Achieving cultural change is one of the toughest challenges a business can face, no matter how large or small they are. But change is essential if organisations are to keep pace with shifting customer demands and fluctuating economic landscapes.

A perfect example of this is the insurance industry, where rapid developments in technologies, our changing lifestyles, new competitors, and a growing claim culture are having a huge impact on business performance. The ability to adapt quickly is essential for organisations in this arena to survive.

Employee engagement consultancy ENGAGE understands this challenge more than most, working with financial services and insurance providers across the UK. A key client, the UK’s largest retail general insurer, is one such organisation that has radically adapted its business to meet today’s needs.

But to do so, it didn’t start with the customer. Instead, it looked at what needed to change internally. Through this approach, the organisation realised that employees could become the key enabler of transformation, driving a total cultural shift across the business.

This approach wasn’t part of a new ‘touchy-feely’ management approach;it was based on clear and growing evidence that unhappy or disengaged employees are a huge problem for businesses, not only in terms of corporate culture but also in terms of cost. They are less productive and have higher churn rates which results in greater recruitment costs.

They also play a pivotal role in the engagement of customers: engaged employees provide a better Customer Experience, which helps retain customers and spread positive word-of-mouth.

The insurer in question understood this and wanted to harness the voices of all its employees – from the front line to senior management – to deliver a digital revolution: making insurance easier and better value for its customers. Having created the original revolution in the sector with the move to telephone-based insurance, the organisation knew this was no easy feat.

Knowing that it had to look beyond traditional customer analytics to achieve change, the organisation worked in partnership with ENGAGE and Confirmit to develop and implement an employee engagement programme covering all its 12,000 staff across the UK and two offshoring populations. The programme’s core aim was to use internal feedback to drive strategic, action-based change that would create a truly customer-centric organisation.

As the name suggests, employee engagement strategies focus more on whether employees are engaged (have emotional ties to the job) than whether they are happy (generally positive and with a sense of well-being). The underlying factor behind many of the reasons that employees feel dissatisfied or disengaged is a sense of not being listened to – and this is where engagement programmes can make all the difference.

Companies that really want to engage their teams need to develop an agile approach to listening, and implement programmes that combine pro-active, solicited surveys at key stages of the employee lifecycle with unsolicited, reactive approaches such as online comment boxes and social media sources.

Built upon this fundamental premise of listening, the first wave of ENGAGE’s programme captured feedback that provided the insurer’s leadership team with strategic insight and advice on how engagement could be improved within different segments of the employee population. This gave the team the framework needed to develop and share a set of firm-wide engagement priorities – and drive accountability across the manager population.

At a more local level, people managers and team leaders were also provided with engagement priority analysis that was reflective of their specific employee groups. Initially targeted at just the top 300 managers, the programme was providing 1300 managers with tailored reports about their team’s engagement and how to improve this within 12 months of launch.

It wasn’t enough, however, to simply listen. To add value and act as a catalyst for change, the programme also had to drive action. Taking action not only allows for immediate and long-term business improvements, but also creates a virtuous circle whereby employees are more willing to contribute their views as they see them being utilised to drive positive change.

With this in mind, ENGAGE and Confirmit developed a bespoke platform for the insurer to encourage and capture the outputs of effective and ongoing engagement conversations between employees and their managers.

This is a specifically-designed platform that allows managers to log their plans for team development, and for managers-of-managers to view, track progress, and share successes across all of their teams. Critically, the platform also demonstrates to leaders and managers the impact that making changes will have on the business, creating a culture of proactivity and accountability.

The feedback gathered from the programme is shared across the organisation in multiple ways, all of which aim to ensure individuals and teams can understand the insight obtained and take appropriate action. The organisation’s leadership team receives graphical representations of strategic analysis with narrative backed-up dashboards that show trend and segmented results.

This ‘narrative’ approach to engagement is a key factor in the success of the programme. To get to the heart of change at a cultural level, context and comparison is more meaningful than numbers, charts, and tables. And to obtain this, businesses need to persuade and incite a reaction amongst employees to change the way things are done – one layer at a time.

Employee engagement programmes allow HR leaders to step away from isolated numbers and instead harness a more investigative attitude to uncover stories that bring engagement to life. These ‘stories’ are the testimonies, conversations and feedback from employees about real interactions, both internally and with customers, in real settings.

This information has provided a real education for the insurer’s leadership team in terms of the impact of measuring engagement and taking action on specific areas for improvement. It has also provided insight into the Customer Experience provided by staff, particularly in terms of how they can be empowered to engage with customers, and the extent to which they are engaged with the pace of change around organisational growth.

By sharing engagement insight at the most senior level, all departments now have ownership of employee engagement – not just the HR department.

Since its inception, the insurer’s employee engagement programme has driven an internal evolution. It has become so embedded in the business that people ask when the next wave is coming and are actively seeking to participate. But this evolution hasn’t stopped at the office door.

At the most senior level, the programme is credited with having had a positive impact on the organisation’s structure, culture and competitiveness – and has been recognised by the executive team as a major contributor to bottom line growth.

By implementing comprehensive employee engagement programmes, large, well-established organisations are making a clear statement that they understand the critical role their employees play in corporate success. It’s this fundamental change in corporate behaviours that will drive competition in the future – not just for the best employees, but also for satisfied, loyal, and profitable customers.

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