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Staff engagement surveys offer valuable insights into culture

13 Jan 2021 By Morven MacLean

Morven MacLean explains how Children’s Hospices Across Scotland used employee feedback to drive change from within

This year at Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) we decided to take a new approach to managing our annual staff engagement survey feedback. Like many organisations, we are committed to listening and learning from our employees what is working in the company as well as discovering the areas that need to be improved. 

Staff engagement surveys can be a powerful tool, providing us with invaluable insight into the cultures, values, behaviours and relationships in our organisations. We all know that culture can inhibit the effectiveness of strategy, and therefore the importance of engaging with colleagues and  regularly gathering their views cannot be underestimated. 

At CHAS we have a bold ambition to reach every family in Scotland who needs our support. To achieve that goal it is critical that staff are listened to and empowered to influence the culture of the organisation in a meaningful way. 

When I was tasked with developing a plan for managing our staff survey feedback, I was excited to harness the valuable insights of employees to drive positive, progressive change for CHAS. The feedback in the survey has been very positive, with 95 per cent of respondents telling us they are proud to work for CHAS and 98 per cent saying they feel clear about the behaviours expected of them. However, there is always room for improvement.    

Culture change can be daunting as it can take years to achieve. But we had an opportunity in CHAS to use our new organisational values of care, respect, honesty and accountability to drive this change, placing staff at the heart of the process. The values underpin our approach and are core to the way in which we are delivering this work.

We sifted through all the feedback from the staff engagement survey and found nine broad themes, which included recognition and reward, communications and flexible working. Each theme was then aligned to one of the four CHAS values with a member of the senior leadership team sponsoring each value (fortunately we have four directors and four organisational values). Nine cross-directorate working groups were then established to address each of the identified themes. 

The groups consisted of employees from all levels in the organisation. Some staff were invited to participate in groups because of their knowledge, experience or interest in a particular theme. Others chose to be part of a group where the theme being addressed resonated with them. This resulted in diverse groups that were truly representative of the workforce. 

Each group then selected a leader who took responsibility for updating a central action plan with agreed solutions and actions to address the theme. The working groups have given staff the opportunity to develop and share their skills and experience, working with colleagues they hadn’t met or worked with before.  

Staff have demonstrated collaborative cross-functional leadership, which has been positive because multi-disciplinary working was an area highlighted for improvement in the employee survey. They also shared that they feel proud to be part of identifying solutions and tackling cultural issues. 

Charlie Leavy, challenge events assistant, is a member of one of the working groups. He explains: “Tackling cultural issues takes dedication and patience, but a grassroots approach is absolutely the way to start. I admire CHAS’s commitment to making a change, and I feel really proud to be part of one of the working groups that will be at the heart of that change.”

At first I noticed that some group members lacked confidence about their ability to influence change. One colleague questioned their ability to effect cultural change, saying they felt that was the role of the senior leadership team. I was glad they raised this concern as it provided an opportunity to discuss shared responsibility for our culture and the role that we all play as ‘culture carriers’ in the organisation. 

Transparency and openness with regard to progress made by the groups was imperative if we were to secure staff buy-in and confidence in the process. We hope that being open and transparent, not only with the survey results but with the progress being made by the working groups, will boost participation rates in future surveys as staff will see that their comments and ideas have led to real change. 

Our chief executive delivers virtual monthly updates to everyone in the organisation and includes in this the progress made by the working groups. This keeps the work high profile as opposed to being a fleeting moment in time.

It’s really motivating to see the innovation coming from the groups as they develop initiatives to address the cultural issues raised in the survey. I’m a firm believer in the principle ‘nothing to us without us’ and this approach of empowering staff to own and address their feedback coupled with the focus on our values seems to have made a real impact.

Morven MacLean is head of volunteering at Children’s Hospices Across Scotland

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