About the organisation
Adnams produces beers and spirits from grain-to-glass in our coastal home of Southwold and has been brewing since 1872. We’re a family business (with a plc listing), employing 536 people, and our heritage is important to us. We’re very focused on behaving sustainably: apart from the moral imperative (which contributes to our customers’ trusting us at a time when many businesses are mistrusted). We recognise that we are very dependent on energy and water, which are costly and in short supply respectively.
What challenges were you trying to address?
When the crisis first hit, about 17 March, the senior leadership team at Adnams were already meeting twice a day to ensure they took prompt actions. The impact on the hospitality industry has been profound – and we knew we had some major challenges to rise to. How would we make our way through the pandemic? What are we going to do for customers? How would we support our people? How could we plan for the future?
What was your solution?
Leading by example
We knew we’d have difficult decisions to make along the way; we wanted to lead by example and show our employees that we were in it together. That’s why the entire senior team took a 50% pay cut to support the business.
Supporting our people and our partners
Even though we have over 500 staff, we do feel like one big family at Adnams. We’re a tight-knit organisation, our people are at the heart of the services we deliver. To keep our people safe, we furloughed all members of staff who were customer-facing – approximately 80% of our workforce. It really helped that we didn’t have any zero hours contracts – so people were reassured that their furlough payments would be consistent and fair.
Being in hospitality, our employees have had a lot of questions and anxieties about the future. Communication has been so important in supporting, engaging, and reassuring our people. We’ve sent written communications to people’s home addresses – to update them on the situation, but also to share some fun updates to lift the spirits. The small numbers of the warehouse team who are still working used to have fancy dress days on a Friday and would post pictures of them all dressed in Mariachi clothing or all dressed as women. The shop managers have been using WhatsApp to post holiday photos and then play ‘Guess the Vineyard’ with the teams too. We’ve also tried to take this as an opportunity to get to know our people better – and have hosted events like Zoom garden parties – where people can bring their children, pets and significant others to enjoy a pint and a catch-up with colleagues.
We’ve been incredibly conscious that the coronavirus pandemic will impact our people and their families financially. Which is why we have set up a hardship fund for our employees – which has dealt with a few cases so far.
Alongside our direct employees – we have a duty to support our tenanted estate. We are very lucky to have Nick Attfield, who used to be a pub tenant himself, as our property director – he’s walked in their shoes, so he knows what they’re going through. It has been through his recommendations that we decided to give our tenanted pubs a rent holiday until they are able to re-open, ensuring they are not facing financial hardship with the bills mounting up when they can’t open their doors.
Supporting our communities
Our pubs are not just somewhere to stop in on the way home from work – they’re hubs and meeting places. And we want customers to know we understand that our pubs are often at the heart of the community. So, while we’ve supported some larger projects – it’s our many local efforts that we’re proud to share.
We’ve worked with a local university (UEA) to produce enough hand sanitiser from our un-used alcohol, provided celebratory drinks for Mercedes employees after they produced their 10,000th ventilator, and dropped off a bottle of wine or a case of beer to local people making scrubs for the NHS and 5,000 care packages. Giving back in these little ways has always been an important part of our brand ethos, and the fact that we have kept it up throughout COVID-19 has mattered to our employees too. They want to feel proud of the company they work for and the response we’ve had internally has been great.
We don’t treat everybody the same – we don’t have big sweeping policies. When we are able to support our staff in the right way for them as individuals during difficult times, it’s a pleasure, not a chore.— Sadie Lofthouse, Director of Culture & Performance, Adnams
How did you roll out your approach?
The keystone of our response has been our senior leadership team meetings, which have happened every morning and every evening since the pandemic broke out. Those discussions – which cover current operations but also planning for the future – provide important opportunities to adjust our response based on the latest information, to share what different teams are working on and to learn from what has and hasn’t worked.
Pulling our business response together was not difficult – because we’ve always had a focus on bringing great people into the business. With the right expertise, and a lot of trust – we were able to quickly remodel the business and share those plans with the bank who has been very supportive.
In terms of executing our plans, communication has been the absolute watchword. Clear communications have enabled us to implement our crisis management plan and further build trust in the leadership team – that we are acting in the best interests of our people as well as the bottom line.
Of course, the last few months haven’t been without their challenges. One of the worst days came just before the furlough scheme was announced. We’d had to shut our doors and had very little income, and without knowing the Job Retention scheme was just around the corner, we had to ask our people whether they would take unpaid leave to help support the business in the short term.
It was tough – a really hard moment for us as a business. But every single person put their hand up and said they would take that unpaid leave – because they trusted us as a business. It was an incredibly humbling experience, and something we will never forget. Needless to say, we were very relieved when the furlough scheme was announced, and we knew our people would be taken care of.
The other major challenge we’ve been contending with is how quickly change has been happening externally – with the government making and changing policies at speed to cope with the situation. It’s been frustrating not to be able to give our people the certainty they need.
What have the results been?
One positive thing that has come out of this – is that as much as we considered ourselves a family business before – we’re actually a lot closer now. People have shared information about their personal situations with us so that we can plan with them in mind. For example – one shop employee has told us she is a foster mother with two children she is looking after – something we didn’t know about before.
It’s also been interesting to see how easily we’ve managed to move so many of our meetings online. The technology has been useful – and it’s not detracted from the quality of meetings at all. So, we’re excited to think more about how we can work differently in the future – how we use technology to enable greater flexibility.
We’ve significantly improved the availability and visibility of data and reports and share relevant detail with everybody on a more regular basis.
We’ve also started to get more out of the existing technology and even things as simple as the phone system is now helping to provide greater flexibility in how and where we all work. The functionality was already there but we didn’t necessarily use it to its full benefit.
Aside from the really important health, safety and well-being work that has taken place and that will continue to be a big focus, we are also looking at using this situation as an ideal opportunity to ‘do better’.
We think many employees will have reassessed their working hours and patterns and we are offering them the chance to continue to work differently. This may be looking at where, what, or how they carry out their existing roles or it may be redesigning roles to meet the new needs of the business and the individual. I believe the impact of the lockdown will move gender equality forward with a leap, as we have seen far more of our male employees play a greater role in caring for children and elderly relatives in the last three months.
We have seen almost the same number of male employees requesting to work reduced hours through the summer holidays as female employees as the usual childcare services are not available. This responsibility has become far more of a shared thing and hopefully it will continue. A refreshing change!
As employees we are all thinking differently and as employers, we can do more to create really good work. There is an exciting opportunity here to move at a much faster pace than may have been possible before the pandemic.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to do something similar?
I would say communicate well and communicate often. Never has it been more important for everyone to have a voice and for that voice to be heard. That will bring fresh thinking to the business. We have worked collaboratively, and we have quickly adopted new approaches and new thinking. There is a genuine opportunity here to break any unhelpful habits or rigid patterns of behaviour, to stop doing the things that don’t add sufficient value and to build something new and exciting moving forward.