Established as an Arm’s Length Management Organisation in 2005, Stockport Homes operate independently from, but on behalf of, Stockport Council. Employee engagement has been instrumental in Stockport Homes’ transformation from a council-run division to an award-winning, independent organisation.
We spoke with Liz Chadwick, People and Organisational Development Manager at Stockport Homes, who has been central in their engagement efforts since she joined the business a decade ago. During our chat, Liz spoke about where the organisation was when they started engagement surveying, the actions that have been instrumental in making improvements and how it felt to come top the Best Not For Profit Organisations to Work For 2020 list published by Best Companies.
Following an Auditing Commission inspection in 2005, the report suggested that policies and procedures at the group were in need of review in order to retain their management agreement with the council. To help with this, Stockport Homes needed to demonstrate high performance levels via recognition from an external authority.
Liz and Helen McHale, CEO of Stockport Homes, were the epicentre of the improvement drive that followed, and felt that employee engagement surveying would be a vital part of the organisation’s ability to show its effectiveness. Targeted initiatives for improvement could only be gained by getting honest feedback from the organisation, and this is what started Stockport’s employee engagement journey.
“Early on, the engagement surveying was a win-win as we were getting employee feedback and also gaining recognition” said Liz. Their first few surveys initially showed improvement, as the organisation gained the Best Companies ‘Ones to Watch’ status, followed by back-to-back 2* accreditations for their engagement levels (click here to find out more about Best Companies Index (BCI) Scores and the Best Companies Accreditation standards.)
However, engagement then began declining over the next few years. Liz realised that “Employees felt that we were surveying only for the accreditation, and not for their benefit. This led to disillusion with the process, and we had to work to reframe the survey as a route to understanding our engagement levels and making improvements.
“Because of our declining scores, it was suggested that surveys should be put on hold whilst we get improvement plans in place. Helen was very much against this, saying that this was our line in the sand, that just because we’re declining it doesn’t mean we quit.
“I would say she was absolutely right, because it would’ve been the worst thing to say ‘we’ve gone down, so we think we’re failing’; it gives the wrong message doesn’t it? This is what people are saying and we need to work on it.”
One area that Liz had always considered a strength for engagement at Stockport Homes was the Giving Something Back factor. “Our community outreach work has always been strong, but surveying our people emphasised that our CSR programmes weren’t being communicated well enough.”
Looking through their data, the Giving Something Back factor regularly featured each year as a highly correlated engagement factor for Stockport Homes, indicating that improvement in this area would significantly impact their overall engagement levels. In particular, this resulted in internal communication strategies being developed so that awareness of Stockport Homes’ CSR initiatives was more prevalent.
“Our community outreach work has always been strong, but surveying our people emphasised that our CSR programmes weren’t being communicated well enough.”
Correlation analysis from the past four years also shows that statements from the My Manager factor were significant contributors to the overall engagement levels at Stockport Homes. By analysing employee sentiment in this area across the workplace, Liz and the team were able to establish what needed to change to increase their engagement levels.
Management now gather in quarterly Directorate Management Seminars, where they are able to discuss any prevalent management or communication issues. Additionally, these forums are used to share best practice from different areas of the business, adding to the depth of knowledge that newer managers can access and fostering understanding between teams across Stockport Homes.
As a result, Stockport Homes’ engagement levels in the My Manager and Giving Something Back factors have seen significant increases in positivity.
One area that Liz cites as being vital to their improvement process is their annual staff conference, used to feed back both the highlights and areas for improvement are to colleagues for business objectives and engagement levels. Combined with the manager conferences, these gatherings offer continuous feedback for Liz and the team to digest and act on when considering where to focus next. In turn, new and updated objectives are explained to the business, completing the 360 degree cycle and affirming confidence in the surveying process.
Perhaps the biggest reward has been that managers now realise that engagement is part of their role. “People used to think that engagement belonged to HR, but unless this is backed up by managers and the culture within teams, our engagement efforts aren’t going to have any impact”, said Liz. “It’s taken time to get to this point of ownership and it was one of our hardest battles, but it’s now the cultural norm that engagement isn’t an addition to the role of people managers – it’s central to it.”
“People used to think that engagement belonged to HR, but unless this is backed up by managers and the culture within teams, our engagement efforts aren’t going to have any impact”
Recognition for their engagement levels has helped in a number of ways. “Internally, our people talk about our engagement awards with pride, which is creating new avenues for us to explore. At our staff conferences, we ask employees what we can turn from ordinary to extraordinary. Increasingly, we’re getting more ideas from employees about what we can develop for our customers and community as well as internal improvements, which is driving how we operate and communicate with our stakeholders.”
For Liz and Helen, their first place in the Best Not For Profit Organisations to Work For list in 2020 showed just how far they had come.
Helen said, “We are thrilled to have achieved this number 1 position, moving up to first place is something that we are incredibly proud of. One of our core aims is to be a great place to work, and to support our dedicated staff to deliver excellent services to customers.” Stockport’s Chair of the Board, Jenny Osbourne, also said, “This is an amazing achievement for us, and is the perfect recognition of being an excellent employer. On behalf of the Board I would like to thank all of the teams for their dedication, expertise and passion.”
The hard work for Liz and the team doesn’t stop there though.
“As you can imagine we are delighted at reaching the coveted number one position, however we won’t rest on our laurels and will be working with our team members to enhance their employee experiences, to ensure we continue to be a best company to work for. We would also like to share our journey with others so they can benefit from enhancing engagement within their organisations, so if you would like to chat, please get in touch!”
Liz can be reached by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org
To see Stockport Homes’ full engagement profile, click here.