Engaging Orbit Group employees in shaping the strategy for 2013 – 2020
The Orbit Group is one of England’s largest housing association groups. Founded over 40 years ago, it now owns and manages an asset base of around 37,000 homes across the Midlands, East Anglia, London and the South East. It employs 1,700 staff and operates from 27 offices, working in around 120 local authority areas.
Orbit requested help in delivering an employee engagement programme around Orbit 2020, an initiative designed to shape their future vision, strategy and transformation plans for 2013-2020 with the involvement of all their key stakeholders – including employees. The brief was to provide lean, focused support to deliver an effective, impactful employee engagement programme with creativity and innovation. Orbit were looking for a series of engaging interventions, to enable their employees to understand what this means for them, their business and the Orbit Group and provide feedback into the project, addressing key challenges such as including anxiety about change.
Our approach reflected our beliefs and experience on how to communicate initiatives to engage employees effectively in developing a new vision and strategy. These activities had the following objectives;
- To generate understanding and engagement people needed to be involved face to face with high quality supporting tools / materials
- To really own Orbit 2020 when it was launched, people needed to feel that they had been involved in developing the vision and strategy and that their input had been reflected in the final plans
- This initial engagement programme was just the start – the initiative needed to be continually reinforced through the existing communication channels, with real life stories showing how employees (and the other key stakeholders) were heavily involved in developing Orbit 2020
- This kind of programme is a great opportunity to further develop an organisation’s internal communications approach by strengthening their face to face activity.
Working together with Helen Burgoyne and the Orbit 2020 project team we developed and delivered various elements of engagement activity which enabled employees to have the opportunity to help management really understand what it was like on the front line and to share their ideas and aspirations for the future of Orbit. This activity helped to bring to life what the residents were experiencing and the challenges employees faced, both now and in the future, thus ensuring that investment in future initiatives and changes was directed in the right places.
One of the first ways of achieving this was through ‘World Cafes’. A World Cafe is a great process for engaging employees in key issues that impact on them, bringing people together to work collaboratively on a common challenge – making it ideal for involving employees in strategy development. It is essentially a structured, facilitated brainstorm in an informal environment using positive questioning to set an engaging atmosphere.
Badged as a “Conversation that matters”, Orbit employees discussed the key issues by responding to three big questions, completing three rounds of conversation in different groups. TYL has adapted the original World Cafe process to make it more action-orientated to produce tangible outputs. These engaging events were very well received by Orbit Group employees. Employee feedback from the world cafes told us these conversations with coffee and cake were very good with overall scores equating to 8 / 10 where 10 is excellent. Below are a couple of illustrative comments.
“The World Café made me feel very confident about putting my views forward and felt I was being listened to. I felt Inspired, interested and engaged.”
“I am excited about the future of Orbit because new ideas are being broached but social message has not been lost. They included staff in their planning.”
These events have been successfully built upon with additional engagement activity including ‘graffiti walls’, live chat sessions with directors, straw polls for key questions, line manager monthly updates for team meeting discussions and a very regularly updated and interactive intranet site.
The overall engagement programme of activity was received very positively with lots of the various elements receiving good feedback and the project team finding the support very useful.
Here’s what Helen Burgoyne, Orbit 2020 Programme Senior Manager said about our support:
“Talking Your Language (TYL) quickly understood the complexities and many parts of the Orbit Group together with the various external challenges we were facing and delivered to a high standard. I particularly liked the very collaborative approach Helen Thomas from TYL took in developing the engagement and communications activities with the project team, leaving us with practical tools and expert knowledge and advice which we can really use.
“Knowing that many Housing Associations across the UK are facing similar challenges and changes I would be confident in recommending Talking Your Language to anyone planning major changes to their organisation.”