Following three wins at this year’s Employee Experience Awards, CEO of Northern Gas Networks (NGN), Mark Horsley, explains why a pioneering new approach to leadership and empowering employees is proving successful for the North of England’s gas distributor.

NGN is responsible for delivering gas to 6.8 million customers across the North of England. We own and maintain a vast underground pipe network spanning 37,000 km, which keeps 2.7 homes and businesses in the North East, northern Cumbria and Yorkshire warm and cooking on gas.

Our people play a vital role in our region – from emergency engineers who are on the streets 7 days a week, 365 days a year, to our customer care officers who work closely with our customers and stakeholders. Our team of 2,000 colleagues also includes our 800 strong partner workforce, consisting of more than 30 local engineering businesses.

When I joined the organisation in 2011 my ambition for NGN was to be the Best and achieve number one status for customer satisfaction within first gas distribution, then utilities, then UK business as a whole.

Recognising that positive employee engagement and excellent customer service are issues that are undoubtedly intertwined I believed that we needed to take a new approach to employee engagement to be able to improve the quality of service that we offer to our millions of customers.

One of the first things that I introduced was a weekly CEO led customer experience meeting with senior managers from across the business. This placed a renewed focus on customer performance and created a forum for complaints to be analysed each week and the root cause investigated. Once this rigour had been established the meetings evolved to encourage any colleague to freely put their ideas forward and ask questions of managers in an open forum. This gave everyone the opportunity to make their own decisions and share their ideas to improve customer experience. This meeting is now a weekly open discussion led and attended by colleagues at all levels across the business and it has resulted in motivated staff and increased customer satisfaction.

We’re committed to ensuring that everyone is given the opportunity to progress though the business and invest £2.4million each year in to the growth, development and career aspirations of our colleagues at NGN. We introduced our training and learning facility, inspire Academy, in 2013. Through the Academy and the ‘inspire’ approach we offer people a structured way to make their thoughts, feelings and observations about the business known and provide support to colleagues in their personal learning and development.

Our whole approach is centred on respecting that we’re all adults and the power to change the business lies with each individual, not just senior management. I operate an open door policy and welcome anyone who wants to discuss any issues or ideas. This has created an environment where employees feel empowered to make a difference. Colleagues support each other to deliver a better external service and this has helped to improve customers’ opinions of NGN.

Our company culture has completely changed without having implemented a rigid culture change programme and the results speak for themselves. People want to work with us – we are now receiving higher levels of applications for every role and our sickness absence percentage has reduced and NGN now has the most engaged employees of any utility business in the UK as well as the highest customer satisfaction rating. We are also outperforming some of the UK’s top retail companies in terms of both employee engagement and customer experience which wouldn’t have happened without our change in approach to colleague empowerment.

Our excellent customer service has recently been recognised at the National Business Awards, the UK Customer Experience Awards and the UK Customer Satisfaction Awards. This is in addition to our most recent wins at the UK Employee Experience Awards, which recognises companies that are delivering an outstanding employee experience which results in a great service for the customer and the business as a whole.

We were up against household names including Virgin Money, LV= and BT and took home gongs for Employee Insight and Feedback and Employee Engagement — People at the Heart. I was also honoured to personally receive the Inspirational Leader or Manager Award – something that just wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the fantastic team at NGN.

Our success is now being acknowledged by fellow utility companies British Gas, National Grid, Scottish Power, Northumbrian Water and Wales & West Utilities and non-utility companies including Superdrug, Nat West and RBS – all of whom have visited us to find out more about how we’ve achieved such a huge improvement so quickly.

To be recognised not just within our own industry, but in other sectors across the UK is a huge achievement. However this is just the first step. We will continue to invest in the skills of our people, improving processes and technology and set further challenges as we strive to be the best to ensure that we have a happy workforce as well as happy customers.

Mark Horsley
Mark Horsley

Mark Horsley has been Chief Executive Officer of Northern Gas Networks Limited (NGN) since 2011. He has almost 40 years of experience in the energy sector. In the four years since joining NGN the company has transformed its approach to customer service, securing nine accolades for customer experience in the last 12 months. Mark has held a number of senior appointments in the industry including being an Equity Partner and Head of Power Distribution at EC Harris, an international built asset consultancy; Strategy and Central Programmes Director at Scottish Power; and President and Chief Operating Officer at CE Electric UK. Mark held the post of Chairman of the UK Energy Networks Association from 2004 to 2006, and was appointed Chairman of the Energy Innovation Centre (EIC) in 2014.

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