On 27 February 2018 business leaders and HR professionals from across the East of England came together to discuss the latest thinking in employee engagement and to share best practice at the Best Employers Eastern Region 2018 launch event.
Highlighting the importance of understanding employee engagement levels were three guest speakers. Ian White, Chief Executive at Beckett Investment Management in Bury St Edmunds, Minnie Moll, Joint Chief Executive at the East of England Co-op and Ian Watson, Chief Executive at Start-Rite Shoes in Norwich, all shared their experiences of developing and maintaining engaging workplaces designed to attract and retain the talent their organisations need to grow and thrive. Here is a brief summary of their presentations
Minnie Moll – What is culture?
In her presentation, Minnie Moll, Joint Chief Executive at the East of England Co-op, explained more about what company culture really is. She shared a fantastic quote from Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, who said that ‘culture is what people do when no-one is looking’. It is essentially how people behave day to day without supervision, based on the tone set by an organisation’s leadership team.
To reinforce the importance of developing a successful company culture, Minnie used a second famous quote of ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Attributed to business management guru Peter Drucker, this refers to the fact that it is a company’s culture, not strategy, which drives employee engagement, motivation and ultimately productivity.
Sharing her own experience of working to increase engagement amongst the retailer’s 5,000 staff, Minnie highlighted how the Co-op had created its ‘Small Things, Big Difference’ campaign as a way of communicating its ethos to both customers and colleagues. She described how a combination of small things such as praise, wellbeing and engagement are better than big financial bonuses when it comes to influencing culture. The five joint Chief Executives at the Co-op are leading the way in encouraging the celebration of the small things colleagues do which make a big difference, rewarding warm, friendly and authentic behaviours. Sharing staff success stories through the in-house newsletter and recognising the important role employees play by showcasing them in marketing materials, has helped the executive team to regularly remind employees of the big difference they make. The example Minnie shared was of the retailer’s trolley collectors, who make a big difference every day to busy mums, simply by making sure the trolleys are ready for them to use.
The Co-op is also engaging employees in community support as part of its aim to be the number one retailer for dementia care. So far, 90% of staff have voluntarily taken dementia care training so they can be on hand to support customers when needed.
Minnie concluded with a reminder of the business benefits of focussing on employee engagement, and the results the Co-op had achieved, including increased profits, reduced sick leave and improved staff retention.
Ian Watson – Influencing cultural change
Ian Watson, Chief Executive at Start-Rite Shoes, shared his experience of influencing cultural change, having encountered a culture he found to be a ‘little bit sleepy’ when he first joined Start-Rite Shoes.
When Ian joined the organisation, he described it as a family business which was in decline, effectively because it was still operating as a 226-year-old startup. With the aim of bringing the company back into profit, Ian knew he needed to change the culture in the organisation by injecting a sense of urgency and dynamism. He wanted to encourage everyone to become more performance focussed and unapologetic about focussing on profitability.
Ian set about creating a sense of shared purpose and looked to revive team spirits. He brought people together by taking out all the internal fabricated walls to make an open plan office and by introducing a pub in the office – called the Jolly Cobbler – with pool tables and break-out areas to encourage staff to socialise together. Investment in staff training, with learning and development plans designed to engage, motivate and develop high-calibre employees, was reintroduced, having not really been a focus within the business for over 20 years. Start-Rite also took part in the Best Employers Eastern Region 2016 to gather staff opinions and to find out where changes could be made.
Problems affecting business performance and staff morale were also investigated and rectified. For example, an ongoing problem with deliveries being left in customer’s black wheelie bins, supposedly to protect them from the rain, but actually being collected by the bin men days before the start of the school term, were causing staff to have to deal with a high volume of complaints. The decision to change courier firms stopped this, not only improving the company’s reputation with customers but also giving employees more time to focus on positive activities.
Ian was keen to emphasise that changing culture does not happen overnight and stressed how leaders need to be prepared to persevere and to ‘hold their nerve when looking to engender a new culture’. He described it as ‘repetition for reputation’ and said that it is probably only at the point when you are almost sick of trying that people will really get it and that the changes will begin.
Ian White – Employee engagement is a journey, not a destination
Ian White, Chief Executive at Beckett Investment Management Services and Best Employers Eastern Region award winner and ambassador, is passionate about employee engagement but stressed it should be considered as a journey and not a destination.
He explained that while building high engagement levels takes a lot of time and hard work, they can very quickly drop if employers become complacent. The 50-strong team at Beckett Investment are surveyed every 90 days to continually monitor their well-being and engagement throughout the year. Employees are reminded that big changes can take time, but little things are done quickly so staff see how taking the time to share their views will make a difference.
For Ian, employee engagement also begins with recruitment. When interviewing potential team members, he explained how he focuses more on those who are hardworking and genuinely excited about the business, rather than exam results and achievements. Once people have joined, it is recognised that they are on a career journey and an assumption is made that they will only stay for two years. Ian explained how having this philosophy kept them on their toes as a business. Every effort is made to support employees on their career journey, including the chance to study in the office on Friday afternoons and matching employees with external mentors. Because of this investment, staff retention generally exceeds the expected two years.
Employee engagement initiatives implemented at Beckett Investment include flexible working hours and strategic benefits. Ian also shared how he has developed a focus on open communication at all levels. Information is flowed from the top level down, including updates on business performance, through a monthly staff newsletter, while regular ‘innovation clubs’ are held to encourage knowledge sharing between employees and an upward communication of ideas.
For other organisations looking to build their employee engagement levels, Ian’s key recommendation was to ensure the leadership team had a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve and a clear direction on how to achieve it.
As part of his presentation, Ian also shared an extremely thought-provoking video by Deloitte, focusing on diversity, inclusion and respect in the workplace; all important factors for company culture, employee engagement, talent recruitment and retention.
To find out more about Best Employers 2018 and to sign up your organisation, visit www.best-employers.co.uk