Spotlight on: Dawn Browne, People & Talent Director for Fuller’s

Dawn Browne is the People & Talent Director for Fuller Smith & Turner – the premium pubs and hotels business. We recently spoke to Dawn about how the team at Fuller’s are dealing with the pandemic and its effects and how they’re gearing up to reopen. 

At Fuller’s, you’re renowned for the Fuller’s family ethos and looking after your people. How did you take that culture into the pandemic? 

We’re very proud of our people at Fuller’s and we definitely have a culture of taking care of our family. 

It’s very hard to cast your mind back now to where it all started. At the time, I think we were all thinking it could be over in a few weeks but here we are. One of things we did in the Exec Team was think about the principles we would apply throughout and they centered very much around looking after our people. We knew it was going to be tough, but didn’t want to stray away from what makes Fuller’s what it is, and that is putting our people front and centre. 

Fundamentally we wanted to be proud of how we responded to the pandemic and all of the decisions that we made. I believe that organisations will really live with the way they’ve responded to this for years to come and we wanted to be able to look back and know that we did right by our people. 

How have you adapted to the ever changing challenges of the pandemic?

We developed a bit of a saying throughout that every plan we made had between six minutes and six days before it probably needed changing, so we’ve become quite used to the agility that’s required now. 

Like many businesses we were quite formal, especially with our Exec meetings once a month. Very quickly into the pandemic we were meeting every morning and that’s ebbed and flowed as things have changed. We’re now in a routine of meeting twice a week and I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the monthly formality. The swifter decisions that we can make and the more connected we are, the better service we’re giving to the business and our people. 

How do you think the pandemic and the furlough scheme has impacted on Fuller’s team members? 

My colleague made an interesting observation on a call recently. He said, ‘We’re not all in the same boat here, as many like to say, we are all in the same storm but actually in very different boats’ and I think that’s a good way to look at it. 

It’s trying to recognise that everyone’s had their own experiences throughout the pandemic, whether you’ve been furloughed, continued to work on the frontline, had ill family members or tried to balance homeschooling. It’s been a real mixed bag of experiences so we want to recognise that. 

We have had 94% of our teams on furlough and it’s been a real challenge not being able to see each other and communicate with each other. To help with this, our CEO was doing almost daily videos, updating the teams during the peak of the pandemic which are now weekly and I think they’ll continue. 

The other challenge has been around the lack of certainty and not being able to provide that certainty for our people at times. We’ve never been through this before and you don’t know the answers. You feel like you’re finding your feet and then it all changes, so being honest and open about that with our teams has been really important. 

What are some of the things you’ve done to help throughout?

It’s easy as a company to ignore the really tough stuff. I’ve seen organisations do quizzes and other fun things and yeah, they’re important, but there has been a really tough reality for some on furlough. Husbands, wives, flatmates have lost their jobs. Many have become the main earner while being on 80% of wages without tips and service charge. You’ve got to lean into the tough things as well. 

One of the things we did a few weeks ago now, through this second, much-harder lockdown was send our teams a £20 supermarket voucher. We know that sounds small and it won’t solve everything but we wanted to do something. We also said if you don’t feel that you need this then pass it on to a colleague who does or send it back and we’ll pass it on. That was great as we were able to give people something positive to give back to their fellow team members. It was a really heartwarming experience. 

Wagestream was always in the pipeline for us. When the pandemic happened we had to reprioritise all of the things we were doing but Wagestream was one of the things we really wanted to provide. It’s been really well received and helped people manage their money when things have been tight. More importantly, in the period of time when we have been open, it’s really helped our flexible team members see how much they’re earning. We’ve also got a lot of team members saving so it’s been great to provide that support.

Now there’s the very exciting prospect of reopening, how are you preparing and what are some of the potential challenges?

We can’t wait to get our doors open again. We’re busy preparing to open for each stage, planning for our team members, getting the right stock in – all the good stuff. It’s so nice to be planning that. It’s an immense amount of work but our operational teams are absolute heroes in my eyes, getting us back on track. 

I do wonder how much of a scar this pandemic will leave. Our mindset has now changed from supporting people stepping away from work to now supporting people back to work and that’s going to be equally as challenging. 

For us, the focus is helping people come back to work safely and securely. It’s not just about making it safe for our customers, it’s also about making sure our team are safe and supported. When we reopened last summer we did online training to get everyone up to speed and let everyone be on site the day before opening to make sure they felt comfortable and could properly see each other again. 

There’s no doubt we will also need to do some recruitment at some point in the future and that feels great. 

And again, we’ll need to recognise the different journeys people have been on. We’re starting to see a split between those that have been furloughed and those that haven’t. There’s a real tendency to think the grass is greener, that people on furlough have had it easier or that people who have worked haven’t had to worry as much. I think we need to bring those two sides together with the understanding that there hasn’t been a perfect experience throughout this, and that everyone has been in their own boat. 

I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I just can’t wait to be standing at a bar with a proper pint. And before that point, I think people in the UK will be happy to sit in coats or under umbrellas for a cold pint of draught beer in a pub garden and I really love that spirit. 

A huge thanks to Dawn for sharing her thoughts!

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