Dawnfresh flourishes by being innovative

Dawnfresh flourishes by being innovative

When you’re already a successful business, it can be hard to spot the areas to improve, and even harder to find the motivation. That wasn’t the case with Dawnfresh. By engaging more often and more effectively with its people, the company has continued to flourish, and is now one of the UK’s largest seafood producers.

Dawnfresh has been in the fish and seafood business for more than 40 years. Originally based in Cumbria, the company moved to Uddingston in 1991, establishing a large processing plant. They also have a smoking plant in Arbroath, a marinating centre in Grantown-on-Spey, and seven fish farms in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Visit any UK supermarket and you’re almost guaranteed to find Dawnfresh products on the shelves.

dawnfresh-imageThe change from SME to large employer
Helen Muir joined as HR director around the time the company acquired Scot Trout – and she was excited at the prospect of joining such a successful business. But a healthy balance sheet wasn’t reflected in the mood of the workforce; the integration of the Dawnfresh and Scot Trout cultures had almost been left to chance.

A staff survey didn’t paint a pretty picture, but it did provide the impetus to develop a long-term plan. The key points? To improve communication, engagement, learning, development and opportunities for all staff.

Another important starting point was defining the company’s values. As Helen explains, “We wanted to take the best practices of the largest PLCs and apply them to a privately owned firm, but without it feeling like an imposition. So we started with the people on the shop floor. It may have been the first instance of real collaborative working at Dawnfresh, and it helped to build trust and involvement.”

Helen is quick to point out that the values aren’t designed to be turned into motivational posters for the walls. “They’re for building into the things that we do, and the way that we do them.”

Bringing the value to life 
The values also form the cornerstone for employee motivation and engagement. Nowadays this means regular communications on company successes and developments, including focus groups and other shared activities. The company also has regular achievement awards at individual and team levels, as well as recognising people for their length of service.

What about bringing new people into the industry? Dawnfresh signed up to Skills Development Scotland’s ‘Tasty Jobs’ initiative several years ago. This gives school leavers the opportunity to gain work experience in the food and drink manufacturing sector. “As an accredited Investors in People organisation we wanted to take this a bit further”, says Helen. “If the young people who come to us under this initiative perform well during their time here, we offer them a Modern Apprenticeship.”

Learning and development has become much more structured at all levels of the organisation, not just for less-experienced staff. Beyond the four-year graduate programme there are team leader, management development and leadership programmes – each helping the company grow its own.

The wider view of the company’s development needs comes from the Organisational Development Team. They look at the strategy and future direction of the business, and make sure the company has the right skills to support their goals.

But it’s not always a structured learning path at Dawnfresh. Helen explains, “We encourage people to take their own development seriously, to think about the skills they need for the job, or even to learn new skills to take on another role in the company.” It’s no surprise that the company’s training budget has grown year-on-year.

Recognising excellence 
In 2015 Dawnfresh won Scotland Food & Drink Awards in the ‘Investing in People’ and ‘Environmental Sustainability’ categories. And although awards are nice to have, it’s the bottom line that tells the real story. Their company-wide approach to identifying skills gaps through personal development plans and competency reviews has resulted in a 15% increase in productivity per-employee over the past two years.  And the staff morale? The mood has changed entirely: people almost unanimously agree that Dawnfresh is a good place to work.

Things are positive on the environmental front too – the entire team has attended energy saving workshops. In the past, all waste went to landfill, but today they’re aiming for zero. How is that possible? Fish bones are sent to pet food suppliers, heads are shipped to China as a delicacy, and fish bellies are sent to Japan where they are a delicacy. It’s no surprise the company has achieved ISO 14001 in Environmental Management – and some of this zero-landfill policy is actually generating revenue for the company.

Getting Support 
Dawnfresh has been working with Scottish Enterprise for a decade. “They’ve helped train our people and introduced us to experts who support our leadership, management and graduate development programmes,” says Helen. Scottish Enterprise has also helped the company to develop internationally through exhibiting and market intelligence. Today Dawnfresh products can be bought in North America, Australia, Europe and in the Far East.

Helen concludes, “Good communication has empowered our people. They have the autonomy to get on with the job. We’ve turned our culture on its head – to focus on leading people and managing processes. It’s all part of our broader transformation from a food business that employs people – to a people business that makes food”

Discover how your business can embrace innovation thinking in the workplace, from Scottish Enterprise at their website