It’s not just a job, it’s a way of life

Creating a positive culture is crucial to any company, especially if the product you make is hospitality. Without doubt, it’s the driving force behind our business and what we spend the most time thinking about, discussing, and ‘doing’ – devising and implementing initiatives designed to enhance and build upon this ethos.

I’m told that when you arrive in our business on day one, this unrelenting approach to people and culture can at first seem a bit over the top, or perhaps slightly manufactured and contrived. But what you quickly understand is that the positive culture at the centre of Thai Leisure Group is very real and credible – and the foundation of our success. It is each and every team members’ unrelenting acceptance and application of our culture that makes this place, and our restaurants, a bit different – for both employees and guests.

We have four core values and every member of the organisation lives and breathes these principles – whether at home or work. With links to some Buddhist principles that are such a strong guiding force in how many Thai people live, the first value is Ow Jai Sai, which means ‘from the heart.’ The premise is simple – savour the moment, put in everything you can. It has become so well accepted, it’s used as common language internally, you’ll hear people asking ‘is that person Ow Jai Sai?’ and if the answer is no, they’re not quite right for us.

Our other three core values are Samakee, Ha Dao, and Sanook.  These mean teamwork and togetherness; five-star service; and fun. It’s simple stuff (it has to be to get real traction by being understood by all) that we talk about and reinforce all the time.

The saying ‘if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life’ captures our core values and beliefs. By creating a unified group of employees, who harness each other’s energy and pull together for a common good, we can deliver a special kind of service and, crucially, enjoy every moment of it! 

Train to succeed, or prepare to fail

It’s all well and good outlining your core values and scrutinising the minutia of each service step when you have a handful of sites. But as no doubt many hospitality companies have experienced, when you grow it becomes more challenging to instil these values and practices in every new recruit – especially when you’re instilling quite unique principles.

Currently, we have 21 sites across the business, with over 1000 employees. The business has scaled dramatically and we’ve worked closely with CPL Training Group to create a series of bespoke training packages to help protect our culture and enable it to thrive on a bigger scale.

If you’ve seen the décor in our restaurant, you’ll have experienced our fully immersive Thai dining experience – most of our furniture is bought in Thai markets and shipped direct. We’ve taken the same approach to our training, by shooting our videos on location in Thailand, to give employees an essence of the vibrant country they’re representing.

The training videos teach a series of key competencies around our service path. But, the films that get us particularly excited are about reinforcing our cultural values – our ‘Thai-ness’ modules.

To accompany the videos, we’ve appointed brand ambassadors across the business to champion our core values and inspire employees to be the best they can be. Our head trainer, Natty, heads up the team and is known by every employee for his charisma and infectious enthusiasm – we call it the ‘Natty’ effect’.  Every business needs a Natty!

The proof is in the Pad Thai

The approach seems to be working.  Our overall customer satisfaction score, which is blended across Chaophraya and Thaikhun, is 94.7%.  But, equally important to us, is that our employees are happy.  In our last employee survey (run annually) 96% of our employees said they either ‘loved’ or ‘liked’ working at TLG.  ‘It’s ok’ or ‘It’s a job’ are simply not strong enough sentiments for us.

We cannot rest on our laurels and are constantly searching for ways to improve our systems and training. A great example of this, is the new employee engagement app we’ve created with CPL Training that will enable us to take employee engagement to the next level.

As we continue our expansion plans, the need to step back, re-evaluate and adapt will become increasingly important to maintaining the integrity of our culture – we’re more than up for the challenge.

Ian Leigh, managing director of Thai Leisure Group