Unordinary Thinking No. 18 – Democracy at the coffee shop

Knowing, finding and hiring the types of people you really want in your organisation is taxing.  It is a key challenge for us at Lexden at the moment and why we have been observing how different businesses go about it.

Hiring the wrong people costs businesses millions.  From the CEO who formulates the wrong strategy, through the senior manager who cannot appropriately engage their staff to the operations associate who has a problem with punctuality, the upfront financial cost of getting these people in the business is never recouped.  Let alone the non-financial costs in terms of lower morale for the staff who were there before the person started, and who probably knew there would be problems from day one.

So much about deciding whether a person will fit into an organisation comes down to deciding on the ‘chemistry’.  Now this is something you cannot get from a beautifully written two page CV.  It is pretty difficult to ascertain from a one to one interview.  And you only gain marginally more information from one of those group interview exercises where individuals are observed by senior managers, whilst completing a task as part of a team.

Very few jobs do not require a significant amount of interaction with fellow colleagues and staff members.  If a new hire does not fit in with the existing processes, procedures and personalities then it is not hard to see that the team dynamic will be altered and productivity will suffer.  It can have a major impact on the business.

Pret a Manger have an interesting way of mitigating the risk of this happening.  They ask all prospective new hires to work for a day in a typical Pret shop (for pay).  At the end of their day, the existing Pret team members then vote on whether they should be hired.  Simple.

There are, I think, two reasons why this is a great approach.  Firstly it gives Pret the best chance of making the right hiring decisions in the first place-who better than the team members the person will work closely with to make the decision?  And secondly, by empowering the team to make the hiring decision, Pret makes the team jointly responsible for ensuring the success of the new staff member.  Since they are on the line for the decision, there is no way they won’t make every effort to assimilate the new hire.

It is certainly a different-unordinary-approach to the market norms for hiring staff in the coffee shop/fast food industries.  But if you look at Pret’s growth, consistent customer experience, happy looking people and low staff turnover, they seem to be in a very different place to their competition.  Who says democracy does not work?

Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands.

For more information on how we can help you, contact or, or call us on T: +44 (0)20 7490 9123.  And you can follow us on Twitter @consultingchris.

1 thought on “Unordinary Thinking No. 18 – Democracy at the coffee shop

  1. Tim

    For what Pret needs – a high volume of staff that are motivated and willing to accept low wages and few long term career prospects – it seems to me like a good model. Due to this it obviously does not leave everyone happy: while we cannot accept one persons comment to be reflective of an entire experience it is hardly surprising when you expect the average tenure to be 2 years max and they recruit accordingly. By keeping turnover high you can also keep wages low.

    The democratic method is also a good one but works only if all parties are fully aware of all the long term goals and challenges that the business is facing. Not everyone is assessing the same person on the same merits and in a privatively owned company the owners stand to lose a lot more if an important hire fails. In my opinion everyone’s view should be considered but not all views are equal!

    Culture fit is, indeed, the most important thing. Assuming you have been recommended to the best candidate, screened them well, collected good references and they have demonstrable success you would expect them to have the skills. Culture fit is best achieved by recruiting via people who know you and or have taken time to get to know you first – asking for recommendations from your personal network 1st works well, or using a search company who are able to target people on culture and style and not just skill (plus they will have met a lot of people face to face 1st before recommending a shortlist for you to meet and so should have weeded out the badly fitting people before you need to). A good analytical test also helps – like Hogan – as does meeting offsite and in more social settings towards the close of the deal.

    My advice is to hire professionals who’s minds are attuned to this. Companies tend to shy away from spend on recruitment however. They recognise the need to hire professional accountants, lawyers or marketing consultants but when it comes to recruitment companies they always go it alone first. Then after much pain, distraction and cost of resources turn to professionals after failure (if at all).


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