We were thrilled to come 38th in the Sunday Times Best Companies list in 2018 – making COOK the highest-placed manufacturer and the third highest retailer.
Charity, as the saying goes, begins at home. Our mission to be a force for good in society starts with how we treat our COOK family. While this is also measured by our involvement with B Corp (read more here), the annual Best Companies has proved to be a good yardstick to measure our progress ever since we first took part in 2011.
On the morning of 26th February 2016, the day after the Top 100 Companies list was announced and we came 28th in the whole country, Rosie, our Managing Director, sent round the following email.
We have something to celebrate! Last night, thanks to what you said in the employee survey, we came number 28th and ranked as the highest placed manufacturer in the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work for. We also won a special "Discovering Potential" award given to us by the Minister for Employment for our work to give ex-offenders a second chance.
Five years ago, COOK took part in the Best Companies survey for the first time. When the results were totted up, we did OK, but we were far from remarkable. We didn’t even make the country’s top 200 Best Companies to Work For. It marked the start of our journey together to create a remarkable culture and workplace. Each year since we have improved steadily (200+, to 89th, to 65th, to 44th and now 28th). A huge thank you to everyone. What makes this a big achievement is that we are not some trendy agency occupying an airy London warehouse, with an espresso machine and a ball-pit. We are cooks, drivers and shopkeepers. The 800 people on our team are as diverse a bunch as you might find. Working together, we are proving that there can be a better workplace, whatever the industry.
We face constant challenges and know workplace utopia is still a distant dream. We will keep working at it. Reflecting on the last 5 years, a lot has changed. So it feels like a good time to write down some emerging themes which we hope will be part of our vision for people at COOK for years to come… (Apologies for the Jerry Maguire moment)
1) People, not human resource
We want to move beyond the 20th century idea of people as resources, to be used by the company in the pursuit of profit. We aim to treat everyone as important and valuable for who they are, not just for what they can do for COOK. We started a hardship fund, we involve families in our charity football match and Santa's Grotto, we train our leaders in Relationships, and offer counselling and pastoral support. We appreciate there is more to life than work. We have invested in the Living Wage. Perhaps the biggest leap of faith was the launch of our Dream Academy. Investing in people and their dreams with no obvious business benefit. We know that taking care of people is the right thing to do. And in return, they will help take care of COOK.
2) Creating Community
Articulating our values in 2012 was a turning point. Our Essential Ingredients resonated, as we hoped they would. They have given us a common language and moral compass. They guide our behaviour and can be difficult and expensive to uphold (but that’s the point). They apply equally to everyone, from top to bottom. The fact we all embraced them so quickly showed we were on the right path to creating community. We have also learned that shared experience is the most powerful way to generate energy and build relationships. The office congregates every week. In 2013 we shut down the kitchen for the first time and took everyone off-site for a day to share vision, appreciate each other’s contribution, and input strategy. We now do it twice a year. In 2015 we shut our shops for a day, to celebrate our teams and plan for the future together. Ditto our puddings kitchen in Somerset. We encourage all of our teams to get together often. We are working on how we can eat together on a regular basis. We have a companywide profit share scheme. We are in it together.
3) Leading through relationship, not hierarchy
We want to run COOK with the belief that People Are Amazing. When we assume that people will do the best they can, with the tools they have got, we can develop leadership and a culture based on listening and empowerment, not command and control. We need to recognise and celebrate that all of us are capable of leadership. And then allow and encourage each other to lead, not just a few at the top of the pyramid. This is a big challenge, and we are still trying to understand what this means for us, and for hierarchy in COOK.
In the meantime, we continue to invest considerable time, energy and resource into developing leadership skills. We recognise each of us is human and imperfect. We know that we need to continually work on shared goals, empathy, and being accountable. We regularly look at team structures and sizes to ensure people are led well. We aim to give everyone a voice and an opportunity to influence what we do through away days, team meetings and huddles. We are committed to developing leadership skills that create community and strengthen relationships.
4) Masters of our own destiny
At COOK, your career and performance is in your hands. Not in your managers, not in the people team, but your own hands. As a company, our responsibility is to provide as many learning opportunities as we can. So there are inspiring away days; internal courses and workshops; training budgets for those who want to specialise; Academies in operations and retail; the Dream Academy for everyone. We are rolling out personal development workshops on subjects such as building confidence, identifying your strengths and understanding your values. In the office, we run lunchtime workshops for each other to pass on our own knowledge and skills, from understanding accounts, to calligraphy and CPR. Rather than traditional appraisals, in which we are judged by our managers at pre-determined dates, we have invented our own performance management tool, the Selfie, to put the power to request feedback into all of our hands. We have lots of work to do to embed this across COOK, but we know for sure that the best person to own your learning and development is you. We are only just getting started… watch this space.
Work with purpose
We believe in the power of why: that to be truly fulfilled in our working lives we all need to feel that the work we do makes a positive difference to the world. As a business, we want COOK to have a purpose beyond profit. And as the people who come together to make that business function, we want each one of us to have a purpose beyond our pay cheque. We are working to create the opportunities through which we can bring this idea to life for each other. Sometimes, these opportunities are obvious: enabling a local community group event through providing a discount in store or delivering a pallet of food to Caring Hands in Rochester so they can feed the homeless. Other times, the positive impact of what we do might emerge more slowly: working alongside an ex-offender or reducing water waste in the kitchen; or helping people in your team realise their potential or engaging a customer in the fact that we pay the Living Wage. When we all feel we are making a positive difference every day in the world around us, we will know that we have a truly purpose-driven culture.
Together, over the past five years we’ve proved that there is a direct link between a better workplace and a successful business. There have been, and will continue to be, plenty of bumps along the way. There is lots we have still to figure out. Please feel free to challenge us, to send us ideas, to push us to go further, faster. Do get in touch with me, or the people team at any time.
In the meantime, thank you. Here’s to the next 5 years...
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