into the overall structure of the company, says Innocent's Ailana Kamelmacher. In addition to this, the company runs what it calls its lunchmate programme, which for the first two weeks assigns a different member of staff each day as a lunch partner. "In your first two weeks you don't have a new person panic when you start work, but get to meet lots of people on an informal basis," says Kamelmacher.

This simple yet personal approach to ensure staff are well looked after is the essence of Innocent's management. Co-founder Adam Bolan says: "We want to be Europe's favourite little juice company. Little is about attitude, not size." It recognises that small gestures can be just as effective as the grand ones. "You don't have to do big flashy things to motivate staff and keep them happy," says Kamelmacher. "It is the little things that matter the most."

Personal touch

She points to the company's policy of providing free breakfasts to staff to encourage a bright start each morning -- every staff member has their own breakfast bowl, mug and plate -- and how it runs a two-hour bar tab every Friday after work at a selected pub to ensure the opposite each Saturday. "It's knowing the company is looking after you that counts," says Kamelmacher.

Such novel motivation policies clearly seem to be working for Innocent, which records a remarkably small annual staff turnover. And other companies should take note, says Dr Mitzi Desselles, director of employee and consumer research at management development company Apter International.

Desselles says that too many companies persist in adopting a rather old-fashioned approach to motivation. Such companies rarely devote much real effort to investigating what is really motivating their employees and how their employees would be more effectively motivated, she says. As a result, they fail.

One problem, say Desselles, is that companies tend to group their employees together as one entity, regardless of their age or interests. "Why should [companies] assume that their employees are all the same or that they all want the same thing from work?" she asks.

"Different segments of employees will have very different motivational requirements. Some will be motivated by benefits, others may seek power and opportunity to lead, while others may be more interested in the social aspects and the opportunity to forge relationships with colleagues and to work in an enjoyable and even fun environment."

Instead, Desselles suggests companies treat employees as they would their customers, and 'market' their business to an employee's particular needs just as it would to particular consumer groups. "Treating employees like customers, aligning the firm's 'offer' to both groups is a superb way to increase profitability without increased cost," she says.

Much of this can be seen in Innocent's approach to staff, whose schemes are as diverse as they are inventive in an attempt to please everyone. It offers extra holidays to newly-weds and even has annual company weekend away. Even with job vacancies it takes a less than conventional approach -- they are advertised on the labels of its drinks.

For those seeking the opportunity to climb the career ladder, the company does not disappoint. It runs MIMBAs -- mini Innocent MBAs -- which is a series of eight courses in leadership and management over a year to give staff a taster of a real MBA course.

For the more financially motivated it gives a £2,000 baby bonus to expecting couples and each quarter runs an Innocent scholarship where employees get the opportunity to win £1,000 to pay for something they have always wanted to do. Past winners of the prize have used the money for driving lessons, to help run a football school for children and even to buy equipment to run desert marathons.

One final perk of the job is that sales reps get a company car. Although this tends not to go down as well as some of its other incentives, Innocent admits. Company reps have the dubious honour of choosing from Innocent's fleet of cow vans, decorated to look like a cow, complete with eyelashes, udders, tail and a horns that goes 'moo'; or its range of grass-covered 'dancing' hydraulically modified ice cream vans and grass-covered electric cars. Well, no company's perfect!FM

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