A case study on managing millennials and youth – Innocent smoothies
This is a post that I have wanted to write for so long and no, I haven’t been procrastinating, I just needed to get an inside ticket, so to speak.
In the UK there are a few amazing companies that have been started by Gen X ( or Gen Jones for those of you who are into generations in a big way) that are walking and living examples of how to run companies that Generation Y want to work for. However, there is no company that has done it better then the guys at Innocent Drinks. They are living, breathing examples of building a business based on real values through and through and Gen Y fall over themselves to get a slice of the Innocent pie. Richard Reed, Adam Balloon, Jon Wright, now 36, started their business in 1998 with a clear goal to get fresh healthy drinks out to the public, and they did it in a very quirky way.
I have always had a sneaky suspicion that these wonderful, rebellious, middle class Gen Xs, determined to do everything a different way, had built a company that not only appealed to but valued Generation Y’s qualities and that they had managed to build something quite unique, a company that values above all else its young employees. However, this was all just hearsay; I needed to see for myself, so after a few years of trying I finally managed to get a ticket to their AGM (a grown up meeting) where I, along with loads of other people, spent the day with the crew at Innocent.
Among what I can tell you is that this company has got it when it comes to Gen Y, but what is the IT? Well simply, a culture that allows their Gen Y employees to thrive. Their employees are passionate, committed, loyal and very efficient, going totally against the grain of how we think of Gen Y employees. So what have they done?
Well, walk into Fruit Towers and you know this place is different, from being greeted by a town crier to seeing the astro turf vans to the bean bags that adorned the floor and the bunting all around the office. This is a Gen Y’s dream and mine too!
Employees of Innocent do not sit in departments, they are all mixed around and there are no offices with shut doors. Most meetings take place in the very large communal area that resembles more of a 5th year common room, while looking at a screen adorned with grass and daisies. Their board of directors are actually called the “bored” by the staff and they meet in the “bored room”, which has “blah” written all over the walls. They give employees grants to do things that they really want to do, which they all vote on, the most recent being a remake of Thriller aptly called Chiller. You just get the impression that this is a great place to work.
They don’t stick Gen Y in a box with a list of tasks, they instill in them vision and them expect the results. They care about their staff, having pictures of them all as babies on the wall. They have sports clubs for the staff, a gym masseur, breakfast for everyone, Fridays evenings out, all giving a valuable message to their employees that they care about them as people. They appeal to Gen Y’s need for balance and they haven’t missed out the families too, giving employees an extra 5 days off if they get married and extra tax free money towards childcare. It is a Gen Y dream.
However, ask them how they created this culture and they will clearly state that it is all down to their amazing staff, even turning down TV opportunities to talk about theInnocent culture because it is not their job to tell others what to do . To them, it’s all about the people and they choose their people based on whether they fit with the values of the company and have the capacity to do well before they even look at their experience.
While I was there, someone asked if the innocent culture could be adapted to another business, which was a great question. I began to wonder if it could and came up with the conclusion that it would take a grounded, egoless, innovative person who did not feel it was their job to control how and what others did. To portray a culture that Gen Y love and admire, I even heard one employee say that they would have gone back to New Zealand ages ago, but just couldn’t leave Innocent. You have to be a very special person who cares as much about making relationships as you do about making a successful business and above all, thinks work is fun. I don’t know about you, but most people just are not brave enough.
So how can you get a little bit of Innocent culture into your company? How can you become Gen Y friendly?
Here are some of the points from their book, which I highly recommend you read.
1. Be clear on what you want.
I have mentioned this again and again, Gen Y employees and any other employees for that matter want to know what is expected of them, what their objectives are and if they are reaching, under-performing or out-performing them. Innocent do this well, but my sense is what they do that is different is that they don’t tell their staff how to do it, which is where most employers fail. Just tell Gen Y what the vision is, what the objective is, when it needs to be delivered and let them figure out how.
2. Tell it how it is
To quote from the book, the more feedback people get, the better they perform. And at Innocent they are strong advocates of real-time feedback, which Gen Y loves.
3. Measure performance
At Innocent they measure how the staff is performing at least twice a year and give real, honest feedback. They claim that they would rather have a hole then the wrong person in it.
4. Provide opportunities to learn
Innocent do not want their staff to stagnate, so they actively encourage them to learn, paying for business books and encouraging them to meet and talk about business with other like-minded companies. Innocent staff can regularly be seen discussing business with a variety of other Gen Y employees of non-competitive companies.
5. Share the proceeds.
Innocent have a policy that everyone should get something and that those that do the most should get the most. They have lots of systems set up for this. They don’t reward on job title or who is whose pal at that time, they reward on effort in a fair way, which will really appeal to Gen Y’s way of flattening the hierarchical systems.
5. Keep communicating
At innocent they love talking so much that they have set up a whole massive area to do that. The whole team meets every week, with any big decisions being discussed with the whole team over lunch. At any one time I am sure every employee knows what is going on at Innocent. There is no cloak and dagger; they make people feel important and they collaborate on most things with a company wiki and various other systems, set up to encourage collaboration.
6. Do the soft stuff
And this, I have no doubt, is what makes them so great to work for and why they make Gen Y into not only loyal employees, but loyal fans. The soft stuff matters to Gen Y.