Saturday, 9 February 2013

How Wolverhampton Homes transformed employee engagement


My organisation (until the end of the week at least) Wolverhampton Homes was established in 2005 to improve the housing service in the city. For the first five years we focussed on improving the customer experience; the second five years aimed to improve the employee experience. This is because we recognised that engaged employees give customers an even better service; they get a buzz out of delighting them.

We launched our employee engagement journey in 2011 and we chose Best Companies to measure our progress. Best Companies is an independent, external organisation offering high quality assessment and benchmarking in employee engagement. What we liked about its approach was that entrants are judged against the top 100 companies in four sectors - we're a competitive bunch and do well when we all have one goal to aim for.

Since our journey was launched, we have undertaken two Best Companies surveys (in October 2011 and October 2012). Over that time we have increased our Best Companies score from 634.5 out of 1000 to 690 out of 1000. Our accreditation has improved from ‘One to Watch’ to ‘One Star’. We will hear later this month whether we are in the top 100 Best Companies in the not for profit sector in the UK.

So what contributed to this success?

  • Chief Executive project sponsor. Our Chief Executive Lesley Roberts has given a huge amount of support and energy to our employee engagement journey. Undoubtedly this has been the single biggest factor in achieving this success. You need your Chief Executive on board and passionate about employee engagement or it won't ring true to staff.
  • Senior management visibility. Our Senior Management Team (including the Chief Exec) have been out with staff across the business many times a week. The best leaders spend at least 20% of their time with frontline staff understanding what matters to them, supporting them to get things done and removing barriers to progress.
  • Talk Times. We hold twice-yearly sessions for staff where we ask their opinion on key business challenges and listen to their views. We also use it as an opportunity to recognise their success and celebrate their achievements. We follow this up with ‘you said, we did’ publications so staff can have faith that their comments haven't fallen on deaf ears.
  • Improving and increasing internal communications. We held a staff focus group to look at how we could improve internal communications. Following the group's feedback, we created Trade Talk, a monthly newsletter for our trade operatives, who typically could feel isolated. We re-launched our two key internal publications E-bulletin and Homes News and injected more fun and passion into them. We launched additional publications, including the Employee Engagement Annual Report and various pieces of feedback. By increasing the channels and methods of communication with staff, we've created a culture of dialogue where people are encouraged to share their views and ideas. 
  • Involving and empowering staff to play a part in the engagement journey. We recruited 150 Great Placers – staff engagement champions to spread our engagement messages and take responsibility for listening to any issues that other colleagues had. At the event pictured above, I asked them to pledge that if somebody raised an issue with them, they would ensure that it was passed on to somebody who could do something about it. 
  • Harnessing the power of technology to bring people closer together. When we launched Great Placers, we used a social network platform called Ning, to create an online space where staff could share photos, videos and stories about what they were doing to improve engagement in their teams. I've previously blogged about it here.

There has also been social events, improvements to flexi time, enabling staff to buy and sell leave, discount schemes, shadowing, improvements to the working environment and much more. Wolverhampton Homes was always a great place to work but now it is even better, and I'm sure that it will keep improving in the months and years to come. I'll update this post when we hear about the top 100 list.

**News just in: Wolverhampton Homes is number 40 out of the top 100. Number 40!! Whoop!**

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