family fortunes and staff engagement

Employee engagement is a strand of internal comms. Here's an inspiring story of how a housing provider engaged with more than 200 staff in difficult times.

by Caroline King 

What happens when you mix Play Your Cards Right, Blind Date, Family Fortunes and an old school headmaster?

Well at Helena Partnerships you have the recipe for a very lively (and noisy) staff event, complete with yellow brick road.

Five months ago we hosted the biggest group therapy session St Helens has ever seen. This was in the format of four mini conferences for all front line staff. We posed real business problems such as how can we keep our rent coming in against a backdrop of welfare reform? How can we create demand for our larger homes when people are literally throwing their keys back at us?

The result of our initial staff events? Eleven years of frustrations and ideas bursting to the surface and 75 pieces of flip chart paper too! 

We saw real highs and also lows. Some of our frontline staff were almost in tears seeing how the estates they had fought tooth and nail to transform had started to decline and the number of empty homes grow. Letting our homes because a burning platform as staff linked empty homes with less rent, a reduction in services and ultimately jobs if things didn't turn around. Cue pop up estate agents, telemarketing in the evenings and weekend and Helena staff becoming walking adverts for why somebody should rent a Helena home.

We took the excessive amount of flip chart paper and turned it into 16 staff engagement projects which we labelled Sweet 16. We launched these on Yammer and in just a few days over 200 of the 240 staff who had taken part had signed up to Yammer. They then chose the projects they felt they could make a real contribution to. The problems they have explored solutions for are not easy. At times they have seemed like an uphill battle but our creative approach to engagement has made hard subjects both accessible and fun.

Since the events staff have worked tirelessly and collaboratively to develop practical business solutions. They have worked with colleagues who they may have never spoken to before. Their ideas just make sense. Some have been implemented already and others are nearly ready to go.

Although this was all about staff engagement rather than strategy development, our frontline staff have reminded us valuable business lessons about thinking about the customer experience and journey, rather than basing services around teams and structures. They have pushed their own boundaries and stepped outside their comfort zones. Divisions between teams have eroded and a common purpose has created one big team.

As I sit here today, just one session into a series of four, I can hear clapping, whooping and see lots of smiles. I can also see flip chart sheets being filled up which means even more ideas are coming forward.

I am a firm believer that you can achieve just about anything if you get the inside of your organisation right and create an army of passionate and talented business leaders with true dedication. 

Caroline King is head of communications and engagement at Helena Partnerships.

Picture credit.