Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Employee engagement makes good business sense
Article Type: HR at work From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 10, Issue 6
Short case studies and research papers that demonstrate best practice in HR
Alexander the Great said “Upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” That certainly resonates in business. Companies need the right people to produce the best results, and people who are motivated achieve better results. That’s where employee engagement plays an important strategic role.
An interactive and proactive approach
apetito is a UK-based provider of frozen food and catering solutions to care homes, local authorities and hospitals. The organization’s view of employee engagement encompasses much more than purely the way an employee feels about the business. It is not about being passive, it is about creating ownership and involvement – it is very interactive. We aim to create an environment in which every member of the company feels fully involved in the way the team operates. Employees have the opportunity to make a positive impact, which does engender a real sense of pride in working together as a unit. We have placed great emphasis on training managers and supervisors in how to facilitate, help and support – not dictate. This is not an easy concept for many, which is why we maintain our commitment and investment in training.
We take part in the annual Great Places to Work survey from the Great Places to Work Institute. This has been the catalyst for both the work on hygiene factors and the leadership piece. We are in year three of our survey now. Initially, hygiene issues played a bigger part and we resolved these, which has now given us a chance to review the leadership piece as we can see clearly this is the next key opportunity for growth. We know that the relationship piece is important in releasing that discretionary effort that can have such a massive pay back for a business. I like this example: The disengaged employee will walk out at 5 p.m., even if the phone is ringing, but the engaged employee will stay to answer the query. It is interesting to think what financial benefits this could have for a business if you multiply this forward.
As a company we have achieved ten years’ sales and profit growth. We believe a fundamental reason for being able to maintain profitable business growth is our employee engagement strategy, which we refer internally to as “team apetito.” It is core to our “break from the pack” strategy, which means always being one step ahead of the competition. It is our staff that help fuel this. The senior team does not have the monopoly on great ideas.
Investing in people
We have introduced a number of ways to bring together and develop our employees. This includes major activities such as hosting annual conferences. Last year, we brought in leadership development specialist Ken Blanchard who helped the team to think about and create “Gung Ho!” environments that encourage the sharing of information; provide alignment with organizational purpose, values, and goals; allow frontline decision making; and celebrate successes. We focus on team success through our teamwork awards event, which is held at the leadership conference. In 2011, we are introducing a Leader of the Year award to support the Blanchard ways of working and to highlight the need for good leadership.
We also offer a free Christmas dinner for all staff (served by managers and directors), departmental team dinners and quarterly awards. Other smaller initiatives are equally as important and include the CEO, Paul Freeston, posting his weekly blog, our Sauce newsletter, which is sent to our manufacturing teams weekly (in both Polish and English), and the Team News bi-annual newsletter. The latter recognizes team performance, current business projects and results, and is sent direct to the employee’s home to help give their families a little insight into apetito. Getting families involved in what we do is important. We also organize family fun days where we hire a fair, host a hog roast and invite all families free of charge. Factory tours give us the opportunity to show them where their families work too.
Employee manager relationships are key
The Great Places To Work survey showed us that employee relationships with their managers were key to engagement. People do not leave an employer, they leave their direct line manager. This realization gave us our focus. Our employees wanted and needed greater direction to deliver against their daily objectives; as well as their own personal development aspirations.
For us, the challenge was to ensure our senior executives created an environment in which team apetito could thrive. As Firestone (2011) stated: “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” All of us have useful insights and ideas about our place of work and it is about unlocking this and showing everyone’s opinions are valued. Our objective is to develop a “push” culture where employees are confident enough to challenge the “norm,” and to feel comfortable to come forward with ideas to help implement change. It is the role of the manager to find ways to inspire their teams to bring these ideas to life.
The servant leadership concept
We have already made huge strides. We take a two-fold approach: firstly training our managers and secondly training the teams to be confident enough to contribute to the business. We have invested heavily in bespoke leadership and development programs to help managers, not only by giving them toolkit skills, but also helping them to understand the personal impact they have on the people who work with them, and why this is a critical factor for engagement. This is through our “Managing self and others” program. One of our biggest and most successful initiatives included training from world leading motivational and business speakers and we like to constantly raise our leaders’ view of the horizon and show them the art of the possible.
Leadership guru Ken Blanchard was invited to speak to our annual company conference last year, which was attended by all our managers and supervisors. He created a huge buzz and was inspirational in bringing the “servant-leadership” concept to life. The leader’s role is to serve the team rather than the other way around. The leader sets the strategy and identifies the goals and then helps the team achieve them. With this concept in mind, leaders can really help to remove barriers from their teams’ way, which are often the source of their frustrations anyway so it is a win-win.
Good leaders breed good teams. Investing in our leaders means our managers feel supported and empowered, which gives them the confidence to shape and work with their team instead of adopting the “tell syndrome” – an old style of management where employees were told what to do and expected to simply do it. The new style incorporates listening to team members and giving them the opportunity to influence results and best practice. Feedback from attendees of the Managing self and others program is positive and includes comments such as the following:
It’s really made me stop and think about the importance of leadership instead of management. If you become a good leader you have a lot less that you need to manage and you engage and maximize the effectiveness of all of your team.
Another comment received was:
A really thought-provoking few days which has given me a better insight into managing my own behavior, whilst effectively influencing others.
An inspired workforce
We take pride in immersing new employees in team apetito and making them feel valued from the word go. Team members take part in an extended induction period of up to ten weeks. Rather than spending their time shadowing others, staff take on the roles of others within the organization so they come to appreciate the pressures on their colleagues.
I am speaking from experience. During my induction, I spent several weeks shoveling vegetables. I also worked the night cleaning shift from 10 p.m. till 6 a.m. and was out with the LGV driver at 4 a.m. delivering the meals. Throughout their careers, we ensure each team member is encouraged to take part in a re-induction program whereby for three days each year they get involved in another area of the business. It helps team members establish new relationships and see their role in a new, refreshing context as well as the impact their role has on others.
We have also created innovative ways to help inspire our team to think about the wider business throughout their career. Our “meeting with aliens” concept, for instance, actively encourages employees at all levels to go out, and see what they can learn from non-competitor organizations, in areas such as customer focus and employee engagement. As part of this program, our staff have done such varied things. They have taken part in a shift at Nando’s restaurants, participated in a meeting at Danone, and visited Apple stores, shopping centers and hospitals to find out what makes them a great place to work. It is vital that our employees can look at apetito from a different perspective. These meetings do help introduce fresh ideas, and it all helps move us onto the next level.
Employee engagement – a business imperative
So far, the investment we have put into our employee engagement program is reaping the rewards. The results really do speak for themselves. But, we are not complacent. We know it is important to constantly strive for better, more innovative programs in order that we, as a team, achieve our objective. apetito’s success does depend on improving employee engagement with the company. It is no longer a “nice to do” for us – it is an imperative if we are to achieve our aim of becoming the best food company in the UK.
Carrie HallHR Director at apetito.
About the author
Carrie Hall joined apetito as HR Director in November 2009 having spent the previous five years at accident management firm, Helphire Ltd, as head of HR. She previously worked for Vodafone, Wessex Water and Zurich Financial Services. Hall is passionate about the impact HR can have within a business. Carrie Hall can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Firestone, H.S. (2011), “BrainyQuote.com”, Xplore Inc., available at: www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/h/harveysfi158289.html (accessed June 6, 2011)