Using employee voice to support a fulfilling and consistent colleague experience
Henry Boot PLC—one of the UK’s leading and longest-standing land, property and development organisations—is the parent company of the Sheffield based Henry Boot Group of Companies who together employ over 500 people directly alongside a large number of contractors.
Committed to creating and maintaining “The Henry Boot Way” across their myriad of businesses all over the UK, they’re on a journey to apply their purpose, vision and values to their people’s daily work—guided by employee voice!
Hive project goals:
- Use employee voice to better measure progress on engagement and experience
- Capture their group culture and unite their businesses as One Henry Boot
- Engage their people with their responsible business strategy, focusing on the issues that matter most to them.
Introducing the Hive Project Team
Let’s introduce two of Henry Boot’s key Hive stakeholders: Rachel White, Head of HR, and Jack Kidder, Responsible Business Manager. Together, Rachel and Jack are able to combine their focus on gathering employee feedback to create a consistent and inclusive employee experience, while engaging people with their work across all aspects of Environmental, Social and Governance.
After introducing their “One Henry Boot” project in 2017—to capture group culture, discover “The Henry Boot Way” and focus on purpose, vision and values—the team partnered with Hive in 2019 to improve how they measure the progress and impact of their people-projects.
Alongside that, they’re tying their people strategy to their responsible business goals—covering everything from their pathway to net zero carbon to their equality, diversity and inclusion commitments. So we caught up with Rachel and Jack to find out more about how employee voice is helping them on their way…
Hey guys! Let’s start with the main purpose of your Hive project and an overview of how employee voice is contributing to the bigger picture at Henry Boot.
Rachel: “Until recently, our businesses have been operating exclusively of each other despite there being a lot of commonality across the sectors, so our aim is to try to bring about collaboration. We see our employee engagement and feedback strategies as a way of bringing those businesses together as one, which is reflected in our earlier One Henry Boot project. The narrative of what we’re trying to achieve is about our businesses working alongside each other, collaborating together and sharing best practices.”
Jack: “And Hive plays a part in that because gathering feedback allows us to capture the independent experiences of our different businesses. It helps us to create a picture of what it’s like to work at Henry Boot overall; some of our subsidiaries will have their own identities and experiences, but there are some traits that you want to be across-group to create a universal culture. So it’s been really useful in terms of seeing where our culture is currently at, regardless of location, to uncover the Henry Boot way of doing things.”
So, can you tell us a little about the other initiatives Henry Boot runs to really paint a picture of your wider people strategy?
Rachel: “Our Hive project follows on from a big project around our vision, values and purpose that we kicked off in 2017. We collaborated with a variety of employee working groups from across our businesses to figure out what those things meant for them as well as what they meant for us as a business. But what was really missing was our ability to measure our progress and gather feedback from everyone; the project was a big cultural shift for us and we needed the right tools to be able to provide us with the necessary insights to do something meaningful.”
Jack: “As a business, we claim that ‘our people are our greatest asset’ and for this to be authentic we need to engage with our people to continually understand what it’s like to work for us and what the challenges are. A big part of my role as the Responsible Business Manager is working with Rachel and our HR team on how to be responsible to our people, and continuously gathering feedback provides good foundations for us to do that.
We also kicked off our employee forums around the same time that we launched Hive as a way to supplement what we’re doing. It’s not just an annual survey and then nothing in between—we’re asking the important things when we need to ask them and giving people constant opportunities to feed back to senior management. We’re taking a bigger picture view with it all.”
Now, let’s dive into the responsible business angle. Can you tell us about your responsible business strategy and how employee feedback plays a role in that?
Jack: “Sure! We’re currently working our way through phase one of our responsible business strategy, which is very much about launching: how we’re tackling climate change, how we’re becoming more diverse and inclusive, and how we’re trying to become an even stronger corporate citizen. But it can be dangerous if you throw too much at people too early on. Right now is about communicating our ambitions to excite and engage people. It’s important that everyone is interested and included.
One of the first things I did when starting my role was spend time with colleagues to capture their views on how we engage with the community. A huge part of delivering our responsible business strategy is consistently connecting with our people to make sure we’re aware of the issues that are most material to them, so we’ll be incorporating those kinds of questions into the surveys we already run.
Hive has helped to gather feedback on the ED&I strand of our responsible business strategy in particular. We’re still in the early stages—but our Hive surveys have provided us some useful insight ahead of deciding which direction to take our ED&I strategy. We’ve captured where we are now plus how appealing and accessible we are as an employer to understand if we need to break down any barriers to those who want to come and work for us.
We’ll continuously seek people’s feedback as we move forward because a big part of our success will be making sure we’re able to have honest conversations with colleagues. If people feel involved, like they have a voice and can influence these types of projects then they’re going to be thinking about our business in a very different way.”
And what about when the pandemic hit? We know your plans changed but you’ve continued to gather the feedback that matters most—so can you tell us about how you shifted your priorities?
Rachel: “We did a COVID survey using Hive to understand how people were feeling and get their thoughts on the situation and we ran a future of work survey to understand what people want the future to look like at Henry Boot. Those are the types of conversations that don’t happen organically on a wider scale, so surveys were great for gathering that insight. Then, we used the results from those surveys to inform some of the questions in our most recent engagement survey to tie everything together.”
Jack: “One thing that we had to take into consideration was how often we were sending out our surveys. Obviously, topics like COVID and the future of work are key issues and you absolutely have to gather feedback on those things, but what we had to try and avoid was asking for too much feedback all at once. Too many and people may start to feel fatigued with the process, whereas when it’s more periodical it can feel more meaningful. So one thing we did do is delay our annual engagement survey during that time so we could focus on the more pressing issues.”
Rachel: “It was quite gratifying because we were able to see that, even during a pandemic, people felt safe and secure at work and felt like they had good job security. But what was really interesting was the commonalities across our businesses where people thought we could improve. They were things that were already on my radar, but knowing that they were front of mind for our people made them higher priorities.”
So now that you’re armed with those insights, what’s next on the agenda?
Rachel: “We saw three key themes in our results: promotion decisions, performance management, and being able to switch-off outside of working hours. These have become three priorities within our employee forums across all of our subsidiaries to gather their ideas and input into what we could do differently to improve.
We’re already drawing up our conclusions with the results, one of which will be our agile working framework that’s being released into the business next month. We’re feeding the survey results into that strategy to help promote truly agile working—not just work from home—and help people better manage their work-life balance and not feel like they have to be available at all times. We wouldn’t have gotten the level of detail we did from across our businesses without the survey, and we may not have had the conversations we’re having right now without that.”
That’s what we like to hear—it’s all about action! Speaking about action… How have you found working with our People Science team?
Rachel: “Working with People Science is really, really interesting. I worked with Jen (Head of People Science) and I found it very engaging. In the beginning, Jen spent time in the business to really understand us and our goals, as well as spending some time with our employee engagement group to talk about what it’s like to work for Henry Boot. From that, she established a set of standard questions unique to us which we now replicate year on year so we can track our growth and improvements in these areas. That process has been invaluable in helping us gather meaningful insights without being too overcomplicated.
Simply put, Jen was interested in wanting to know more about our business, asking all of the right questions without being too intrusive and she got right to the heart of what we were looking to achieve really easily. It just felt like we were kindred spirits; Jen got us and we got her and that was amazing.”
Music to our ears! Finally, we have to ask… Why did you choose Hive as your employee voice partner?
Rachel: “When we went out to market, the main thing I was looking for in a partner was a business that resonated with us and would enable us to do something really meaningful. Right from the beginning, one of my concerns in choosing a partner was that we didn’t want anything overly corporate in case we ran the risk of putting people off. Whether that’s the language of the questions, the flow of the questions, the ease of the platform, the way the provider worked with us… but Hive was a great fit.
Another big part of it for us is the confidentiality aspect. While we have other internal initiatives—like our employee forums—we wanted to give people the right platform to be able to speak up about the things that they might find difficult to raise in person. It’s important to have a bit of both; we want people to have a sense of psychological safety to consistently feed in what they’re thinking.”