The Gatehouse Blog

Placing leaders at the heart of engagement at Centrica

Amber Heavisides talks about how her team used the findings of their employee survey to revisit their internal communication strategy – and the role of leaders in it.

Centrica is a global energy and services company with a diverse workforce of 34,000 employees working in offices, contact centres and out in the field.

We’re just getting the results from our 2018 employee survey in now and it’s great to see a positive difference from this time last year.

Over the past couple of years, Centrica has undergone huge change. We’ve entered new markets, restructured our business, introduced new ways of working, and brought together 36 separate companies as One Centrica to help us grow as a group rather than operating as multiple independent businesses.

There was a lot of anticipation around our 2017 employee survey, as this would tell us how employees were feeling about going through some tough times as part of our transformation – and, unsurprisingly at times like these, our three lowest scores were around trust in our leaders, people feeling valued and included, and feeling inspired by Centrica’s strategy.

These findings provided clear evidence that we needed to work harder to give our employees a voice and do a lot more to increase engagement with our strategy.

We began by developing a clear internal communication strategy, based around the engagement areas we wanted to tackle and shifting the focus of our communications delivery from awareness to engagement. We articulated it around four quadrants:

  • Connecting our people to the Centrica story: helping people relate their role to our overall strategy, and how they connect to the business plans of each business area.
  • Increasing colleague inclusion: making our employees feel listened to and able to have their say about what we do and how we do it.
  • Supporting leader-led engagement: changing the way our leaders approach the way they communicate with their teams
  • Developing ourselves as a large internal communication team, making sure we’re investing in our own capabilities to support the business and aligning our actions.

 

“These findings provided clear evidence that we needed to give our employees a voice and do a lot more to increase engagement with our group strategy.”

Leader-led engagement

Key to all of this was ‘leader-led engagement’. This involved redirecting the role of our leaders – moving away from a traditional top-down approach and instead showing the value of investing time listening to our people and seeking their feedback on how to drive change within our business.

We started by asking our leaders to run a series of #wearelistening sessions where they ask for ideas from our people to address the issues identified by the survey. In large, geographically dispersed organisations, bringing everyone together face-to-face isn’t always possible, so we committed to really embracing our digital channels. Yammer doesn’t replace face-to-face, but it’s a great way to make a conversation visible to everybody across time zones and keep it going.

Our leaders weren’t all believers at first, so we found a few brave volunteers to get things started. We advertised the sessions in advance, and the response has been great. It’s amazing to see the energy that comes back from the business. The #wearelistening campaign has gradually gained momentum throughout the year, and within six months of the launch, our leaders had hosted over 100 live listening sessions, generating over 50,000 comments.

All of the #werelistening feedback has been pulled together and is now informing our activities. As well as continuing to have these conversations we’re now highlighting the changes that participants are making to the business – by referencing back to the feedback given during #wearelistening sessions.

“The #werelistening campaign has gradually gained momentum, and within six months of the launch, our leaders had hosted over 100 live listening sessions, generating over 50,000 comments.”

Small Actions, Big Future

Hearing the feedback about people not feeling connected to the strategy also inspired on the most comprehensive investments in our people for many years – our Small Actions, Big Future roadshow in the UK.

It was a real labour of love. Over a 4-month period, 24,000 people took part in full day or 3-hour workshops to discuss how what they do matters. The purpose of these sessions was twofold: giving people the opportunity to connect personally with what we’re here to do and understand that the change we’re going through is necessary.

We also wanted to help people relate to this journey at a more personal level and understand that everything that they do – be it a small gesture – contributes to an improved customer experience and through it our overall success. Here again, our leaders played a critical role. Each workshop was hosted by leaders from across the business, who would engage participants in conversations around relevant issues; and provide them with the bigger picture.

Altogether, we ran 165 roadshows in 34 locations. We worked out that that’s over 70,000 cups of tea and 40,000 bags of Haribo! Many participants took selfies with our leaders at the events and shared them on Yammer, contributing to making the #smallactions story and our leaders more visible and approachable.

Unexpected benefits

These campaigns have definitely increased our leaders’ confidence and support in our internal communication strategy – a very positive shift.

It has also better positioned us to influence the way in which our leaders tend to share their messages. Being more connected to our employees, we are now helping them to simplify their messages and focus on peoples’ stories rather than the numbers.

As we start thinking about where we need to go next year, we’ve now got evidence from this year’s employee survey results that we’re going in the right direction. We’re quicker off the mark in having these conversations with leaders. Our greatest achievement in the past year has been the people element and the fact that as a business we’re now better at showing that we trust everyone to be experts and have a say in how we should look after our customers and improve as a business.

 

Biography: Amber Heavisides

Amber is currently the Centrica Internal Communications Consultant for Group Functions, and over the last two years has been the lead on strategy and channels development.