Business Essentials: 'We don't care how the work's done. It's fine if you're in your pyjamas'

Team spirit is everything at Blackwood Distillers. But how can the firm tell the world that it puts its people first?
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The Independent Online

When it all gets too much for employees at Blackwood Distillers, they are given a half-day off and £100 to spend on something completely indulgent. It's just one of the measures adopted by the producer of spirits, based in Lerwick in the Shetland Isles, to keep its workforce happy.

After investing a great deal of time and effort in ensuring that its eight full-time and five part-time staff feel motivated, the company is keen to find out if it could have missed anything and how it can gain outside recognition for its approach. "I would like to formalise some of the values and methods we use," says its chief executive, Caroline Whitfield.

Blackwood has no time to waste, with the possibility of a flotation next year. "If we are to do that, we need to be robust in every way, and the key thing our investors will focus on is how our people can take us forward and sustain us."

Ms Whitfield adds that she is aware of how much emphasis is placed on investing in employees. "I've just come back from the States where I have formed a relationship with a Californian company. While they love the products, their next questions are about what kind of a company we are and what we're like to deal with. We're talking about business relationships that are developed over years, so it makes sense that they care about this issue."

But it's not the only reason that Blackwood is concentrating on how it treats its staff. "We are trying to be the most innovative drinks company in the world, and achieving that means we need to be made up of outstandingly talented individuals. We have to attract them."

This is particularly pertinent, says Ms Whitfield, because Blackwood is keen to recruit staff from outside the sector. "To have a real edge, we need to be eclectic in the type of people we take on."

Among the initiatives she has already embraced are structured team-building and flexibility.

"We have a large num- ber of people working remotely," she says. "The point is that we don't care how the work gets done. It's fine if it's at four in the morning and you're in your pyjamas, for instance. What matters is the outcome of the work."

This is a popular initiative, not least because most of the female workers at Blackwood have children and because staff live in various parts of the globe.

Ms Whitfield has considered going for accreditation for the Investors in People (IIP) standard, but doesn't know if her company is eligible or whether it is the best route in terms of achieving her aims.

"The company has won a lot of awards," she adds, "but they're mainly for our products. I want to convince people we have the staying power, and that comes down to our staff."


Nick Isles, Director of Advocacy, The Work Foundation

"Blackwood is clearly a firm that understands the people-management dimensions of high performance. It has focused on outputs rather than merely measuring inputs and understands that diverse workforces tend to be more innovative. But what more can it do?

"Formalising its emphasis on people through a recast mission and values statement is worth pursuing. It helps people who come into contact with the organisation understand what drives its search for continued excellence.

"There are also a number of awards the company might aim for, such as The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's People Management Award, and others.

"Investors in People is another badge worth claiming because Blackwood would almost certainly qualify and it is a recognised certificate of achievement. It would also be worth the organisation, dare I say it, becoming a member of The Work Foundation, since such an affiliation also signals a strong alignment with the principles of 'good' work."

Angela Baron, Resourcing Adviser, The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

"There are many awards out there, such as the IIP and The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For, and these will certainly be helpful in Blackwood's bid to attract staff and gain publicity.

"The company is already ahead of the game in terms of its focus on employees to improve performance. But there are also some simple steps it can take to demonstrate its investment in people. These include making sure that its vision is communicated clearly to the staff and other stakeholders, especially as it expands.

"Research shows a clear link between strong, shared values and high commitment. This will also help build relationships with investors who share the same vision."

Ruth Spellman, Chief Executive, Investors in People

"You obviously recognise that the current and future success of the business depends on creating and maintaining an environment that stimulates employees to give their best consistently.

"But as the business evolves, what you and your employees need from each other may also change. A clear alignment between business strategy, people management and skills development will be vital in ensuring that you carry on meeting both organisational goals and individual aspirations.

"Investors in People can provide support to help you achieve this. The standard is a comprehensive source of good-practice guidance from which you can draw as you develop your business. It is a flexible and accessible tool that helps you identify what you can do to improve, keeping your strategy on track and your employees engaged. Go to or call 020 7467 1946."