Tag Archives: engagement survey

Case study: Engaging the workforce at the North Pole

Elf engagement at the North Pole has been overhauled, resulting in its highest ever engagement score. We asked the Chief Elf Officer (CEO) how they’ve done it.

What’s the history behind employee engagement at the North Pole?

Being an elf’s a vocation so, although it will never make them ‘welfy’, we’re lucky that our workforce is a dedicated one. Making wishes come true on Christmas Day is an amazing project to be part of.

However, just because our elves are passionate, it doesn’t mean we have it easy. Until you’ve seen the operation we run, it’s hard to imagine the level of preparation required to ensure that Christmas Eve runs without a hitch and that the right presents are delivered, on time, to 1.9 billion children.

What are your biggest challenges?

Elves enter the profession as youngsters, and employee turnover is extremely low. Our oldest elf is 3,548 years old! Keeping them engaged for so many years and introducing new ways of working to those who are set in their ways is tricky. Then there’s the post-Christmas lull to contend with. Plus, we employ 550,000 elves, so uniting them is another challenge.

What is your strategy for keeping them engaged?

Since Christmas 2015, it’s been to empower, involve and appreciate them, every day.

It’s not groundbreaking, but it works. We want the elves to understand that they are all important parts of a giant jigsaw, grasp the bigger picture of where they fit in, and know that they can make a huge difference. And lastly, we have made Santa far more visible, following feedback that the elves thought he was always off eating mince pies, yet still got most of the glory at Christmas.

So what have you done differently this year?

We’ve made lots of changes in conjunction with our IC agency. Our biggest success has been introducing an elf app called Appy Christmas. It’s taken a while, but 90 per cent of the workforce has now downloaded it as their schedules and pay slips can be accessed on it.

In December 2015, we began trialling Facebook’s ESN, Workplace, which has turned out to be a wonderful tool for collaborating, networking and generating ideas. Through Workplace Live Santa now broadcasts live video message updates to all elves, wherever they are. It’s broken down barriers between Santa and the elves as he’s so active on it and they can see what he’s really doing – and that he’s a busy guy. Everyone’s on a level playing field on Workplace.

We’ve also relaunched our employee magazine, The Grotto, so it now focuses on in-depth features that you wouldn’t want to read on a screen.

The Tinsels – quarterly awards through which Santa recognises and rewards high-performing elves – have been introduced. They’ve been great for elf-esteem and for ensuring the elves know they’re appreciated.

Lastly, we’ve introduced fortnightly lunch and learn sessions with the reindeer. It’s addressing a disconnect between them and the elves, and now that the elves can remember all of their names, things are really improving.

What does The Grotto app involve?

It’s a great for instantly sharing news and announcements – and it encourages two-way conversation. We use it for polls and pulse checks, which empowers the elves and allows them to have their say. There’s also an Elfstagram section where the elves share Elfies, and Santa occasionally comments on them, which is driving engagement.

What have the results of all this been?

Our elf engagement survey has shown that we have 89 per cent engagement, which is extremely high. More than ever, everyone knows their own roles in conjunction with everyone else’s, which means less error and duplication, and more success.

On most days, you’ll find whistling, cheering and smiling across the workshop, mail house, wrapping and loading departments – everywhere. Safe to say, smiling’s our favourite!

Devil’s advocate: Why do we bother with employee engagement surveys?

In well-meaning organisations across the UK, an enormous and comprehensive survey has become an annual ritual.

It consumes time and money and produces volumes of data, consuming more time and, by implication, money. But does anything useful come of it?

People will say “yes” and point to good things they believe have improved their organisation. They’ll say this justifies the investment. But I beg to differ. Too often the return is marginal.

At worst, annual engagement surveys have been allowed to become an indulgent distraction – wasting hours and cash, producing misleading results, and focusing energies in the wrong direction. They invite complaints, place unimportant issues on the agenda, lead us down the wrong path and distract us from doing things that matter.

It’s a broad and damning condemnation. But if I’m wrong, how do we explain that, despite a massive and increasing investment in IC and engagement, productivity is getting worse and worse?

The gap between our Olympic superstate and the rest of the civilised world is greater than at any time since records began. For every hour Herman the German works, he produces 36 per cent more than his British equivalent.

The French are 30 per cent more productive. And the Italians are 10 per cent ahead of us. Hardly surprising that, like for like, the average German earns £43,449 each year – while the Brit struggles along on £27,199.

I am in no way suggesting that IC and employee engagement are a waste of time. I believe passionately that they rank among the most powerful tools in the armoury of a business. But put to the wrong use, powerful tools can be ineffective or dangerous.

My case is this: The full-hit annual engagement survey is relatively ineffective. It can waste time and money – and can lead us to focus on issues that have only a minor impact on the organisations we serve or the people they employ.

We’re a young, naïve profession and now might be a good time to consider our course. I suggest a three-pronged strategy for the future direction of IC:

1: More leading, less listening

Farmers achieve porky pigs through instinct and experience – the scales merely confirm what they already know. In IC we should listen by all means, but not let it get in the way of leading. No truly great leader governs according to the findings of focus groups. They draw
on their own expertise, experience and instinct to set the agenda.

2: Pulse check, not routine medical 

Make measurement meaningful – timely and succinct. We make choices, express opinions and change our minds by the nanosecond. Now matters. So we should listen little and often and tackle big issues as they arise. We have the tools, accessible via the mobile in our pockets. Pulse checks are infinitely more valuable than cumbersome surveys and reams of analysis.

3: Stop navel-gazing and start doing real stuff

Liberate your business, your board and yourself from the bureaucratic burden of the all-encompassing annual survey. There may be a few gems in there, but as a whole it risk being an enormous distraction. So scrap it. Let leaders lead – and invest the hours, money and energy on doing things that will actually help make your business a happier, more successful place to be.

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