The future of Jamie’s Italian has again been cast into doubt as the chain seeks to find a buyer. The company, which runs 22 restaurants in the UK, and others globally, has previously been on the edge of collapse, but was bailed out by a fresh credit line last year. According to The Times, HSBC may even have to write off £17m as the chain teeters on the brink.
Is this a result of external forces such as rising costs, changes in consumer habits, and just too many restaurants, or were other factors in play? Notably, the actual experience at the restaurants and the unchecked growth of the chain in the UK and globally. The star-power that Jamie Oliver brought to the brand was no doubt a factor in growth. With celebrity, there is a temptation to cash-in as much as possible for as long as possible, but often this can perhaps chasten brands and their iconic owners in the process.
I remember a wobbly table at Jamie’s Italian in Canberra. That’s what I recall now from an experience I had in 2017. A wobbly table and poor quality food. I’m not suggesting my experience was the ‘norm’ by any stretch, but it did leave an impression about the quality of the overall brand and its strategy. The essence of the brand was experience. Specifically, an experience eating in an environment cultivated by the celebrity chef himself yet this grand vision fell awfully short. Partially, because it overstretched and lost its way.
The core of the business was Oliver, no doubt, but the wider brand around him was not strong enough to sustain growth and interest. Accusations of workplace toxicity, an exodus of talent, and branch closures have all been prominently reported as an on-going saga. Being an Italian restaurant is not going to help you stand out in the hospitality business nor is being an Italian restaurant endorsed by one of the World’s celebrity chefs it seems. By its own admission, the brand has hurtled into this scenario at full tilt and has almost succumbed to the many pressures that rapid growth brings. This is far from a unique story yet it offers some concrete and cautionary guidance to all professionals working on growing and developing brands.
We see this pattern within employee experience too. Too far, too fast. Too much, too soon. The tendency of business leaders and HR professionals and others is to jump in – a bias for action and results – to get things moving- but in the process, they sometimes forget or bypass the things that are of real significance within the company building process. This is made visible by a straight hop into the latest management fad or trend.
New techniques, methods, and tools are immensely valuable yet if we buy the most expensive roof money can buy, but the house is built on sand, it’s not going to work out well for anyone. The remedy is to move with intention and question every thing. You can still move fast, as the company iterates and evolves, but we can also be conscious of and be thoughtful about the whole picture. Is the high impact work a reconfigured employee journey or is it a totally different way of doing business? A complete re-design of how customers and employees interact with each other. That’s the deep stuff and is often the work that elevates businesses beyond the competition or saves them from ruin.
Question everything. What does this world mean for us now? How do we play our part? How do we differentiate ourselves in the market? How do we stay relevant in today’s world? Good old fashioned root and branch development work is back in fashion and it naturally considers anything getting in the way of high performance including the entire business model, the basic ethos of the brand, and all related strategies. Here’s a few things to keep in focus when developing EX:
There are no sacred cows within business. There are, however, plenty of elephants in many rooms throughout the business world. We need to address those first, not last, by tackling the real pain that exists within and outside a company. Wherever it may be. It may well be the small things (like a wobbly table) or it could well be something much bigger (like a wobbly business model or strategy).
Slow your roll. Excitement, enthusiasm and early momentum can be powerful, but it might just be dragging you in the wrong direction with EX. This is why I actively encourage people to take regular steps back from the detailed work to look at how well things are connecting within the business and with customers, and to correct course quickly if they are not aligning well. This could be teams, values, ideas, functions, workstreams etc. There are a lot of people to take with us, keep them with you.
The figureheads for employee experience are the employee and customer. Everything is in service to these two groups. No one person, CEO, or Founder is above them. Every single piece of work is there to help customers and employees thrive with your products and services. Again, this is sometimes lost when the detailed work begins. The focus shifts to serving other masters within the business, which can be unhelpful. Did we focus on making things better for our colleagues and customers? This is not a bad question to review each and every day.
The fast food approach to EX will only get you so far. You can do some quick work, but it is often unsatisfying and not very healthy for the mind, body, or spirit. The result is that we feel empty and unfulfilled. Our customers and employees will feel the same too. EX is a broad approach. It stands to reason that we will need think more broadly and strategically to effectively lead and apply the concept within business.
Ben Whitter is the Founder and Chief Experience Officer of the World Employee Experience Institute (WEEI) and is recognised as one of the World's leading figures within the field of employee experience.
From ambitious high-growth companies to leading multinational brands, Ben is an in-demand EX advisor, executive coach and keynote speaker helping companies to establish or elevate business performance through a positive employee experience.
Ben has delivered keynotes on EX in over 15 countries. His work has reached 16 million people to date and has been referenced by Forbes, Deloitte University Press, MIT Sloan, Hays Journal, and Thomson Reuters.
To work with Ben, please email: email@example.com