Boosting company performance through employee engagement
Improving productivity, increasing the capacity for Innovation and enhancing employee health and well-being is now widely recognised by business leaders and policymakers alike as a priority. An initiative spearheaded by Scottish Enterprise has helped to demonstrate both that there is a real appetite for change, and that targeted support can lead to tangible business benefits.
Scottish Enterprise’s Workplace Innovation Engagement Programme (WIEP), which began in 2016, aims to support companies in the adoption of workplace innovation practices. Workplace Innovation Europe CLG (WIE) was commissioned to deliver the programme, which is based on a novel combination of individual learning and development, peer-to-peer exchanges of knowledge and experience, and on-site coaching and facilitation. Companies have particularly valued opportunities to collaborate with each other, sharing good practices, acting as ‘critical friends’ and working together to solve common problems.
Results from two cohorts totalling 19 businesses, representing considerable diversity in terms of size, sector and geographical location, have just been analysed.
The endgame was to introduce workplace practices that enable people to use and develop all their knowledge, skills and creativity in their day-to-day jobs. However, after recruiting the initial cohort, the first step was to identify what needed changing and what needed improving in each of the businesses.
Using their specially developed diagnostic tool, WIE was able to establish what was working in each of the participating businesses and what wasn’t. The Workplace Diagnostic is an on-line employee survey designed to assess a broad spectrum of workplace practices. Employees and managers were asked to identify experiences of four ‘Elements’ of workplace practice including Jobs and Teams; Structures, Management and Procedures; Employee-Driven Improvement and Innovation; and Co-Created Leadership and Employee Voice.
The survey provided the participating companies with fresh insights into the state of working practices in their own organisations, sometimes delivering ‘sobering’ results as well as revealing discrepancies between senior team perceptions and the reality experienced by employees. Companies particularly valued the way that results were broken down by teams, divisions and occupational groups helping them to target interventions effectively.
Participants were then supported to develop an Action Plan based on the Diagnostic survey findings. Typical Plans included: flattening the existing hierarchy and pushing decision making to the lowest appropriate level; defining organisational values and behaviours; implementing self-directed team working; creating empowered, cross-functional teams based on workflow rather than silos; establishing innovation forums and continuous improvement groups; rethinking traditional leadership and management roles, responsibilities and accountabilities; and enhancing skills development and utilisation, training and coaching plans.
WIE Director, Dr Peter Totterdill explained that WIEP is a means of strengthening pre-existing change and improvement initiatives. “The businesses had different problems to contend with. Some faced a particularly challenging business environment while others were experiencing a growing awareness of how employee involvement and participation can enable better business performance.
“Many of the participants knew exactly where their organisational problems lay but had little idea of how to deal with them. We had invited two employees from each company to participate in the programme and act as catalysts in developing and implementing workplace innovation. It was intended that one participant should represent senior management, lending the weight of their authority to the change initiative; the other should be the leading ‘change entrepreneur’, stimulating and steering the process on the ground.
“The outcomes were overwhelmingly positive. What we were seeing was that a growing understanding of workplace innovation and the specific practices that lead to employee engagement were beginning to drive new and exciting approaches in the companies. Through a combination of participative workshops, the results of the diagnostic survey, exposure to good practices and evidence, exchanges of experience with other businesses, individual learning and on-site facilitation, each business was beginning to develop a clearer path to follow in their pursuit of positive change.
The Lockerbie operation of packaging firm DS Smith began to involve staff on the factory floor in decision-making. They improved communications and feedback to employees and introduced inclusive morning meetings and visual shift hand overs which greatly facilitated problem-solving.
Argenta, a Dundee based veterinary product manufacturer, introduced more effective communications recognising the importance of getting people focused on the things that were stopping them doing their job better. They also recognised the importance of breaking down silos and getting teams working better together. This included getting the leadership team around the floor and pushing decision-making down to the lowest possible level.
The Perth office of insurance multinational Aviva embarked on a large-scale transformation process designed to challenge ‘old school culture’ and to create a more customer-focused environment. This included strengthening staff involvement especially in terms of shared learning and in improvement and innovation relating to products, services and processes. It was anticipated that this would reduce staff turnover and increase staff commitment to gaining professional qualifications.
At social care provider Cornerstone, a new business model based self-managed teams and new role definitions was introduced based on a flattened structure and the introduction of self-directed teams throughout the organisation.
Some participating companies focused on personal development for those playing a key role in change and took advantage of the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) qualifications available. Others introduced empowered teamworking and less micro-management aiming at more effective approaches to performance improvement, enhanced cross-functional collaboration and flatter structures.
“We experienced the full range of workplace behaviours and practices that stifle positive change and create persistently poor working environments. These can include ‘invisible’ leadership and top-down decision-making; no employee voice; a blame culture; silo management and lack of communication; lack of individual discretion and flexibility; no mechanisms for staff to contribute to innovation or improvement and no means of celebrating success.
“However, we also experienced a lively determination to identify problems and root them out though positive change. We saw process improvements leading to faster throughput time, improved efficiency, more effective problem solving, enhanced competencies and/or greater capacity for innovation. In several cases, silo working has been reduced by enhanced collaboration between functional departments, leading to less bureaucracy and fewer conflicts or delays. By empowering teams, time previously spent on micro-management is freed up, leading to greater agility and speed of response.
Each of the companies has also instigated mechanisms for stimulating and utilising employee ideas for product, service or process innovation, unleashing the potential for further wealth generation well into the future and each has reported improved levels of engagement and a developing culture of continuous improvement.”
The programme has demonstrated three identifiable outcomes. Firstly, the positive responses from nineteen very different participating companies shows that there is a real appetite for change once they are furnished with the right tools, knowledge and practical support.
Secondly, it also demonstrates the need for a clear mechanism to kickstart the process of change and alert businesses to practical, achievable and evidence-based ways of addressing the challenges they face.
Clare Alexander, Head of Workplace Innovation at Scottish Enterprise said;
“With slow productivity growth affecting many Scottish businesses, and characterising businesses of different sizes and sectors, this clearly requires new thinking about what can be done to make more businesses competitive and to tackle the long tail of businesses under-performing.
“The WIEP programme is one of a number of support services provided by Scottish Enterprise to help companies implement innovative, fair and responsible business practices, and I am delighted to see the benefits that the participating businesses are reporting.
“The critical issue for us is to help employers create the conditions for fulfilling work which is meaningful to individual workers and can create a sense of pride and interest in what they do. Evidence indicates that pursuing a smarter people-centred approach to work, which secures participation and fairness will reap significant business benefits.”
Would a similar programme benefit your organisation?
Our Leadership for Workplace Innovation Programme can be delivered in-house or to a group of companies sharing the journey together.
Why not join us at one of our unique Fresh Thinking Labs Events
University of Exeter - Monday 13th August
University of Exeter will be our hosts and we look forward to learning about their wellbeing programme. We welcome Dawn Bailey, Strategic Health, Safety and Wellbeing Consultant (Neighbourhoods, Events & Sportsgrounds) - who will be talking about her recent studies and work at Cornwall Council.
An interactive conference bringing together experts and experiences from several employers across the UK and other European countries.
Brighton, UK - TBA
Three days of workshops designed to provide you with practical tools and methods to stimulate and guide change in your organisation, including one-to-one and group mentoring. This à la carte programme combines expert-led masterclasses, forums and workplace visits.