A culture of employee engagement and collaboration is essential to achieving safety and efficiency, says Carol Kavanagh
In a challenging business environment, many companies are under great pressure to make cost savings. However, two areas in which improvements can have a positive impact on the bottom line are logistics and distribution. Continually improving these processes can enable a business to take control of its costs and increase revenue; the question is how to achieve this while maintaining the consistently high standard of safety and efficiency that is required.
For a large organisation such as the Travis Perkins Group, which has a transport and logistics network employing thousands of workers to handle and transport goods to multiple sites across the UK, this can be particularly challenging. This is where involving a business’s most important asset, its people, is key.
Adopting this principle, which means we listen to, and take action on, feedback and ideas from our people on the ground, right across the business, has recently resulted in Travis Perkins being awarded gold accreditation in Transport for London’s prestigious Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme. This voluntary certification scheme annually audits companies on best practice in vehicle safety and efficiency, setting the standard for fleets operating in London and beyond with a three-tiered membership structure encompassing bronze, silver and gold levels that reward high-quality operators committed to becoming safer, greener and more efficient.
How to listen and engage
With around 3,000 vehicles and 4,000 drivers performing a significant number of deliveries every day across the UK, our main priority is ensuring that these deliveries take place safely for both customers and colleagues. Experience has taught us that it is the knowledge and expertise of our employees that is the best starting point when developing better health and safety regulations.
We have learned that listening to people at every level and keeping them engaged in meeting company goals is key to boosting organisational efficiency. As a result, we have worked to develop a company-wide culture of inclusiveness, engagement and collaboration, in which we listen to, and act upon, feedback and ideas from our people on the ground, and employ their help to improve operations.
To achieve this, we employ a number of methods including regularly sharing group-wide, divisional and business-specific information with employees, and employee engagement surveys to gather insights and feedback on a range of issues, including compensation and benefits, communication, development and training, as well as wider-reaching issues such as safety: a key focus for us.
A prime example of how this works in practice: when statistics showed us that the majority of workplace accidents and injuries occur when workers climb onto the beds of vehicles to strap up loads and move products, we consulted with our employees and developed our Keeping Your Feet on the Ground programme as a result. Their feedback has led us to introduce remotely-controlled cranes that can lift loads without human input, to reduce the risk associated with working at height.
Similarly, vehicles across the fleet have been fitted with alarms that alert drivers if their handbrakes haven’t been properly set, while CCTV cameras have been installed in lorry cabs as a means of positively influencing driver behaviour.
Collaborating with our own people on safety and efficiency issues makes clear sense: our team on the ground are the people who undertake the work, which logically makes them the most able to pinpoint any problem areas and potential solutions. A further example of how this works in practice: a driver in one of our timber centres came up with a solution that allowed workers to get a strap across the bed of a truck without physically climbing onto the vehicle – something that has always been difficult due to the different configurations of timber. This tool has now been patented with the aim of introducing it into the wider market.
One challenge for any employer is engaging people in those aspects of the business that may not seem relevant or, indeed, interesting to all employees. In order to combat this, Travis Perkins launched its ‘Bigger Picture’ initiative, which drew on images as well as words to better communicate the strategic direction and focus of the business to all employees. As a more accessible way of engaging and informing employees about those strategy issues, which are often regarded as uninteresting, this has been very well received.
Of course, asking people for feedback is one thing but everyone needs to see and understand how that information is being used, the value it has brought to the company and the difference it has made. Our internal communication plans therefore include a critical feedback process after engagement surveys have taken place, which means we can share progress, highlight success and gain further insight.
We also use an employee communications sounding board, to gain feedback and insight from a cross-section of employees to communications challenges and initiatives. Inviting regular feedback from employees via focus groups, on a whole range of issues, also contributes to the creation of a two-way dialogue.
The positive impact of incentives
This level of engagement is seen across all of our business units, and plays a key role in improving operations, such as in the development of solutions that improve equipment, right the way through to our assessments of the worksites to which we deliver, helping us to ensure that we know what to expect when we get there, and ensuring both drivers and customers understand how to operate safely in those areas.
Results like these, however, do not happen overnight: they require a genuinely shared effort from every part of the business. This involves engaging people in all departments with company-wide initiatives, focusing them on core goals and values, and encouraging them to play an active part in the company’s development. It is an approach that pays dividends across the business, improving health and safety and central business processes, and boosting employee productivity.
There is much that can be done to boost engagement. We also employ a reward system recognising hard work and commitment to delivering the business goals, while our Bright Sparks initiative encourages employees to submit their ideas and suggestions, rewarding them according to their idea’s level of adoption across the Wickes business; this ranges from a pen for submitting an idea, up to £500 for something that is fully introduced into the business.
We have found, too, that other types of activity can prove equally rewarding and play a key role in bolstering engagement. We have an extensive programme of charitable activity that we have found positively encourages team participation and engagement, and is something of which all our employees are proud.
Investing in employee development also contributes to making people feel engaged. We have developed carefully-considered induction plans that welcome new employees into the business, ensuring a smoother transition into their new role. Regular training ensures they have the up-to-date skills and knowledge they need to perform in their roles, while regular performance reviews recognise good performance and provide help and guidance when someone is not quite reaching the required standard.
And, to help workers fully engage with the whole business, a number of our training and development programmes also run across all of our Group businesses, ensuring that we benefit from knowledge sharing and the different perspectives and challenges of all employees.
Of course, recruiting the right people is also key to success: ultimately, we are looking to recruit people who will deliver exceptional, knowledgeable and friendly customer service. To help us, we have developed a leadership framework tool, which describes the types of behaviours we believe ‘make us great’ in the Travis Perkins Group, while in Wickes we have developed the DNA recruitment toolkit, which helps our recruiting line managers to understand how well a candidate’s values fit with ours and then supports them in conducting more effective and appropriate interviews.
Our focus on health and safety issues is not only aimed at our own people but at the people with whom we come into contact too. It is a key criterion for gold level FORS accreditation that all heavy goods vehicles operating within major conurbations should be fitted with close-proximity equipment, which warns drivers when cyclists are near. We were the first in our sector to introduce this equipment to our London-based fleet – it is especially vital in built-up areas such as the capital where busy traffic makes cyclists more vulnerable.
Achieving all this, however, demands that people throughout the business are engaged with safety and improvements, and that managers see safety and engagement as key objectives and dedicate a significant proportion of their time each week to improving them. Improving efficiency through better safety, and increasing engagement, sales and service, cannot be achieved without this management-level buy-in.
A key feature, too, across the entire Group is that our leaders take a personal interest in the employees working for them – they know them as individuals, and value the diverse range of skills and experience our employees bring to the business. In addition, our accessible leadership model means that all members of the leadership team are visible and approachable across all our operating areas.
Addressing environmental concerns
In addition to improving health and safety for all employees and customers, when our 3,000-strong fleet travels an incredible 130m miles every year, improving our green rating is another key focus for us. Promoting eco-friendly solutions is the second most important facet of FORS accreditation after safety. To this end, all of our drivers receive special training from a team of assessors in vehicle efficiency, speed reduction and fuel usage, which all contribute to helping our fleet reduce its CO2 emissions. It is certainly having an impact: in 2011-12, the Group cut down on CO2 emissions by as much as five tonnes per site – making us greener and cutting costs, all thanks to our people power.
We know that reducing our fleet’s mileage is the most effective way of achieving high vehicle efficiency and, as a result of driver feedback, we have integrated our vehicle tracking software with point-of-sale platforms. This initiative enables our drivers to take the most efficient routes, to better meet customer demand and to reduce mileage as a result. It is a move that has made an unparalleled contribution to fighting pollution and road congestion across our fleet, saving us 10 miles per vehicle each day.
Our key priority is ensuring that our deliveries take place safely for both customers and colleagues, and this demands a company culture in which people at every level of the business are engaged with the idea of operating safely and of working together to make sure this happens. We have learned that there is a very strong correlation between people feeling valued in their job, in knowing that they are being looked after by their management team, and how safely they operate in the real world.
It is crucial, therefore, to define your business goals and cultural values, to share those regularly with employees and to seek feedback. Employees need to be valued, listened to and respected, which all ties into effective, considered recruitment, training and development, senior leadership role modelling and development, as well as setting the right expectations in terms of behaviour, practices and ways of working.
Of course, it is fair to say that implementing these processes takes time and that none of this has happened overnight. We have been progressively working towards achieving the highest standards in safety and efficiency over a number of years, and creating this culture in which every single employee is fully engaged with safety has been central to this.
None of these achievements could have happened without the dedication of workers throughout the business, or without our fostering of this culture of grassroots involvement to create a safe and efficient working environment for all.
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