Managers should show employees they care by hearing and valuing their ideas – an approach championed by one telecoms giant
“As a senior manager in BT I have to deliver results but I can only do this if everyone in my team knows where they fit in,” says Gary Stuart, general manager for outside broadcast.
In his previous job, Stuart saved the business several millions of pounds he argues, simply by listening to the people who worked for him. “By talking to the guys on the frontline, we came up with some fantastic ideas that we would never have thought of otherwise,” Stuart says.
“People need to know that as managers, we value their knowledge and expertise; and care about what they think.”
This style of management is a key priority in BT’s employee engagement approach as all managers are expected to hold regular engagement meetings with their teams where they talk about the company’s goals, listen to how people are feeling about their work and discuss ways that the team can do an even better job, explains head of employee engagement at BT Sharon Darwent. “People want managers who care about them but who can also stretch and develop them,” she adds.
BT has always had a strong employee commitment but when the economy got tougher, senior leaders renewed their emphasis on engagement, realising this would help the company to get through some very challenging business conditions.
The logic is simple: engaged people perform better and this makes for happier customers and improved business results. BT’s own research shows, for example, that their engaged teams are much more productive than their less-engaged colleagues.
Getting the basics right is fundamental to engaging employees, says Darwent. “We make sure people have the tools they need to do the job well.” This means having clear objectives so they know what’s expected of them and having the skills to do it as well and the authority to make decisions. It also means giving people opportunities to learn, develop and grow through training or special projects.
Sound management is an important part of enabling this development but so too is solid teamwork – whether it’s collaboration within teams or across teams. “Strong teamwork is essential for us, so we encourage people to support each other, no matter what part of the business they work in and to give each other feedback,” Darwent says.
Senior leaders also have a major role to play in engaging BT’s 89,000 global workers. Visibility is key, so the firm’s senior leaders run regular meetings, forums and road shows with staff across the country where they discuss business priorities and corporate goals. “People need to feel confident that BT’s leaders have set the right direction for the business and are honest with them about the progress we are making,” Darwent says.
It can’t all be hard work, and to add an element of fun – as well as embed its ideals of engagement – BT runs a range of initiatives such as the Best Boss in BT competition which celebrates the best managers in the business; or the Challenge Cup where teams compete against each other to come up with great ideas to improve customer service.
However, great jobs, excellent management and inspiring leadership can only take employee engagement so far. BT people also need to feel that extra connection to what the business stands for, it’s aims and values. It’s not surprising therefore, that BT sees employee engagement as a core part of a sustainability agenda that is geared towards serving the community it works within and sells to.
BT encourages staff to get involved in a range of voluntary activities including helping out in local schools, raising more than £1m for Sport Relief and, this summer, volunteering for the Olympics. On a basic level these activities develop a broader sense of teamwork, bringing together people across the business who might otherwise never have met. But they do far more than that, argues chief sustainability officer Niall Dunne, because they show employees that they can make a difference – to the business, to the environment and to society.
“If you can bring together social purpose, environmental purpose and financial purpose, you have an opportunity to engage people in a way other organisations simply don’t,” Dunne says. “And only by connecting our people’s talent, energy and enthusiasm with a higher purpose beyond the bottom line, can we get to be the agile organisation we need to be.”