At Nando’s leaders eat last

by Matt Grimshaw
October 22, 2014

We’re now over halfway through our pilot with Nando’s. Their challenge to us: can we help make the best even better?

As with all our programmes, the first thing we did was to get to know the people and the business. For three weeks we worked shifts, we talked to as many Nandocas (team members) as we could and we ate a lot of chicken. And boy were we impressed; Nando’s reputation as a great place to work is well deserved.

But even within this high performing environment, we found our pioneers — restaurant managers (or Patraos) whose performance set them apart from their peers. These managers are so good, they have to be amongst the best people managers you could find at any level of any UK business.

What was remarkable, was the consistency of behaviours and attitudes amongst these pioneer Patraos. Each has their own style and strengths, but even allowing for this, they all approach their role in a very similar way.

One of the most defining features is the way in which they create a tribe of people around them. The best managers do this by taking every opportunity to pay into the social bank: recognising people individually when they do something well; seizing every chance to make the lives of the people working for them easier, better and more fun; and above all taking the time to get to know everyone on their team personally — their ambitions, their concerns and what’s going on in their life.

The result is that the Nandocas that work in these outstanding restaurants trust that their leader will look after them. They know that the Patrao won’t skimp on uniforms or insist people continue to work with damaged equipment in order to make the monthly numbers. They know the Patrao won’t try to cheat them out of overtime pay. They see that when the toilet’s blocked, its the Patrao who goes and sorts it out so their people don’t have to. In the best performing restaurants, Nandocas also know that if they’re having a hard time in their personal life the Patrao will go way beyond what could be expected of a boss to try and help. And they know that the Patraos will consistently put the ambitions of their people ahead of their own interests. Indeed, one of the marks of a great Patrao in Nando’s is the number of their former team members who are now running restaurants of their own.

To borrow a phrase from Simon Sinek, these are leaders who eat last.

The effect is remarkable. Because they feel secure and looked after, Nandocas don’t waste their time and energy worrying about what their boss is really thinking or whether they will be rewarded for doing the right thing. Instead they can focus their attention on the customer in front of them and they can just channel their positive emotions into a great experience. The best Patraos do everything they can to make this customer service as easy as possible. Which is why, even though it takes time and effort on the part of the leader, the best people managers also tend to run the most successful restaurants.

If you’re interested in how the rest of our project with Nando’s panned out, here’s the full case study.