Monday 17 December 2012

#E4S case studies - BT, Capital One...


DSCN4993   As well as hearing from academics, we’ve got a couple of sessions from practitioners today. In fact, we’ve also got a session on ‘how can academic research help practice?’, which I’m really looking forward to, later on today.

But after a couple of these I was beginning to worry whether these case study sessions were going to live up to the challenge that E4S provides and David Guest described earlier - if there’s been such as huge management cock-up as there certainly has, we don’t get out of it by a slight shift in management as usual.


As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry as there were a couple of impressive case studies:

Firstly, BT, which has an interesting approach which was presented well by their head of engagement, Sharon Darwent.

But I still think their approach fits too much within existing management paradigms.  Eg Sharon was talking about how data obsessed their people are and therefore emphasised the need for her to provide data. So she took us through more of the data from the ‘Nailing the Evidence’ report and some of the key data points from within BT too. Both of these are powerful. In BT in particular Sharon is able to show that the company’s 34% disengagement costs them £2 bn in salaries. This really got the accountants’ attention.

Yes, but does approaching engagement from an accountant’s perspective ever work? Or do we need to change the way many accountants think? (see for example this post on Mohan Pai’s move from Finance to HR.) I think it’s this accountancy mentality that often gets in the way of engagement and that providing data can sometimes add to the problem rather than provide the answer. An example is BT’s policy of giving feedback on their team’s engagement levels to every manager of more than 50 people. That certainly shows how important the company believes engagement to be, but I believe it can also put more focus on the transactional vs transformational approach to engagement.

I was also bemused that the presentation didn’t include anything about BT’s journey to organisational health which to me provides the most important context for engagement within that company currently.

Having said all this, it’s an impressive case study, and does show some signs of moving to a more human approach as well – eg in that half of BT’s engagement survey questions are now qualitative so that they don’t lead peoples’ responses.


However, I thought a rather better demonstration of the transformational opportunity for engagement was provided by Karen Bowes at Capital One. That’s partly just because of the improvement in engagement levels they’ve see there – see the graph at the top of this post. (And OK, I realise it must have been relatively easy to improvement engagement from their previous level of 26% particularly as these were exceptionally low as they followed a downsizing of the organisation from 2,500 to 1,000 employees following the failure of their earlier business strategy.  But building this up to 83% is highly impressive regardless of the low start.)

But I also thought Capital One’s approach demonstrated what I was suggesting is important before - ie a sound logical framework, executed with emotional understanding.

The thing which was most important for Capital One was what E4S define as a strategic narrative (one of the four enablers). This is articulated in the company’s new vision, ‘Let’s Make Lives Better’ which come from the heart of their CEO. For employees, the company has committed to ‘dare to be the best’. Making this real has involved admitting they’ve had a problem in the past (a bit like being an alcoholic) which has included assuming that call centre staff, particularly in an outsourced environment, don’t care - they now realise they got that wrong.

The second priority has been engaging leaders and managers first (E4S’ second enabler) and the third has been sorting the basics eg IT and free milk???

Capital One have got data too, but it’s the qualitative kind that Karen spent most time on - the fact that they’re now the UK’s second highest Great Place to Work - and this quote:


“Capital One is part of my life, not just a pace I work. I love it and it’s made me a better person.”


OK, we can’t expect everyone to engage like this but we’d all benefit if we recruit people who can, and then provide the environment in which they can do so.


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