How happy is your company?

by 13 May 2008

Most companies that regularly survey their staff communicate results back quickly. Many follow through with actions. Teresa Russell looks at how to make sure the impact of follow-through hits the bottom line

Gathering feedback from staff is no longer the chore it used to be. Providers have developed on-line surveys to help organisations better understand issues affecting their people. Analysing the results and targeting areas of greatest need for follow-up action is also now standard practice. Making sure these interventions impact the bottom line should be the goal of every HR professional who commissions an organisational survey.

Warren Wilmot, CEO of 7-Eleven Stores, commissioned his organisation’s first internal effectiveness and climate survey five years ago, not long after becoming CEO. “We were coming up to a strategy meeting with the board and I wanted tangible feedback that we had good interventions with our staff,” he says.

7-Eleven is Australia’s 20th-largest private company (in terms of turnover) with 370 franchised stores turning over $1.3 billion. The company has 230 direct corporate employees and 4500 franchise employees.

Wilmot had kept a flyer of COI Group’s organisational effectiveness profile in his ‘pending’ folder for six months before asking for a proposal. “I liked the style and simplicity of the survey and, after meeting with them, felt it was the right survey for us,” he says.

The survey measures 19 drivers of organisational effectiveness and benchmarks results against other surveyed organisations around the world. Wilmot believes the most important drivers are strategic intent, communication, interdepartmental information transfer, management style and behaviour.

“That first survey opened the floodgates. The board had thought everything was fabulous, but the further you went down in seniority, they were telling us we had lots of problems we needed to address. Some board members gave me kudos for initiating the survey while others gave me a caning for all the problems in my first review,” says Wilmot.

Wendy Lenton is director of people and brand at Vodafone Australia, part of one of the world’s largest global mobile companies. Vodafone has 1500 direct employees across Australia, including in its contact centres in NSW and Tasmania.

Vodafone’s employees have the opportunity to participate in several surveys each year, including the Hewitt Best Employer survey that they use to compare Australian best practice trends against Vodafone; and an annual global survey managed out of its UK head office. Since 2007, this survey has included a manager index that measures engagement at an individual manager’s level.

This year the company introduced an Exploring People Preferences sample that found employees cluster into five broad areas of career motivation and values. (see box). Each segment views aspects of the employment experience differently and is motivated by different types of rewards, careers, learning and development and leadership styles.

“I saw a presentation demonstrating customer segmentation and thought it was very rich data that could be applicable to our own people. We worked with customer research experts within Vodafone and with Hewitt Associates to develop a survey that could segment our employees around their career preferences,” says Lenton, who adds that Vodafone tended to value and support some employee segments over others.

Analysing the data

Both Lenton and Wilmot agree that the ability to understand the data down to a particular manager’s level is important.

“I strongly believe that to get people to change and to really believe they need to change, you must take results to a leadership level,” says Lenton. . “It’s no use looking at engagement in isolation. You need to consider survey data alongside other qualitative data and people metrics that already exist in your business to paint the right picture.

“It is very powerful and real insights emerge when you bring all this data together. Fundamentally, it is HR’s role to help managers understand all the data and create simplicity around what needs to be done,” she says.

“We can cut and dice our survey data by geography, gender, seniority and length of service,” says Wilmot, who uses team-planning software linked to the survey to drive bottom-up improvement. “We still have departments with problems, but we sit down, talk about it and understand what the next activities need to be.”

Results and the bottom line

Vodafone and 7-Eleven use survey results as part of every manager’s non-financial KPIs when calculating annual bonuses. “This is a good early warning system for our managers. You see improvement in individual performance when people know they are being measured,” says Wilmot.

7-Eleven’s board now believes the annual survey is a worthwhile tool. On some of the important drivers, the company’s first survey rated it 14-15 per cent behind external benchmarks and now, five years later, it runs at about 15 per cent above these same benchmarks.

“When we first introduced the annual survey, I didn’t think it would become such a big part of our business. Our senior managers really drive it now, because it helps them resolve issues early,”says Wilmot.

Lenton says that Vodafone’s people segmentation survey has provided management with a few ‘wow’ moments. She gives the recent example of the group that is motivated by work-life integration. “Our return rate from parental leave is high, at 86 per cent. But the survey showed that although these individuals are choosing to return to work at Vodafone, they are not as engaged with the organisation as we would like.

“It has given us valuable insight into work that needs to be done on our people strategies and programs to align our employee offer better for this group,” she says.

Another area of change as a result of the survey is that career discussions between managers and employees are now more closely aligned to individual needs and motivations. New career paths are being developed to appeal not only to those segments that thrive on promotion, but also to those that thrive on stability and security.

“We know that research shows a strong correlation between high levels of engagement and an organisation’s profitability and productivity. Our experience with our 2006/07 survey results shows that our own engagement levels were closely aligned with our business performance,” says Lenton.

“Increased productivity is easily demonstrated in sales. If we can increase engagement, there is an increase in discretionary effort, resulting in increased customer satisfaction, improved sales and therefore, an increase to the bottom line,” she says.

In terms of increasing engagement for particular segments, Lenton says that Vodafone is moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach and is more flexible around both employment experiences and benefits. She is also embarking on establishing clearer ROI measures for all people interventions.

Advice

Wilmot says that you shouldn’t just talk to providers about their surveys, but get to their other customers to find out how they use it. “You have to get a product you can trust. Make sure that what it is measuring and how you use it are linked to the strategy of your own company,” he says, adding that he likes to keep his survey questions as ‘vanilla’ as possible so the results can be benchmarked with external organisations.

“You must be clear about the purpose of the survey and the insights – as opposed to just the data – it will provide,” says Lenton. “Sharing both the good and bad side of insights is very empowering for people and leaders and helps them engage in the process of leading change at both a team and company-wide level,” she says.

Lenton believes that surveying a representative sample of people is often just as statistically valid as surveying the whole organisation and has the added benefit of preventing ‘survey fatigue’.

Motivation for working at Vodafone

Work-life integration

Security and stability

Challenge and achieving goals

Leadership and managing people

Independence and creativity