Employers reveal their secrets of sustainability

Top employers at the heart of the CIPD’s Shaping the Future programmeshared their “real-life experiences” of delivering sustainable performance at the CIPD’s Employee Engagement conference yesterday.

HR professionals from the Big Lottery Fund (BIG), Standard Chartered Bank and Pfizer – three organisations which have acted as case studies for the institute’s major longitudinal study – revealed how they had increased employee engagement from already high levels during their participation in the research.

Leading the discussion, CIPD researcher Dr Jill Miller outlined the key findings of the research that centre on engagement: the importance of understanding if and where employees are engaged; how process-led businesses risk being light on insight; how workers’ perceptions of unfairness can undermine engagement; and how shared purpose is only achieved by finding the human connection.

Ana Herrera, head of engagement at Standard Chartered – which employs 80,000 people internationally – said that sustainable performance depends on the sustainable commitment of employees and their long term views.

“When the economic crisis hit, our leaders ramped up their communication around engagement, people and commitment rather than stepping it down and focussing on the bottom line and costs,” said Herrera. “That attitude change from them and the reinforcement that they were committed to people for the long term success of the business played a huge role in successfully maintaining and refreshing the entire engagement agenda.”

Herrera said that the bank had made managers accountable for engagement, had integrated it into the appraisal system and introduced an impact plan to monitor the effects. Managers were also encouraged to emphasise success in monthly meetings to highlight the benefits of high engagement, rather than allow the focus to rest on stories about teams missing their targets.

She also said that employers should “use their HR department’s connections to measure the pulse of the organisation” and use HR to enable communication about engagement, both from the bottom up and from the top down.

Dharmendra Kanan, England director at BIG, which has 1,000 staff, said that “maximising discretionary effort during the current economic climate” was key for his organisation.

“We have high levels of commitments to the organisation. So for us engagement is about making sure that commitment is not passive and translating it into much more discretionary effort.”

He said that to do this BIG had concentrated on making its communication authentic and human.

“What we know from research on children’s behaviour is that peer pressure is right up there in terms of guiding behaviour. So we looked for routes of transmissions and influencing circles where people learn from each other. We worked through different groupings of staff and worked closely with HR, not as a transactional function, but as a partner which is core to our delivery.”

“We also made sure it fed into our appraisal system to lock these principles into the way people are managed, paying real attention to the culture and how people learn from each other. “

Kanan said that when the economic crisis hit BIG, managers spoke openly to staff about the implications and asked them for ideas about how to make savings.

Paul Kyne, HR manager at Pfizer Grange Castle, which has 1,500 staff, said that the pharmaceuticals company had “put a lot of effort into acknowledging what people have done” to increase engagement and had made a conscious effort to be “governed more by relationships than rules”. To reinforce this, the firm introduced rewards to highlight engaged staff.

Kyne added: “We wanted to make sure change and improvement is positive and reflect that by moving highly engaged employees to other parts of the business, which are going to grow. So it was about trying to embed that culture of continuous improvement and flexibility with transparency.”

The final report of the Shaping the Future programme is available on the CIPD’s website.

People Management

About elaineonyc

HR generalist who is passionate about the benefits of good HR practice. Experienced in delivering strategic and operational HR initiatives to clients in both public and private sectors. Specialises in working with SMEs.
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