Case study: Engagement on a budget

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Level 3 Communications created a place where people stay and get involved, without breaking the bank

The company

Level 3 Communications is an American multinational telecommunications and internet service provider company that provides core transport, IP, voice, video and content delivery for medium to large internet carriers across the globe. One of the firm’s key responsibilities is providing Netflix, Apple Music and video content over the internet.

The problem

Is it possible to implement a new engagement strategy without breaking the bank? Emily Green, talent management for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Level 3 Communications, decided to tackle this question. “It’s so easy to just throw money at things,” Green tells HR magazine. “While we do provide financial incentives, we wanted to see what we could do to create a place where people wanted to stay without using lots of our HR budget.”

A major challenge was going to be the wide area the firm covers. As Green’s purview covers all of EMEA the engagement strategy would need to take into account both geographical and cultural differences across continents. However, Green was excited to get started. After all, connecting people is the raison d’etre of Level 3 Communications – so why not apply the same principle to its people strategy?

The method

One of the first parts of the new strategy to be implemented was the creation of employee resources groups (ERGs). The groups unite employees with common ground, such as ethnicity, gender, nationality, lifestyle or sexual orientation, and have helped to lead the way for organic expansion of employee culture.

Despite employees being spread over a wide geographical area Green was keen to ensure they could all take part. “We use our own technology to allow staff from overseas to join via conference calls,” she says. “We sometimes like to encourage employees to share some of their culture – for example, they might bring in some local food, wear their national dress or display their country’s flag.”

Level 3 also introduced a ‘learning month’ when peer-to-peer knowledge transfer is encouraged. “Anyone from within the organisation gets the chance to share something they are passionate about,” Green explains. “That could take the form of a ‘day in the life’ of someone in the business, an explanation of certain aspects of the business, or even something like yoga or nutritional advice.”

Green says it is key that the learning month is led by staff, not HR. “It’s totally voluntary and nobody has to contribute,” she says. “It gives people the chance to practise sharing their ideas, which they might never have done before. They also get to see other parts of the company, which may get them thinking about their career path and where they might like to work with us in the future.”

The firm’s corporate social responsibility strategy proved to be another way to bring people together and breathe life into the engagement strategy. Through a partnership with the Prince’s Trust, Green organised a ‘Palace to Palace’ bike ride, encouraging employees to be sponsored to cycle 45 (or 90) miles for the charity. In another event employees scaled Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Pike in England and Snowdon in

Wales in a three peaks challenge, and some completed the Windsor half marathon, all in the name of giving back to the community.

“This helps teams bond with each other and increase their knowledge of the business,” Green says. “But also giving back to the community can help to give real meaning to their work. Staff really value the chance to make an impact on the places they work.”

Level 3 employees who might fancy a less physical challenge can run a one-day workshop with 16- to 25-year-olds that provides the opportunity to gain insight into the world of work. This day involves a variety of activities including insights into Level 3 and the telecoms industry, office tours, career skills workshops, inspirational speakers and talks from the senior leadership team.

All of this was delivered at very little expense. “The real cost is the soft cost related to the time invested and the resource cost,” says Green. “Almost all (95%) of what we deliver is developed in-house – therefore the labour cost is the most significant aspect.

“That includes the time the employees spend creating the programmes and keeping them running during work hours, as well as employees attending.”

A volunteering project painting a special needs school, for instance, carried a budget of no more than approximately £2,500, which covered things like painting materials, travel and team T-shirts. And the two ERGs run in the EMEA region required less than £1,000 in actual budget.

The result

Level 3’s focus on connections has helped create a network that spans the business. “People now have much more insight into the business as a whole,” Green says. “Staff are getting excited about the potential to move to other areas within the organisation. They see scope for lateral movement, rather than just moving their careers upwards.”

The ERGs have proven to be a major success, with 13% of the EMEA employee population a member of at least one. The benefits of these groups is clear: in the latest employee survey those taking part in the new engagement schemes reported more positive experiences compared to colleagues who have not, including their career growth opportunities, development opportunities, and having the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues across functions and locations.

One of the biggest markers of success for Green was seeing how quickly employees took ownership of the various new approaches. “When employees take over control they are able to bring in what they love and what they are passionate about,” she says. “It’s also helping them to build certain skills, such as leadership and planning. So that has been a great development.”

That means employees have found the groups have helped them in their everyday roles, explains Green. “A major concern at the start was time,” she says. “Employees were worried that if they took control of a group, or even if they took part in one, they wouldn’t have the time to complete their regular job. However, people found that once they were part of a group their usual job took less time because they were better connected to their colleagues. So that problem solved itself.”

Learning Month has been a hit with staff too. Participation has increased by 25% over the past year, with a 100% increase in the number of employees wanting to facilitate a peer-to-peer session. It has also been adopted by other regions within the firm. “It started in EMEA and has spread to our other regions,” says Green. “It is great to see it growing in popularity.”

When it comes to advice for other organisations, Green suggests HR teams do not make staff take part in activities. “You mustn’t force it on people,” she says. “You cannot insist that people have fun. It’s really about listening to individuals, working out what they would find beneficial, and letting it grow from there.

“Use word of mouth to spread your ideas, and let the momentum build from there.”

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