Engaging Employees The Essentia Way

“Rather than try and change the world, we decided to pick a few tangible things to do and do them really well” – Tracy Cheung, Head of Marketing & Engagement at Essentia

This year we partnered with Essentia, part of Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, to design and deliver their 2015 employee & customer engagement surveys. I’m perched opposite Tracy Cheung, Head of Marketing & Engagement at Essentia, to discuss how it all went. One of the main themes of our conversation is not to get stuck in a quagmire of results, but rather to focus on the incremental changes that can be made off the back of employee research.

“It’s the little things that make a difference”

Tackling issues one at a time is something that Tracy and the rest of the senior leadership team focused on after they received the results from their 2014 employee engagement survey. Tracy explains that whilst they didn’t have a defined engagement strategy, they identified what could be done to make a difference – big or small – and used these incremental changes as the building blocks for an engagement framework. Their efforts were reflected in results from the new survey that we designed for them this year.

For example, the 2014 survey told them that the communications were too top-down. To create a dialogue Tracy and her team set up a range of initiatives including Essentia breakfasts, where colleagues from across the business meet in small groups with senior leaders and over coffee & croissants share best practice as well as frustrations. There might be five minutes of awkward small talk to start with, however after that the thoughts, complaints and ideas come swiftly. “Things really got sorted off the back of the breakfast meetings; issues that came up were resolved. Good ideas came out of them too.” The Essentia Way Forum was established to allow the 50 most senior leaders in the organisation to regularly agree, plan, implement and review initiatives to support the development of Essentia’s culture, and to make things better. The leadership team set up Essentia Quarterly – an all staff meeting where departments share what they do with the rest of the business and thereby help individuals understand how they fit into the organisation.

Their efforts paid off, as through the 2015 survey employees said that the communications have improved since last year, they understand Essentia’s purpose and how their roles fit into the organisation.

“It gave a richness of data and depth of feeling”

The results weren’t all good news. But whilst the results of the new survey didn’t shock, Tracy reflects that she would have been worried if it had. Its value lies in the fact that it pinpointed what’s working and where more can be done. “The survey showed there’s a lot of optimism. People are frustrated but not many things brought up are things we can’t solve.” The re-emergence of trends in the results has driven the development of new ideas to tackle recurring issues and sparked a new approach to action planning. Last year a small group of leaders took charge, with each responsible for one work stream addressing one of six issues. This year a broader group of leaders will each take responsibility for a specific action, working across six main issues. This way, the 50 most senior leaders in the organisation will be working on 30 action points and they won’t be working in silos – one of the issues raised in the 2015 survey results.

“Let’s do it together”

Essentia takes the communication of its survey results seriously. Tracy explains that Steve McGuire, the CEO, delivered the highlights to the top 50 leaders in July. From there, they were cascaded down through teams, with each manager completing a form to indicate they had done the briefing.

In September/October Steve ran a road show, up to 15 meetings held in all parts of the organisation at all times of the day and night, to go into the survey results in detail and explain what the leadership team are planning on doing about the results. Six months later he’ll run the road shows again, only this time it’ll be to update employees on progress.

One of the major obstacles to change is a lack of buy-in. Rather than force-feed results to employees, they will be encouraged to participate in the action groups set up to try and fix the issues they raised. Last year, around two hundred volunteers acted as a sounding board for ideas. Tracy is hoping that this year the numbers will be similar.

“We’ve got to keep the momentum going. We’ve got to get managers engaged”

In Essentia’s survey past and present, managers have played a key role in both encouraging and discouraging participation: “Often it’s the people in the middle who are the most frustrated or who need the most convincing to participate in change”. In 2014, the survey was so convoluted that managers actively told their reports not to complete it (more on that later). This year, it was the managers who brought the participation rates up in the last few days before the survey closed, by telling their teams to complete it. Manager engagement will determine how successfully Essentia can adapt and change.

One of the first steps on the road to manager engagement is securing a few wins. This will hopefully be achieved through the ”30 actions” that have been developed in response to the survey. This proposed to-do list of 30 things was shared with staff on the roadshows and people were asked to vote on which ones were of highest priority. These will be tackled first. Once it’s evident that progress is being made, Tracy believes that more people will be on board.

Another step on the road to engagement is getting managers both to understand and to act on the fact that “engagement isn’t a nice to do after your day job, it’s part of the day job and if you do it well, your team will perform better.” The understanding part will be achieved through a new management programme to be rolled out this year. The programme will be focused on communication and engagement and will be mandatory for all managers at Essentia.

Tracy believes that next year will be easier, in terms of both manager engagement and participation rates. A great, and terrible, thing about employee surveys is that the survey from the previous year does influence attitudes and behaviours about the next survey. If one year a survey crashes and burns, the year after that it’s even more difficult to encourage people to participate. We were asked to do Essentia’s 2015 survey because the one the year before proved difficult to complete. The questions were in corporate jargon, which immediately put people off completing it. The demographics section left out half the bands, which meant a number of employees instantly felt excluded. “We needed an organisation to provide a simple, easy to understand, clear survey that would get traction.”

“This survey has made a real difference”

At The Essentia Way Forum in July one man raised his hand. Tracy thought he was going to ask a question but he launched into a speech about how clear the survey was, how accessible the different formats made it, how wonderful it was. Tracy says how nice that was to hear, and I can’t resist asking why the decision was made to use Employee Research this year rather than another company. “I did a lot of research into which provider to use. The others were too wieldy, too big, too template. We wanted someone flexible, nimble, responsive”. She goes on to explain that Employee Research came with a wealth of experience, gave good advice and understood. At the end of the day, it’s about the personal connection.

Whilst it’s great that the survey was received positively, the focus now for Essentia is responding to it: “As with anything, the proof is in the pudding”.

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