Steve Jobs once said “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” A quote which has inspired me throughout my life both personally and professionally. As my career has progressed, I’ve evolved the quote to include: “and the environment and people in which you do it with” as it’s been the people in particular I’ve met along the way who have helped motivate me and get to where I am today.
I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had times when we haven’t been able to ‘love what we do’. I remember a chilly 12 months working for a well known supermarket stacking freezer shelves, which proved difficult at times but it was the people and the ‘workplace culture’ which helped make up for the frostbitten fingers.
Employee engagement strategies have been proven to reduce staff turnover as well as improve productivity and efficiency. From my past experience engaged employees are happier both inside and outside of work. When you’re engaged, it infuses everything you do with purpose, energy, and enthusiasm. Since starting at Indigo Swan back in November one thing in particular which has stood out to me is the positive culture and how James plays a vital role in making sure the swans are happy and healthy. When I asked him what employee engagement meant to him, he explained “Employee engagement is a combination of 3 things. The first is that you have a clear vision as a company and one that all employees understand, can relate to and buy in to. Secondly, it’s about being there for your staff, even if it is just the little things. It could be a simple thank you at the end of the day or a quick 15-minute chat about something that is bothering them, nothing should be too much.” He added “Thirdly and maybe most importantly it is about collaboration. It’s about moving in the same direction, learning from each other and working together to achieve the overall goal, whilst allowing everyone to be the best versions of themselves.”
I asked James why Employee Engagement is important and he suggested that the only way to grow as a company and to be as successful as you can be is by having an engaged workforce. “At Indigo Swan we’re proud to have a 76% engaged workforce. With the UK average of 17%, we’re in an extremely strong position to achieve our company goals and more importantly the personal and professional goals of each of the swans.” James added: “I want Indigo Swan to be somewhere people can come and be themselves, work hard, be rewarded and in turn contribute to the success I know we can have as a company.”
As he plays such a big part in motivating and engaging the swans I was keen to find out what engages him. Simply put, it’s seeing people do well and seeing people develop. James went on to say “I’m lucky to work somewhere that I genuinely feel engaged from the moment I walk in each morning. Within 5 minutes of being in each morning, someone will have asked a question that gets me thinking, gets me wanting to discuss, wanting to coach and wanting to help them either find a solution, increase their knowledge or simply help them to decide what to have for breakfast! Working with the team to achieve their personal goals and working on new ways that we can innovate, become more efficient and create more of a buzz within our sector is what drives me.”
During the fairly short amount of time I have been here I’ve already been involved in a few of the internal initiatives to help us feel engaged and able to make a difference. One of those was the yearly Employee Engagement survey also known as the ‘Swan Happiness Survey’. Afterwards there’s a morning session where the results get presented back to everyone and there’s some time to discuss and come up with ideas on how we can improve in certain areas that we didn’t perform quite so well in.
James mentioned how 2019 is the year of learning at Indigo Swan, he added: “We will be launching our ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions which will focus on numerous topics. We will be exploring wellbeing, health and fitness, public speaking tips and how to get over phone fear, Business Buddhism and many more.”
The other two initiatives that came to mind for James were the ‘Brainbox’ and ‘Cygnot’ process. “The ‘Brainbox’ is the opportunity for anyone within the company to submit an idea. This idea could be role specific, or it could be a new process or an idea for a social or new piece of office furniture. Every idea will be looked at and reviewed and every idea will receive feedback. If we can do it, then great, let’s allow the person whose idea it was to champion it. If we can’t then let’s not ignore it, let’s explain why, park it and revisit it in the future. The ‘Cygnot’ process is very much linked to our no blame culture at Indigo Swan. If someone has made a mistake, we want to learn from it. How did it happen? What could we do differently next time? These are all questions we will ask and again encourage the relevant member of the team to work on, so that we are constantly improving and so that the team is fully engaged with our processes and performance.”
We started talking about James’s approach and methods he uses to help keep a positive culture at Indigo Swan. He explained: “It’s about being there for the team, having an open door and always being willing to listen. If it’s a work problem, we are here to help, if it’s a personal problem, then we are also here to help. Whether it’s listening or giving advice myself and the other leaders in the company want to be there to support the swans. If we are there for them, then they will want to do well, they will want to see the company succeed, they will take ownership of what they do. To have 22 people all feeling that level of ownership and knowing they work in a safe environment, where people care, is extremely powerful.”
From James’s viewpoint, Indigo Swan has grown from a family business to over 20 employees, whilst keeping the same core values it had 8 years ago and the same level of engagement. “I feel like we have created our own little family. People feel safe at Indigo Swan, but also challenged and encouraged to be the very best versions of themselves. The employees know Emily and I care. We care that they are getting everything they can out of their time at Indigo Swan and in turn they reward each other by caring for each other, helping each other and believing in the vision and the direction of the company.”
For James one of the main reasons we continuously track and monitor engagement levels is so that we can make sure nothing is missed. He explained that last year they changed the appraisal format and this year they’ve launched the ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions as a result of some of the feedback they received in the ‘Swan Happiness’ survey. “If we didn’t monitor engagement, then these areas of our Employee Engagement, could have remained lower than we would have liked and the team wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come up with such great ideas. You can never stand still. We always want to be innovating and we always want to be improving. What better way to do that, that by asking your people? It still amazes me how many companies still don’t ask for the opinion and ideas of their people. They are our business and that is why we must continuously check in and make sure we are on track and doing everything we can to maintain our levels of engagement and in some areas improve.”
As mentioned 2019 is the year of learning at Indigo Swan. “We have committed to 12 hours focused training for each of the swans this year. Some of this will take place in-house and some will be outsourced. We want to make sure all the swans get the right level of training and feel that they have progressed by the end of the year.” James went on to discuss the 1-3-5 framework and it being rolled out to all of the staff. “This allows the swans to create a 2 year vision of where they would like to be, come the end of 2020, split it down into 3 categories and then set 15 mini goals for 2019. The swans have set themselves targets such as run six 10k races, get a dog, book an adventure with their partner, learn a new skill each month, hit their targets, achieve their bonus so they can buy a house etc. It’s awesome to see all the different goals and it is now our job as leaders to be engaged with their goals and help them to achieve them this year.”
James is speaking at the ‘Culture Shock!’ event on Thursday 28th February. It’s an event presented by The University of East Anglia (UEA) and Fountain Partnership, supported by Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, which will look at tackling issues surrounding workplace culture including non-hierarchical organisational structure, equality in pay, diversity in the workplace, and agile working. Register for your tickets and find out more.
Personally, I’m feeling very excited for the year ahead and seeing what it brings not only me but the rest of the swans. Stay tuned for updates….