At TGI Fridays UK the people strategy is the business strategy. Read on to discover how the restaurant chain use reward, development and value-led work to drive results…

Words by Dan Cave | Design by Matt Bonnar

Its increasingly common for people to be viewed as a business’ greatest asset. In fact, business decision makers consider getting hold of the right talent to be so important that, according to a 2019 PwC survey of CEOs, eight in 10 are either extremely or somewhat concerned about getting access to the skills their company needs. This is up from just over 50 per cent in 2012.

Inevitably, this heaps pressure on HR. Being the function traditionally associated with talent management, making talent work – not to mention getting it and keeping it - for the business is the ball that most often ends up in the people function’s court. Yet, most HR practitioners, those that have been around the block a few times anyway, will know that HR can often struggle to get a seat at the top table and properly influence business decisions. This only works to make it harder for HR to align talent strategy to what the business needs.


However, TGI Fridays UK are breaking this HR mould. Instead of being a business which runs roughshod over the HR function, the Luton-headquartered firm are showcasing what it means to be driven by a people strategy which is, in turn, driven by its people - with some reportedly positive results and industry accolades as a result. Jacqui McManus, who was Culture & People Development Director at the 80-plus-branch restaurant chain for seven years, tells HR Grapevine, in an exclusive interview, how this works, why recognition, values and development are at the centre of TGI’s HR practise and why she deliberately kept her team small in order to drive business success.


A main course of family values

TGI’s business-driving people strategy, Jacqui reveals, is primarily concerned with engagement, skills development and retention so the both the organisation, and its people, can thrive. This, she explains, begins with organisational values – which lay out what Fridays expect from their family [Friday’s are careful not to call team members ‘staff’ or ‘employees’ but family], what good performance looks like and how they can expect to be treated in return. “Where it starts for us is our mission and values,” Jacqui explains. “I know most companies have that but ours are created so they put people centre. If you speak to our team they can definitely quote the values.”


We live our family values. We believe in everyone. We show we’re fair, we show we care and we always bring the fun


Stemming from the family values is a motto which, explains Jacqui, is created by managers and not dictated by the people team. TGI’s hope the motto encapsulates what good at-work behaviours and teamwork means at the firm, as well as outlining the people function’s duty-of-care. “We wanted a bit more of an essence of how we work. It’s very simple. ‘We live our family values. We believe in everyone. We show we’re fair, we show we care and we always bring the fun.’ Over the last seven years it has been the foundation of everything we have done.”

Homegrown talent

For Jacqui, this motto succinctly captures how core HR processes, and ergo business, run at the restaurant chain: “It is how we recruit, how we develop and then how we look after [team members],” she says. For example, when recruiting Fridays hire for personality rather than experience at entry-level positions, and then hire from within for managerial positions. “It’s about getting people who act fair and show they care,” Jacqui explains, the implication being that this recruitment practise showcases, as the motto states, how TGI’s “believe in everyone.”

The entry-level recruitment ethos is supported by internal people development which, as Jacqui explains, has been rolled out to the worldwide TGI Friday’s brand because of the success of the UK programme. “The recruitment we have is trailblazing, as is the training and development. It’s world class,” she adds. In fact, Jacqui believes retention has improved – attrition rates at Fridays are circa half the hospitality industry average – because of the individualised training and development they offer, with chances, as she describes, “to go sideways, to go upwards, to do anything.”

It also works to keep recruitment costs low and staff engaged. “We haven’t recruited externally from junior manager upwards in the last six years. No general manager, no operations director, no area manager has been recruited externally. Even though there have been over seventy vacancies; they have all been filled with homegrown talent. It’s a way of showcasing that when we talk about development, we mean it,” Jacqui adds.

The recruitment we have is trailblazing, as is the training and development. It’s world class.

Serving high performance

Not everyone can go on to be a director or an area manager, therefore recognition programmes are as crucial as development programmes for Fridays in order to engage and retain their staff. “As we are low pay in the hospitality industry, rewards and development are crucial for us,” she adds. “Therefore, we build programmes that reward fairly.” These include a pin system – a peer-to-peer recognition system within Fridays that rewards good behaviours – alongside managerial and directorial recognition which delivers cash prizes, time off and shopping vouchers for those performing well. There is also intra-company competition – with teams encouraged to, not just be the best, but to make the most improvements - in order to get a chance at winning £250,000. Just before Christmas, some high-performing teams also managed to secure an extra week’s wages as a result of their performance. “This went down a storm. It’s the recognition culture which is in our DNA,” Jacqui adds.

Crucially, recognition, development and recruitment don’t operate as siloed HR channels. The Fridays’ Legends programmes work to recognise high-performing staff but also highlights to HR the talent it might want to develop. “It’s about recognising someone who might have got missed – whether that’s the dish or the SA,” Jacqui explains. It works by peers putting forward team members to get nominated and rewarded. This is then whittled down to a final 130 who become ‘Legends of the year’ and are treated to a five-star hotel experience. Jacqui explains that the retention rate of this group is over 80% and she gets to see who she might promote to manager from this list. She says: “It’s about engagement, it’s about recognition but it really does ignite our desire to develop. The [Legends] event becomes self-funding regards recruitment beyond team-level, so it’s just really powerful.”

HR’s sharing platter

Although having values, strong recognition schemes and development paths is standard good practise in HR, TGIs people strategy structure is unusual when compared with other firms. Karen Forester, recently departed after 12 years in the firm’s top role, ensured that the “people strategy is interwoven with everything [Friday’s have] done,” explains Jacqui In practise, this means HR having a place, and a strong voice, in the executive committee and working with the CFO and COO to write, cost and deliver both the business strategy and business results. “It’s the reason we have such strength in Fridays because we’ve been doing that for years,” Jacqui adds.

Jacqui also allows TGI’s team members to have a strong say in all aspects of strategy. “We speak to our teams to understand and know what they want and what the impact will be informs how we devise our plans,” she explains. In fact, it is the reason that Jacqui keeps her people function small – it is currently just six people – so they are forced to get information from, and build plans with, their teams. “It could be a director, it could be managers, it could be team managers; they help with everything we do. It’s absolutely critical,” she adds.


It’s all inclusive, its critical to our success, to what we do in Fridays.


Team members are hyper-engaged in this ‘crowdsourced HR’ strategy. Jacqui says she gets about 30 emails a week from team members often wanting to share ideas or recognise the performance of their colleagues. And, after they kicked off this people-sourced strategising by allowing team members to create a new service cycle structure, there was further appetite to get involved with other aspects of strategy. “Once our team knew they were writing the strategies for Fridays and implementing fundamental things, the door kicked open,” she adds.

This led to the creation of two employee boards. One employee board shapes core aspects of the people strategy, such as recognition and culture, whilst the other influences executive strategy. “It’s all inclusive, its critical to our success, to what we do in Fridays,” Jacqui says, adding that she believes the company culture, business and HR function would not be as strong without it. In fact, Jacqui tells me she wouldn’t consider operating in any other way. “If the leaders or senior leaders aren’t there it doesn’t matter can take key players away and the business still flourishes.”


No such thing as too many cooks

In fact, the implication of Jacqui’s HR operational tack is that the people team can have the biggest business impact by staying small and working to get the best ideas from the extended workforce rather than dictating. “I value that we speak to our team. I think that is fundamental. I wouldn’t extend a people team beyond five or six. If you haven’t got the [ideas] in your workforce, go and get it. I can’t believe there isn’t a company that doesn’t have the people that can help shape its future,” she adds. This appears to have helped it get a bigger voice in the executive too – though having a CEO supportive of this tack has massively helped.

This radical HR stance – with people helping drive the people strategy, which in turns help drive the business - is supported by positive results. TGI has collected industry awards for their recruitment and growth programmes, as well as topping The Sunday Times Best Big Companies to Work For list in 2015, an award supported by the employee voice. Year-on-year like-for-like sales and profit are reportedly up, too. Thank goodness for HR, eh?


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