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Guest Blogger

With less than two weeks to go until the Employee Engagement Summit, we sat with speakers to hear an insight into their industry and what you can expect to learn from their case studies. Today, we are joined by Joanne Carlin, Director of People and Development at Daniel Thwaites…

1. Please tell us more about the Employee Engagement approach Daniel Thwaites adopts?

Our approach is quite simple.  We believe that engagement is not a parcel you bring out and unwrap every now and again – it’s how you treat people every day. It’s embedded in our policies and our development programmes.

The engagement discovery journey for Daniel Thwaites started around 4 years ago with their first ever engagement survey.  At that time it was very much a misunderstood concept and of course everyone felt their teams and people were engaged.  It was a shock to discover this was not the case everywhere, and certainly not in the areas the business felt it was strong.

Fast forward to now and it’s part of our language – it forms and informs our goals and objectives; driving us as leaders to be better.  The engagement survey is the pinch point of the year, it’s our barometer or check point to gather this exceptionally rich data.

At the beginning there was a focus on pay & benefits, and rightly so, however what we do now is look at the connections between sections.  For example, we are proud that the level of engagement in ‘pay & benefits’ has improved, however it isn’t because we focussed entirely on this.  Instead we looked at how engaged team members are with managers and whether the balance between work and pay felt fair.   This led us to create our Leadership Academy, aimed at different levels in the business; an integrated approach to reviewing performance; and a fundamental review of our structures with a brutal honesty of what was and wasn’t working for our people.

Finally, we educated our managers about what drives employee engagement, introducing a no finger pointing culture where we encourage our leaders to discuss with their teams what would make it better for them.

2. How do you maintain that culture throughout the whole organisation?

We have embedded goals and objectives around specific parts of employee engagement, for example regular 1:1s, which in our industry can prove challenging.  We have encouraged short 15 minute catch-ups which form part of our performance appraisal process (which incidentally we don’t call anything like ‘performance’ or ‘appraisal’).  We’ve named our process after one of our Founding Leaders, Elma, who believed in people wholeheartedly.

We have a behavioural framework built by our teams with very simple do’s and don’ts which people understand – It’s simple and makes sense.

Our leadership programmes talk about how to get the best of ourselves, our teams and our people.  We hold each other accountable and more importantly we know we can’t always get it right all the time.

There are loads of great examples in our wonderful properties of engagement focus groups, using the data to incite a meaningful conversation about what matters to a particular team.  It definitely isn’t a one size fits all approach – for us that wouldn’t work.  Granted our approach does take more time and energy, but we’re ok with that as we know it’s worth it.

3. How do you measure your customer experiences?

Being in our industry we measure customer experience in lots of ways, we have various review sites and social media channels where customers tell us how they’re feeling and we have various audits from mystery shoppers and industry experts.  It all matters to us and it helps us work out where we need to focus our energy.  We talk to our teams about this and we create the important links between how engaged our employees are and our customers’ experiences.

4. Tell us more about your case study focus?

I’m delighted to be talking about our programme to grow our own leaders.  Hospitality, like many other sectors, is labour intensive and can be transient in nature.  It has the most open vacancies of all of the sectors, which proves challenging when you’re trying to attract and retain.  What we realised at Daniel Thwaites is we really enjoy promoting our people from our internal talent pools.  This of course comes with some issues, or at least it did for us.  Three years ago we needed to grow the company quickly in addition to recruiting our ‘usual’ volume.  This is a great problem to have – growth is never a bad thing!  However, we also knew that we had skills gaps in our manager/team leader population which we quickly needed to resolve to fuel both of these pipelines.  The trouble was we had (and still have) a limited budget.  So we resolved to build our own Leadership Academy, only working with external providers who were proven in their field, and only when we absolutely needed it, i.e. we either didn’t have the skills internally or we needed that external credibility.  Fast forward to today and our academy is thriving, our employees love the practicality of it and the ability to flex upwards (we have three stages to it).

5. What do you provide to your customers that will make them experts with your product/service?

As a hospitality provider, everything we do is experienced by our customers so they can very quickly form an opinion as to whether it is positive or negative. We have various marketing, from our website and social media through to promotional books and media reviews, so customers can build their expectations from that. But it is what we deliver when they visit us which makes them expert – the quality of our buildings, the standard of customer service, how we compare to other hospitality providers they have experienced.

6. What trends do you feel will be around for years to come in employee engagement?

Focussing on treating people in the right way, helping them to see how they matter and a feedback culture will for me always be a trend.   The relationships we create as leaders are critical because for our teams their leaders or managers ARE the company.  This is true irrespective of size of business.

Everyone wants to know that what they do matters and that they are playing their part and are more than just a cog in a wheel.  The same can be said for businesses who care about their environment. I imagine it will become even more important for employees to work for businesses with a strong moral compass.

I also believe that if we are honest with what personally engages us and ensure that our teams get that – fairness, equity, sense of belonging, feeling we matter, and having the right tools to do our jobs – then businesses may get a lot further faster.

7. How big of a role will technology play in the future of employee engagement?

It will allow people to have instant feedback to their employer, to feel connected in organisations.  We use Workplace (Facebook) and it has been a revolution joining parts of our business who would ordinarily never have mixed.

8. What will the future of work look like when it comes to engaging with employees?

We need to be faster and more open with our employees going forward, everyone has access to everything and so whether we like it or not our employees probably know more about what people think of our company than we do.   Really why shouldn’t we share more rather than less and have employees decide what to engage with and what not to?

9. Is there anything that causes concern amongst the workplace that we shouldn’t be worried about? (i.e. Artificial Intelligence taking over jobs, contact centres, etc)

So long as the elements being progressed are for the good of the business, the employees, and the environment, then we should welcome them.

10. What are you most looking forward to about the Employee Engagement Summit this year?

Hearing about what other great work companies are doing and seeing if I can make even more fabulous connections!

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