After your engagement data has been returned and shared across your organisation, it can be really difficult to figure out what to do next. There may be wider initiatives put in place that address common themes from the organisation-wide data, but these might not touch the larger issues in different teams’ engagement levels.
This is where action planning can make all the difference. Rather than leaving all the next steps to your HR team, including the whole organisation shares the ownership of how you can better your engagement levels and allows employees to invest more qualitative feedback into your engagement planning. We'll explore this in more detail, and review some best practice from NHS Business Services Authority, who's action planning efforts helped lead to a 16% increase in their BCI score for 2020.
What is action planning?
In short, action planning involves running workshops designed to generate actions to improve engagement in your organisation.
There are three objectives to these workshops:
As actions need to be something that employees can take ownership of, it’s important to keep in mind what topics you’ll discuss. We’ll discuss this in a little more depth later, but areas of engagement like managerial change and pay aren’t things that employees can take charge of, therefore shouldn’t be something that come up in your workshops. It’s important to emphasise that employee feelings about these areas have been captured and will be discussed, however the workshop outcomes should include areas such as personal growth opportunities, wellbeing initiatives and team actions.
Everyone! Though potentially difficult for larger companies, workshops are an essential tool to improving employee engagement as these conversations inspire ideas that usually won’t be thought about by individuals alone. Including all employees invites a breadth of experience that means ideas can be well-reasoned, and reinforces confidence in your engagement planning.
To keep the group concise and ensure all opinions can be heard, we recommend a maximum of 30 people per workshop. This could be a whole group within your organisation, or several teams in a department pulled together. However the headcount is made up, the employee engagement data used needs to be relevant to them.
Each workshop will need one or two facilitators, who ideally should be the manager or leaders of the attendees. The facilitator’s role is to create an open and relaxed environment and we recommend that they don’t take part on the workshop activities as this may impact other employees from expressing themselves truly.
NHS Business Services Authority, a Ones to Watch organisation with over 3000 employees, managed their action planning sessions by ensuring their managers understood the goal and that session sizes were moderated. Initially, the organisation held a call with Best Companies and organisation managers, highlighting the expectations of the workshops and how to deliver them. In smaller teams, sessions were run as full-team exercises, whereas larger operational areas were split into multiple workshops and orchestrated to include a good cross-representation of teams.
What should the workshops include?
The workshop groups need a focus, otherwise the session can become more of a venting session than an attentive effort to develop ideas! Using your engagement data, we suggest running the workshops with a ‘1 to Celebrate, 3 to Improve’ mentality, where the workshop focuses on one positive result from the data, and three areas that need more attention.
From each area of focus, the aim is to find actionable steps that build on the engagement strengths and weaknesses from your data.
For the area of strength, sharing examples of this engagement strength will help to highlight what is done well, and what best practice from this group might be shared throughout the organisation. For example, if teamwork is highlighted as an area of strength, an attendee’s example might be ‘the team helped me out when they could see I was struggling’.
For improvement areas, we want to encourage employees to open up about where the organisation is now, and where they want it to be in the future. When these are realised, the focus can shift towards bridging the gap between the two; what actions are going to get us to our desired outcome?
That’s the final question to pose to the workshop for each improvement area, and ideally we’re looking for 5-6 actionable tasks that would lead to the vision that employees want to see. Discussing how each task’s progress is shared and measured will also help ensure any efforts in future are more likely to lead to the engagement outcomes you want to see.
Do remember to thank employees at the end of each workshop. This isn’t just a courtesy; their contributions are central to the success of your employee engagement improvement and thanking them for their time underlines that their input is important.
After the workshops have concluded, the different ideas will need to be reviewed and any outcomes fed back to the departments and teams. If there are similar objectives across functions, it might be appropriate to mix these together to avoid duplication of efforts.
Employee Ownership – How to drive successful objectives
After the review period, the final objectives should be announced, as well as the owner of each objective.
It’s fundamental that each action has a champion that is responsible for the action moving forward. Be it a person or a group, sharing ownership of these initiatives allows HR teams more time to coordinate employee engagement efforts, but more importantly gives employees the chance to personally invest in improving the organisation’s engagement.
In NHS Business Services Authority, different parts of the organisation approached their ownership differently. In one area, volunteers were sought for small working groups, with each group being responsible for helping to create and then take ownership of one of the actions. Leadership Team events were held to address connection with leadership messages, including conference-style events to talk about strategy and goals, and senior leadership members travelling to different sites to talk about their roles and meeting individuals across the business.
Each objective’s success criteria should also be made public. This is not to pressure the owner/s, it’s to emphasise that the initiative is in place, progress is being made and encourage others to get involved if they think they can help. There’s lots of different ways to make these initiatives public, and your intranet or platforms such as Trello or 7Geese are great ways of showing not only who’s leading an initiative, but what progress has been made.
Following on from workshops…
As time unfolds, initiatives should start to become visible throughout the organisation and have an impact on employee engagement.
The feedback from NHS Business Services Authority’s sessions started a change in belief that employee engagement would improve as a result. Some of the more localised actions, such as providing more time to interact with events and communications coming from internal services, are also having a positive impact on colleagues’ connection with the business.
After a few months, it can be helpful to re-measure employee engagement levels to see if the new actions are having the desired effect. It can be overkill to run another full survey, especially if there was a particular area you were focusing on, which is why we would recommend pulse survey at this point in time as a temperature check on how you are doing. A subscription with Best Companies enables you to use b-Heard pulse surveys for creating sustainable employee engagement.