How to use internal engagement to navigate change

Sara Woods, founder and director, Philosophy Design, looks at how to use internal engagement to navigate change and provides her top tips to increase engagement.

Internal communications and employee engagement are difficult to get right, no matter what size your business is or what sector you operate in. And when you are going through major business changes, it’s even more vital to ensure your employees are on board with the changes and are given the chance to have their say.

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For professional services businesses and consultancy practices which may have several offices around the world, the challenge to collate feedback and implement opinion is far greater.

Appetite for change

A lot of these firms are now changing the ways in which they communicate with their employees – internal communications is promoted and indeed imperative when an organisation is going through a major change such as an acquisition, merger or rebrand. Whilst many professional services businesses still use the intranet as their core internal communication piece, there are many that are becoming more adventurous with communication. Cambridge University has just posted a position for a Lego professor of play, education and learning to help companies unlock their employees’ potential, for example.

Gone are the brand value posters on every pillar; there are now global team building days, staff recognition awards posted through Facebook and Skype, days off for extraordinary acts of kindness and creativity, and charity sports events to encourage bonding and communication between employers and employees. And yes, it’s the employee who has control.

Whilst the tangible effects of such activity are important, changing the internal environment to improve staff morale and articulate their values, it’s crucial to remember that employee engagement is deeply connected to emotional experiences and wellbeing.

Moving in the right direction

There has been an increase by senior management in professional services firms to address this. For example, many are now choosing to involve all staff on team away days, and taking steps to improve employee benefits in order to retain and attract staff. There is also a much deeper understanding now of specific job roles and how certain responsibilities can help to get the best out of employees. People whose work offers them challenge, authority, autonomy, stimulation, access to information, resources and the chance to grow will naturally be more engaged than those who are not presented with these opportunities.

Another important step is to move away from formal procedure and work with employees on a more emotional level. Sarah Palmer, HR director at chartered surveying and property consultancy Gerald Eve, has removed administrative overheads, such as compliance processes and formal check-off processes in favour of trust and a focus on cooperation.

“We know that every decision made at a senior management level will impact on employee engagement, from performance and growth to innovation,” says Palmer. “We really care about every individual in the firm: our benefits offering is one of the best in the sector, and we are committed to support a diverse mix of employees. For a firm our size this is a big change. Only recently the whole firm attended an away day to discuss the business strategy and celebrate our independence.”

Most importantly, Gerald Eve lives out the values it has worked hard to build, ensuring that the head office environment embodies openness and transparency. Members of the senior management team sit on the main office floors integrated with more junior staff members, which not only encourages communication but also removes any sense of division between these groups.

Another reason why Gerald Eve thrives is that the graduates who join fresh faced and enthusiastic feel involved right from their first day. Its current graduate campaign, ‘Be Somebody Be Gerald Eve’, designed by Philosophy, reinforces the opportunities and support that graduates will be given throughout their two year training period.

How to increase engagement: 4 tips for success

Listen and learn

How do you know how your employees feel? Many organisations still use annual staff surveys to uncover feelings and opinions. However, there is a danger with this approach that senior management teams look at the results and then either not communicate them back to their staff or not undertake the changes requested. Consider regular updates through quick straw polls, and include incentives to ensure that people take part, and take part honestly. Another option is to take a more technology-led approach, using employee feedback tools like Culture Amp to get people’s views.

Get involved

Once the feedback has been gathered, make sure it doesn’t stop there. A major change such a rebrand can actually provide companies with the perfect chance to improve their employee engagement levels, but it’s vital that employee input is a continuous process, not just a starting point.By involving staff at every stage of the project, from reviewing and approving logos and colours to giving specific feedback via dedicated microsites, the end result is not only a true reflection of the company and the brand, but it’s also something that gives everybody a sense of pride and achievement.

Environment is everything

People respond to their surroundings, and this is especially the case at work. It is well-documented that there is a direct correlation between a happy, productive workforce and a correctly designed workspace. It helps corporate businesses to articulate their values, it improves productivity, reduces costs (and absenteeism) and lowers the environmental footprint.Philosophy works with a leading property developer that works hard with its architects to provide environments where people thrive. The head office in the West End was designed with the employees’ wellbeing at the heart of the design. Plants are in abundance, removing the harmful CO2 in the air, break out areas are dotted amongst the open plan banks of desks, the staff restaurant has an exterior balcony and bug wall. Only a few of the directors have their own offices. As a result, employees enjoy coming to work, and actually work that much harder because they are happier and more inspired.

Inspire the future

You only need to take a look at Google’s offices to understand the impact that engaging office environments and innovative working practices can have. My son, aged 11, wants to work for them as he’s recently found out that there is a slide linking one floor to another. Although this may seem gimmicky, it works for Google because it ties in with its brand values and public image. Companies that consider how their internal culture will be affected by the office environment will attract the right type of individual, meaning that they remain attractive to the future workforce.

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