Developing leaders in school catering

Sue Parfett, Managing Partner of The Brookwood Partnership, on how to create an environment where great leaders can flourish

When running a large multi-site business such as Brookwood, competent leaders are an especially valuable resource. We need to trust that all of our employees at every level are managed effectively, whilst also accepting that it’s impossible to be everywhere at once. As such, cultivating dependable managers is vital to our day-to-day services. But this begs the question: what is an effective leader? And perhaps more importantly, how can we develop the skills they need?

I spoke to Graham Dixon, a management and leadership coach working within our group, to discuss this challenge. His year-long development programmes focus on raising self-awareness in managers, and an understanding of how a manager’s behaviour affects those who work for him or her. In a workplace now containing a vast variety of personal backgrounds, Graham says this kind of sensitivity is invaluable. He feels it is essential the delegates can transfer application of these ideas to their everyday work environment, encouraging learners to think actively about their own behaviours in their normal settings.

I completely agree with Graham on this. It has always been my belief that effective managers are created from a mixture of ‘theoretical’ knowledge about how to manage, and a thorough understanding of the work environment and people themselves: demonstrably, the best managers in my business are the result of both education and experience. It may be because the catering business is such a ‘hands-on’ industry but I am committed to developing leaders from within the business. This ensures managers have first-hand practical understanding of their work alongside the educational development they derive from off-the-job training.

We have some great examples of successes we’ve had due to this style of training. Aston Perera, for instance, began working with us as an evening chef in a large boarding school. Moving through several promotions, he eventually became general catering manager at a large international boarding school, where his extensive experience in kitchens, in tandem with our highly focused management training, has seen him successfully take control of a million pound business and manage a team of over 30 people. Similarly, Elaine Dachtler, who began with us as a kitchen porter, is now chef manager at one of our largest sites, running two kitchens and a café. Clearly, the investment in employees together with their commitment to their own development has a mutually beneficial impact.

So, in answer to my opening questions: evidently an effective manager for us is one who is knowledgeable about the work being done, but also supported by training and development of self-awareness and management techniques. I believe this is best achieved by doing as much as we can with our own people. 

Coming second in the Sunday Times’ ‘Best Companies to Work For’ in 2014 was one of my proudest moments, and I think our total commitment to development was a significant factor in our success. This has to become even more critical for businesses as government cutbacks and increasing university fees are continuing to bite. 

It allows all those who aspire to develop have the opportunity to do so, and the momentum of fresh talent constantly flowing through our business ensures the greatest opportunities are created for years to come. 

Sue Parfett is Managing Partner of The Brookwood Partnership, the specialist independent schools caterer and part of CH&Co Group. 

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