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Spotlight: Julia Claydon, HR director, Nando’s


Julia Claydon With a love for the restaurant sector and a passion for training, Julia Claydon tells Verity Gough that the secret to Nando’s success is down to more than just great chicken; it’s all about the people.

Vital stats:

  • Company: Nando’s

  • The aim: To always deliver a great Nando’s experience, internally and externally

  • Number of staff: 6,500

  • Number of HR staff: 27

  • Location: 210 restaurants across the UK with Central Support (HQ) in London

  • Contact:
  • Julia Claydon has been an integral part of the success of Nando’s, having been brought on board by founder Robbie Enthoven to establish an HR function when he had just five restaurants. In the 12 years since, the chain has grown to 210 restaurants, has been an Investor in People for 11 years, and was recently awarded three stars in this year’s Best Companies Accreditation Awards.

    Destined for HR

    It appears that Claydon, who has an impressive CV including the role of HR director for both Cafe Rouge and The Rank Organisation, was always destined for a professional life in HR when, armed with a HND in Hospitality, she took up her first job as the general manager for a chain of restaurants. However, it was when she was asked to help set up some new premises that she realised that she may have found her niche.

    “I loved it, recruiting the staff, training them, everything, but it wasn’t as if I sat there and thought I’m really good at this, but I liked it and I got an awful lot out of watching people grow,” she enthuses.

    From this point onwards Claydon says she actively pursued a job in training before ending up in HR. Similarly, she was keen to remain in the restaurant sector: “Restaurants are all about people having a good time and enjoying their experiences,” she says. “They have worked hard, saved their money and deserve to have a nice time, and people who work in the sector enjoy providing this, it’s very sociable.”

    A healthy approach to HR

    During her time at Nando’s, Claydon has also ensured that learning and development (L&D) take their rightful place alongside HR and has developed a 27-strong team that encompasses both L&D and HR. “In terms of the structure of the function, I have two direct reports: one is a HR manager and one is the head of learning and development, then the HR manager has a further four direct reports,” she explains.

    As an organisation, Nando’s is structured in three regions fronted by three regional directors, each of whom have an area manager (called MDs) responsible for 10 restaurants; this structure is mirrored in HR. “We have three regional HR managers and each has a recruiter working with them,” she says. “We also have a central support HR team where we manage all the comps and benefits, first line HR support, all the record keeping, the legal side and contractual stuff but in the field we have regional HR managers that work with their MDs and regional directors.”

    “We have a phenomenal product, beautiful restaurants, but if the people bit isn’t right, then it doesn’t matter how beautiful your restaurant is or how nice your chicken tastes.”

    Julia Claydon, HR director

    This structure is reflected in the L&D side, with three regional L&D managers, each with a team of trainers. “We actually have a heavier headcount in training, with 15 people, whereas I have 12 in HR,” adds Claydon.

    So is this structure a tried and tested method or has it developed organically over a number of years? “It has changed a lot since I first started,” she reflects. “Firstly, there was only me. I did everything from train people to recruitment, the whole nine yards. Now it’s about getting closer to the business, being practically engaged with the operational side of things and staying incredibly relevant in what we do.”

    Claydon emphasises that this is particularly pertinent for the L&D side of the function as many employees from that area of the business have come from an operational background: “We have then developed them over time with external training programmes and so forth to enable them to provide an L&D function into the business,” she enthuses.

    With such an importance placed on employee training, has Claydon’s own L&D background ensured that, as most companies’ budgets tighten, this is one area that doesn’t suffer cut backs?

    “It’s more from my belief that if you create a really great working environment, and look after your people and by that I mean being practically helpful by giving them the right skills to do a great job, allowing them to be confident, having really robust feedback mechanisms in place, and great coaching in place, then you don’t need a heavy-handed HR approach; you don’t need loads of people keeping you out of court, the dynamic is a positive one,” she says. “We don’t have those kinds of issues cropping up very often, because the focus is on respecting people that work for you, engaging them and developing their careers in return.”

    The grass isn’t always greener

    However, she adds that this ethos is helped by the fact that Nando’s is a thriving business with a further 15 restaurants planned to open in 2009. But Claydon is quick to point out that her CEO’s belief in the power of effective people management has certainly made her job easier.

    “I would love to say I had to convince him but it’s his core belief anyway. I have never ever had to battle for things here because I am fortunate enough to work with a CEO and a senior management team that believe that people are the core of our business,” she says. “We have a phenomenal product, beautiful restaurants, but if the people bit isn’t right, then it doesn’t matter how beautiful your restaurant is or how nice your chicken tastes; it’s not quite the same is it?”

    “I have never ever had to battle for things here because I am fortunate enough to work with a CEO and a senior management team that believe that people are the core of our business.”

    Julia Claydon, HR director

    And as the recent three stars accolade proves, for Nando’s staff, the grass certainly isn’t any greener elsewhere. “We have 6,500 people in 210 locations, and to have a situation where all these people feel engaged with the business, feel proud to work for us and love their jobs is huge recognition for every single restaurant management team we have in place,” she enthuses. “It is one thing to deliver that level of engagement when you have one office where you can be an inspirational leader, but to have that level of engagement when you have a geographically dispersed workforce; it shows what a great job they are doing.”

    Yet Claydon is mindful of how the current economic climate is causing many HR teams to re-evaluate their own strategies. She advises them to ignore the scare-mongering headlines and focus on what is important: “It is very easy to become distracted which can create a negative dynamic,” she explains. “For us, we need to stay strong on our communication, we have to continue our focus on learning and development and we still are making sure we have a conference this year; it needs to be visual to help people to see the bigger picture.”

    The future looks bright

    What does Claydon think the future holds for HR? “It is very difficult to say simply because of what’s going on with the economy. I hope and pray that HR continues to move forward. The emphasis on people has grown and we have to keep this at the forefront, so let’s hope we don’t go backwards and see HR just dealing with downsizing,” she says.

    Claydon seems to have worked her magic at Nando’s, helped by a strong team and an ethos that is expressed from the very top of the organisation down to the restaurant floor. Her belief in the importance of employee development coupled with creating a culture where everyone feels relevant is admirable.

    “A job is no longer just about an extra £5k,” concludes Claydon. “People are more interested in what businesses stand for, and care far more about not just how they are treated but how socially responsible they are, what the values of the business are; and not just five words stuck on a wall but what happens every day that demonstrates what that business is about. HR has a key role to articulate those values but also how we are accountable for them and the ethics of the organisation.”

    One Response

    1. Nandos is for me (and my daughter)
      I live in Bromley and we have the usual selection of all the high street restaurants. When I offer to take my 5 year old daughter for dinner, she always suggests Nandos.

      Not just for the chicken, but for the ambiance, the welcoming ‘child-friendly’ nature of the staff, and the little colouring set she receives on arrival. This attention to customer detail is a fine example for us all.

      Vince Stevenson

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