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Employee empowerment key, says Northern Gas Network HRD

Empowering employees key to turning round low levels of employee engagement

Empowering employees has been key to turning round low levels of employee engagement and customer satisfaction, Northern Gas Networks’ (NGN) HR director Susan Wareham has told HR magazine.

The energy company, which won three awards at the UK Employee Experience Awards, decided it needed to take action when its 2012 employee engagement survey found people didn’t feel loyal or a sense of belonging to the company. NGN had also scored poorly in Ofgem’s regular customer satisfaction survey.

“We knew we needed to do something different,” Wareham told HR magazine. “We needed to start a process where employees felt more empowered. So we set up our ongoing Inspire programme. We took a very small number of people, put them in a room, talked about the business’s strategy and said: ‘What ideas have you got?’

“They then go away and influence other people to take ownership of the company strategy and find solutions to challenges. We call that Influencing Circles.”

NGN also started a coaching strategy where employees hold informal sessions on their area of expertise. “We find people are very proud to talk about their subject areas,” said Wareham.

Wareham added that empowering employees extends to formulation of HR policy. “We talk to people first to get their ideas and find out what’s important to them,” she said.

She explained that other positive changes have included not talking about training and engagement initiatives individually, in order to ensure a cohesive, long-term and sustainable HR approach. “We are very careful we don’t call things initiatives, projects or culture change programmes. If you label them like that they come and go and become history,” she said.

NGN also won two awards at the 2015 UK Customer Satisfaction Awards. Wareham credited improved customer satisfaction with the above culture change, noting that customer satisfaction and employee engagement are inextricably linked.

Awards won at the UK Employee Experience Awards included 'Employee Insight and Feedback and Employee Engagement – People at the Heart', and 'Inspirational Leader or Manager', awarded to NGN CEO Mark Horsley.