An Innocent Lesson
10/07/09 Sarah Kennedy asks whether the public sector can learn something from Britain’s favourite smoothie makers.
Yesterday the PCP team and I paid a visit to Innocent Smoothies HQ (‘Fruit Towers’) in Hammersmith. We were there to learn about how their innovative office culture and fresh approach to employee engagement can increase profits, productivity, and staff (and customer) satisfaction.
We wanted to investigate whether any of the principles transforming businesses such as Innocent could translate to the public sector. Could local governments benefit from an injection of the informal and open culture exhibited by Britain’s smoothie giant?
We were shown around by Joe, a ‘People’s Champion’ (that is really his job title), who told us a bit about the organisation. Founded by two friends who still sign-off on the hiring of nearly all 160+ members of staff, Innocent has a unique atmosphere. With its astro-turfed, open-plan office and free breakfast for all staff, it certainly seemed a creative and fun place to work. The environment was one of a non-hierachical and highly communicative company where staff had the freedom to try new things, make mistakes, and innovate. By hiring only those people who respond well to the working environment, Innocent are able to stay competitive whilst remaining committed to their principles.
But would local governments respond well to an Innocent-style makeover? There is a question here of the applicability of the relaxed tone for local authorities and public services. Whilst it may be fine for your fruit juice company to wear odd-socks to work and give high-fives rather than handshakes, you would probably not want that from your GP, bank or job centre agent. From an organisation relied upon for accuracy or responsibility, this relaxed persona would be inauthentic and unsettling.
I think some of the lessons learnt at Innocent must surely be transferrable, namely that an organisation can be more flexible and creative without sacrificing product quality; that innovation and openness can be led by customers and all staff; and that an organisation can be extremely productive without being overtly traditional or formal.