Reaching for the stars

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 1 October 2012 in Interviews

In our series on L&D practitioners who scooped prizes at TJ's 2011 Awards, Seun Robert-Edomi talks to Centrica Storage Ltd, winner of the best commercial initiative under 1,000 employees

A gas storage business that achieved its goal of being named in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list was recognised at last year's TJ Awards.

Centrica Storage Ltd collected the award for the best commercial initiative under 1,000 employees in November, ahead of HSBC and McCann Manchester.

The company was congratulated by the competition's judges for growing its business and engaging its people in activities and initiatives to help deliver its vision of becoming the leading multi-asset, multi-product gas storage business in the UK.

Category judge Kimberley Hare said: "The intervention was driven by a clearly defined business need and used a wide variety of qualitative and quantitative data to conceive, design, deliver and evaluate the programme."

When Simon Wills joined CSL as managing director in December 2008, he was immediately faced with a number of challenges. There was a lack of communication between leaders and the workforce. People were unable to link their role with the direction of the business. Furthermore, there was a lack of ideas coming from talented people within the organisation.

All these issues were reinforced by poor scores recorded in an engagement survey the company had conducted earlier in 2008.

Wills and his senior leadership team wanted to improve these survey scores and also lift the engagement across the business to allow CSL to secure a place in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Research was conducted into the results of the engagement survey and Wills and his team found that many workers felt that their ideas were not important. In addition to this, employees also felt that SLT's leaders didn't recognise their achievements or provide strong leadership.

Wills then decided it was vital to develop the leadership team so they could lead a shift in the culture of the business where all colleagues are:

  • involved in volunteering new ideas
  • enthusiastic about achieving CSL goals
  • taking ownership for doing a better job
  • happy they are communicated with in a way that is useful
  • rewarded appropriately for their input.

The following key performance indicators were also set:

  • Sunday Times Best Places to Work ranking
  • Best Companies accreditation
  • increase in employee engagement survey scores
  • creation of engagement in reward and recognition activities.

Following the research, CSL partnered with external change consultancy Epiphanies to develop an engagement programme to up-skill its 30 most senior leaders, with a supporting programme of development for the next set of leaders and managers.

The bespoke programme was designed to boost leaders' ability and motivation to engage their people. An internal communications manager was also appointed and tasked with supporting the development of the leadership team with a strategy that had a positive impact on the entire organisation's engagement and productivity.

As a result of the programme, CSL received a two-star (outstanding) Best Companies accreditation in December 2010. Three months later, it was placed 64th in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list. Engagement scores also increased considerably, with employees at all levels feeling more motivated.

"I liked the way the whole programme was clearly pulled along by the new MD's vision, and showed an unusual level of big-picture thinking and alignment across the business," Hare said.

"Other organisations could learn a great deal from the strategic thinking demonstrated here - including alignment with internal communications, engagement surveys, leadership, reward - and also external measures, such as Sunday Times and Best Places to Work scores.

"This was much more than just a training programme. There were real attempts to measure results at all level and to map across to before and after engagement survey results. I also liked the way the senior leadership team was used as an integral part of the programme too. The use of team-based real work projects is also to be commended."

Jill Batterby, L&D manager at CSL, said the award was evidence that they were doing the right thing.

"We were ecstatic to have won and we definitely felt a lot of pride at the same time," she explained. "The award was a real accolade for everyone involved and gave us a real platform to build on. It was a real enforcement that we are doing the right thing.

"When we think about it and talk about, it's the integrated approach which helped. All the programmes had a lot of communication and this was the differentiator. We took every element of what makes a person engaged at work and we worked on all of those things to make sure that we were getting a coherent approach rather than just introducing a leadership development programme."

Achieving such a huge turnaround in engagement levels in a relatively short period of time helped to make it innovative, she said.

"Although it was a leadership development programme, it was bespoke to us. It was all done offsite and many things were integrated into it make sure that our message was conveyed.

"Considering how quickly we managed to implement the programme and how quickly we saw a turnaround in engagement levels, I think it's a good pioneering project."

Most companies have a vision but many don't always believe in it and this needs to be addressed if you're looking to do a similar programme, she told TJ.

"You need to be clear on what your direction is and work with those around you to establish your ultimate goal. This is sometimes a way off and can be a long-term goal but you need to make sure you stay aligned to your mission.

"Fundamentally believe in your vision and believe that you can achieve it - I'm not sure many companies always think this way," Batterby concluded.



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