“Empowering employees” and “giving employees a voice” are two of the most relevant phrases in the realm of HR and employee experience. However, as the old saying goes, saying it and doing it are two different things.
One company that has made employee empowerment and employee feedback part of its operating system is the fast-growing e-commerce company Lazy Susan, a manufacturer and retailer of garden furniture serving customers throughout Europe and Asia.
Asking for employee feedback during a time of change
Lazy Susan recently made a significant shift to an employee-led leadership model, transitioning away from the founder-led approach that had served the company well since its founding in 2007. As part of the re-founding process, the company fielded its first comprehensive employee engagement survey using Engagement Multiplier, which included an assessment of the workforce’s engagement levels across multiple dimensions and invited direct employee feedback.
That first employee engagement survey generated an Engagement Score of 71.4, which is just a few points under Engaged status, along with an impressive 100% participation rate.
The Engagement Score is a holistic measure of the organisation’s total level of engagement, and how present, focused, and energised employees feel at work. Organisations scoring 75 or higher have achieved Engaged status.
“We were pleased with our results – we were in the 70s and it was a good place to start from,” said Ben Wheatley, the company’s head of people and planning. “We were delighted that we had 100% participation. “Everyone thought it was a good thing to hear what the employees thought,” noted Ben.
The employee feedback came at an advantageous time for the company’s leaders and department heads, who were in the process of taking on more responsibilities as a result of the new leadership model. Three distinct themes emerged as a result of the employee engagement survey results:
- More focus on the company’s purpose and values
- A better idea of the big picture and the company’s future plans
- A desire for more clarity around job descriptions and responsibilities
Turning employee feedback into action
With the employee feedback in hand, the newly-expanded leadership team got to work, creating action plans for each category. However, they didn’t do it all themselves – employees were involved from the outset as well.
Living company values
At the time of the survey, Ben admits the company had five values that “you could probably find anywhere.”
“We started anew and said ‘Right-if our purpose is to encourage people to enjoy the outdoors, and we do this by caring about our customers, products, the environment, products, and team, what are our behaviours to do with that?” he told us.
They went back to their employees and asked for suggestions for each of those four areas. From there, two teams comprising non-executive employees were formed: Team & Community, and Products & Customers. These teams were charged with turning employee suggestions into company actions, which ranged from securing health insurance for employees to planning the company’s charitable works.
“It’s empowering the individuals in the company to have influence over these things that are about our values, our environment, and how we work together,” Ben noted.
Connecting employees to the bigger picture
Improved communication from leaders and a desire for the big picture view were other top feedback items from Lazy Susan employees.
In response, the company started a monthly employee newsletter that was initially used to share company news and updates on the value of work and the action plan resulting from the engagement survey findings.
Since the inception of the newsletter, both the volume and tempo of communication have increased. Now published weekly, the employee newsletter also concentrates on celebrating successes. Department heads are responsible for the contribution from their areas of responsibility.
The newsletter is continuing to grow and evolve, Ben told us, noting that the company is thinking of adding an “employee of the week” function.
Providing role clarity
Feedback from the employee survey also made it clear that employees wanted more well-defined job descriptions. As it turns out, doing that work created a cascade of benefits for the company and its people.
“We went further than perhaps the initial remit,” said Ben. “The new job descriptions got tied to the key outputs for each role. And therefore, we got a new appraisal system out of this, and now people feel they are much more fairly evaluated.”
“People are much clearer about the job that they do, and we can reward great performance,” Ben continued. “It has had profound engagement and productivity consequences.”
Improving trust and employee turnover with employee feedback
By incorporating employee feedback into their operations, and involving employees in developing the plans for turning input into action, Lazy Susan increased trust between leaders and employees at a time when it was particularly important.
Arming department heads and other managers with employee feedback they could use to guide their future planning proved to employees that leadership was listening.
Empowering employees and involving them in making the plans a reality, brought people together, gave them ownership over the employee experience, and delivered focused improvements that are important to the company and its people.
Employee turnover remains low, and the Lazy Susan has reached Engaged status in just its third survey, meaning employees are scoring the organisation and their experience in the upper quartile of the Engagement Multiplier scoring matrix.
Scores in the “Engaged” range mean that the workplace enables people to show up feeling present, focused, and energised at work. People have the tools, training, support, and motivation to do their jobs and do them well. They enjoy their work and their colleagues, and the environment is positive and one that people value. Engagement scores are an empiric way to measure whether or not a company is a good place to work, and those that achieved Engaged status, like Lazy Susan, have truly earned that accolade from their people.