On 20th November we hosted our winter learning event “Voice of Employee” with approx 60 people attending from a huge variety of companies. Ministry of Justice hosted the event at their head office in Westminster. The event kicked off with Crispin Manners, Chairman of the Employee Engagement Alliance. He opened the event to all of the passionate people in the room to make the business case for the employee voice.

“Employee voice can mean different things to different people” explained Crispin

  • Taking surveys
  • Listening and acting
  • Actually making the employees really integrated in the culture and
  • Getting leadership to understand its organisational value

Our first speaker of the event was the very funny Matthew Bradburn, VP of Talent & People Operations at Peakon.

Matt opened his presentation by telling his story of what it was like to be a marketing graduate when the financial crisis hit. He came across an opportunity on Gumtree that was described as a “job that exchanged money for work”, which ended up being a ‘boiler room’ recruitment agency. Matt humorously recalled the first office being a storage unit, having someone in one ear telling him what to say, and shared some of the (unfavourable to say the least) Glassdoor.co.uk ratings. Upon reflection, “employees were seen, but not heard” and that was a driver for change in his future positions.

As People Ops at Peakon, Matt describes a key part of his role “the advocacy for both employees and employer”. Peakon internally measure the employee NPS every week across 14 key areas of engagement.

As an organisation that grows quarter on quarter, and has quadrupled in size in 2017, how can Matt enable people to be motivated and engaged?

Here are some of the ways he described how…

Values mean a lot

  1. Understanding the values gives them a voice
  2. Living those values

Employee Experience

  1. It starts before they join (e.g. a recent example of providing certainty to a potential candidate that asked if she would be able to work from home to look after her sick child if needed.)
  2. Peakon Mountaineer – advocacy for others around them as well – These are the ‘unsung’heroes
  3. Benefits → what do you really, really want? Only spend money on what employees want – so ask them what that is. Many organisations have “all-round” packages that include a myriad of benefits when employees only end up using 5%, so to make the most of budget and provide the most benefit to employees – ask them what they want!
  4. Off-sites use time to reflect and set goals for the next year → this reiterated the mission, values and defined goals in the team.
  5. Trust – Show trust in your team, all the time.

Some final takeaways Matt shared were to consider the environment. Don’t underestimate the psychological impact the environment has on levels of collaboration that people have. No matter the size of the organisation, trends can show in surveys. Listen to understand employee voice so that you can retain the best employees.

“It is key to be able to have a forum where employees can talk and start a conversation”

Waitrose – Employee Ideas

Next up was the super Stuart Eames, Head of Operations at Waitrose. Stuart is a passionate and enthusiastic leader in process improvement now leading Operational Improvement. As we found out, Stuart and his team have seen huge benefits that employee ideas bring to an organisation, including £3.5m savings to date.

“Innovation is just about making things better and stronger.” – Stuart Eames

Challenge: Big strategic change

Many leaders describe challenges needed in the organisation in its bigger picture. They mention a “big strategic change” and use other language that most employees frankly can’t relate to. We have all probably heard it before. An organisation is focussing on ‘continuous improvement’ and an ambitious, well-intentioned leader somewhere is constantly using technical jargon like elevating engagement from ‘brown belt’ to ‘black belt’. You might be thinking ‘…what?’ And we don’t blame you, as Stuart points out that is likely to be exactly what an employee will be thinking when the language used is not common sense or relatable.

“To really engage your employees, start talking about things that actually affect them on a daily basis. What will actually make their life better?”

Waitrose utilises these 5 Steps of Idea Engagement

  1. Creating a culture of innovation
  2. Engagement and collaboration
  3. Small steps, big wins
  4. Align to business strategies (will fundamentally need to align ideas to business outcomes and the big strategic change that they are constantly talking about)
  5. Keep it fresh

Possible barriers for idea sharing amongst employees (or Partners as known across Waitrose & John Lewis):

  • Hesitation
  • No accessible ways to submit their ideas
  • Inclination to just accept the current ways of working
  • What’s in it for me?
  • What will actually happen with my idea?

The collaborative mix to get employee  ideas and actually make them happen:

  • You need ideas – Partners (the team) – to contribute
  • You need stakeholders
  • You need finance
  • You need project team to spearhead the change

Collaboration in action

To get the ideas, the platform of choice for Waitrose was Wazoku (which is Swahili for great idea). This platform allowed a multitude of Partners from different positions and departments within the organisation to discuss ideas. One simple suggestion from a committed and engaged employee was to remove 12cm from till receipts. Input from stakeholders and other influential figures chimed in with support, and the confirmation from the ticketing technicians that it was possible and easy to make the change. This simple idea saved £168,000 in operations in the first year.

Stuart argues that listening to the voice of the employee can be an incredibly powerful tool for any organisation. It is the people on the front line who know the products and care about the organisation that can be instrumental in leading innovation. In Waitrose’s case, eight ideas made £800,000 difference in operations. In any organisation, having a good employee voice programme will enable employees to feel heard, cared about, and ultimately engaged.

“Make changes be sponsored by a strategic programme”


Our third story of the day came from Ministry of Justice’s Karen Notaro & Shirley-Anne Mullen from the Engagement Champions Network.

As an organisation with 80,000 employees, engaging the workforce can be a challenge to say the least. Ten years ago, an employee engagement project was set up in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to enable employee engagement to happen.

“The MoJ’s Employee Engagement Project was not set up to ‘do employee engagement for the MoJ’”

Of course, that came with challenges:

Start a chain reaction

Getting started involved inviting key leads or influencers to a launch event. It was clear that the next step was to identify the right people to take the engagement strategy forward, and so an Engagement Champions Network was set up in 2008. According to MoJ this is “someone who role models the organisation values through their behaviour and having discretionary effort.” Today, there are over 1,100+ Engagement Champions. Karen recognises that it has taken a slow process to have one set of values, which is understandable as the third largest government department, but ten years on MoJ have made a lot of progress.

“Ensure your voice of the employee framework allows you to have a continuous conversation to actively engage your people throughout the year.”

Actionable Learnings from MoJ’s story:

  • Create supporting materials such as reports, templates, activity guides, and provide the tools to assist those driving the engagement cycle.
  • Where possible, have a “buddy” system for those at different stages of the engagement drive to collaborate.
  • Create a space or platform for communities to communicate and collaborate with each other and make sure you share where that is so that everyone knows. Use what works for your organisation and engagement champions.

Shirley from MoJ elaborated on the last point by introducing their collaboration platform of choice – Basecamp. Basecamp has allowed the Engagement Champions Network to share news, start discussions, contribute the latest documents and resources, segment and manage projects, share schedules – all in one place. We agree that it can be crucial to find the right platform that works for your team and leaders, and is definitely key for engagement to provide the tools to assist your engagement champions.

Instinctif Partners

Our final speakers of the day were Lauren Foster and Gina Houston, both Engagement Specialists at Instinctif Partners. They shared informative case studies from Coach, Portsmouth University and Direct Line Group. Lauren and Gina shared that despite the different challenges across their clients the consistent solution has been harnessing employee voice to unlock the challenges with great results.

Shaping the culture of a new business: a two-way dialogue

One of the case studies they shared was with Direct Line Group. Direct Line Group, previously part of RBS Insurance had to separate from the group and form their own stand alone insurance business. Their mission was to “become Britain’s best general insurance provider” and called on Instinctif to help make this happen.

“We knew that to make this successful, we had to give employees the chance to shape the business that they wanted to be a part of.”

A campaign of activities was set-up to capture the voice of the employee about what the culture should be. Employees were asked: what does the organisation already do that is best for our customers, our stakeholders and our employees?

Steps to take:

  • Have conversations about all of the positive actions (and areas for improvement) taking place
  • Set up a platform for people to easily share their thoughts and suggestions
  • Create themes guided by these conversations
  • Develop the themes into new organisational values

Gina and Lauren shared how the workshops aimed to capture employee’s thoughts utilised “appreciative enquiry” methodology.

“Ensure that conversations in the workshops centred on what they already did well and needed to build on – keeping the conversations positive and productive.”

This practice was also echoed in an “Best-Quest” website created specifically for capturing employees’ thoughts. The employee thoughts shared highlight six core themes, which were converted to business values. These values were launched to 3,000 line managers at events across the country, and brought everyone together to have a conversation about the new brand, direction of the company, and ensued confidence in the managers to share the new values with their teams in an effective and engaging way.

We’d like to thank all of our speakers for sharing their brilliant insights and takeaways to this event. To close the day, we took some final thoughts and questions on a Question and Answer panel. Some of the top takeaways for me were:

  • Find the right people/ community that will champion the engagement
  • Provide a platform for employees to share their ideas, thoughts and feedback.
    • And, this may sound common sense, but ensure all employees know where that is and how to access it.
  • Get stakeholder buy-in, and get them involved. Capturing the voice of the employee means hearing what everyone has to say, and creating a positive change will require two-way dialogue.
  • Continue the conversation… Rome wasn’t built in a day!


If you would like any more information about The EEA, get in touch [email protected] or visit our website the-eea.com

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