Cancer Research UK
How the employee survey helps drive improvements in line manager capability
Chloe Miller, Employee Engagement Project Manager.
Employee Engagement Project Manager
CRUK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research. They have established a bold strategy, aiming to see three in four people surviving cancer by 2034. Critically, CRUK recognise that their people are fundamental to delivering the strategy with the urgency and pace required. They work hard to ensure that the structure, operations and culture support their people to achieve it. Staff engagement with CRUK’s ambition is key, and CRUK know that line managers play a significant part in this and in how staff feel about working for the charity.
To this end, a significant project was undertaken in collaboration between the Internal Engagement & Communications and Learning & Organisational Development (L&OD) teams to look not only at tracking employee engagement, but to focus on line management capability through the employee survey.
“…we did a lot of research on what drives effective performance. Inspired by Google’s Project Oxygen, we saw the power of managers driving engagement within their teams.”
James Hotham, L&OD specialist
Dr. George Margrove, People Insight’s Head of Consultancy helped CRUK create a succinct, sustainable framework. Said George,
“We worked with the CRUK project team, using input from CRUK’s ‘Fit for the Future’ change programme, existing leadership behaviours, input from employees, and best practice in leadership competency development, to develop a survey which would ultimately help managers to drive strategy. We developed a set of survey questions that were applicable across the organisation and externally benchmarkable.
That way when assessing management capability against the index, CRUK could look at how internal leaders perform, and also get a sense of how they compare externally.”
The project team worked with employee groups and leaders to get their input, to ensure staff and senior leaders had their say and were comfortable using the survey. It was positioned as an important tool to kick off conversations between managers and their teams. People began to understand that actually, this was a really useful, personal tool, and began to get curious as to their own results.
“What we wanted, when we came to launch Manager Insight, was for everyone to understand why we were using it, how it would benefit individuals and how it would ultimately help us all achieve our goals.”
James Hotham, L&OD Specialist.
This example shows how a Manager Insight scorecard is reported.
The full range of responses are shown from strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree and strongly disagree. CRUK felt it was just as important to see more granular movement from, for example, agree to strongly agree, as movement from negative to neutral or neutral to positive.
The average scores shown were calculated from all ratings, where 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree. The higher the average score, the more positive the response. The averages show managers how their results compare to the average CRUK manager score. It took some work to educate people what this meant, but it provided important context for development discussions.
Example of a bespoke Manager Insight report. NB all results are fictitious to preserve anonymity.
In addition to the 240 Manager Insight scorecards that were delivered, entirely bespoke, visual employee engagement reports were created by People Insight for CRUK covering feedback from the whole survey, not just Manager Insight. Chloe, CRUK’s Engagement Project Manager had worked with stakeholders to identify the most useful parts of the engagement reports, and created a template to fit those needs.
“The bespoke reporting template pulled out the most important information to us in a visual way that made sense for us. It allowed us to clearly see where the issues are and move onto action planning.”
Chloe Miller, Employee Engagement Project Manager.
Example of a bespoke Your Say infographic report. NB all results are fictitious to preserve anonymity.
Management and leadership qualities have always been measured in the ‘Your Say’ employee engagement survey, ran with People Insight since 2013. This time CRUK wanted to highlight the importance of manager qualities as a key driver of engagement. The Manager Insight Framework was therefore created and pulled out as an explicit section in the survey, replacing the existing manager-related questions. The rest of the survey was also simplified, with a 20% reduction in questions.
Once survey responses were in, each manager whose team received at least 4 responses was sent a Manager Insight scorecard, showing how they were rated on the 12 aspects of leadership, against the benchmark of all other CRUK managers. This degree of visibility had never been provided before, as team engagement reports usually only go to teams of 8 or more respondents, for anonymity purposes. This report has been really well received, providing a fantastic tool for open, honest and transparent development conversations.
A number of activities have been implemented as a result of the Manager Insight findings.
Each manager uses the scorecard to start a two way conversation, both with their own line manager, and with their team, about engagement. For example, one manager went
through the scorecard with her direct reports to get more detailed qualitative feedback on each point. Another worked with his manager to put together a suggested development plan and then shared that with their team.
The L&OD team have created a 180 degree pulse tool, for managers to check individually how they are progressing on the Manager Insight Index through the year. Since launching, 75 managers have used this tool.
The Manager Insight index is being used as a key tool within leaders’ performance development reviews with their own managers.
Managers across CRUK have experienced a number of development interventions, such as:
Lower scoring managers (defined as those in the bottom quartile) were offered up to three 90 minute coaching sessions. Internal and external coaches were used, and 83% of
attendees recommended the coaching to their peers.
These were a chance for managers to hear from senior leaders about their experience, sharing their own Manager Insight results, areas of strength & development and sharing ideas. Eleven Spotlight sessions were scheduled across a two month period, and 78% of attendees recommend these to their peers.
A guide was developed, taking managers through the full employee lifecycle, from recruitment, to induction, to managing performance, to developing people. This included best practice advice and tips, video explainers and tools and templates managers could self-access.
The organisation has a stretching ambition to move CRUK’s Manager Insight average score from of 4 out of 5 to 4.5 in the next 5 years, with an increase in year 2 of 0.1. Says James,
“We want everyone to have a positive experience of being line managed.”
Ten months later, the results of the second Manager Insight survey are in, and the team could not be more proud. The Manager Insight average score increased beyond the target of 4.1 to 4.13, and more importantly, the proportion of managers scoring below 3.7 (the lowest quartile in year 1) has gone down by 7%. This shows that overall, manager skills have improved.
Managers who have experienced at least one of the interventions have improved their scores, as rated by their team members, by 0.14, with coaching having the greatest impact.
Participation in Manager Insight has grown much stronger in year 2. Now employees are familiar with the programme and trust it, CRUK have been able to generate scorecards
for 364 managers (vs. 229 in year one). In year 1, a report was only generated if ≥ 4 people completed a survey for a manager. In year 2, the team felt that because people trusted the process, they could reduce this threshold. As part of the survey, respondents were asked if they would be happy to make their results known if only 3 or 2 people responded – and 98% of respondents replied ‘yes’.
Reflecting on what a difference the support programme has made culturally within the organisation, something specific stands out, as James says,
“To see a very senior leader in the organisation stand up in front of everyone, and show their actual scorecard on stage was incredibly impactful. By talking candidly about their results – the good, and the not so good, this has helped heighten the focus on line management.”
When asked what advice CRUK would have for others following suit, here is what they said:
Introducing Manager Insight took a lot of consultation – especially as it was so visible. Explain the vision and benefits right from the outset, tell the story, be a part of every network
and listen to every bit of feedback. This affects everyone and they need to be bought in along the journey.
At each step of the process, communicating proactively with managers has been vital and extensive. Seven key stakeholder groups were identified initially – each with their own plan for targeted communications. Even simple things like reminding people that if others have access to their email inbox they’ll see their Manager Insight scorecard was important to remember.
Reminding people what has been achieved between surveys is important, particularly where there has been significant headcount turnover. They won’t always remember day
to day – the reminder helps people see the connection between their feedback and activity.
Some people, and those new to the organisation, may still have reservations about employee surveys. After doing it for several years, it’s still worth reminding staff about anonymity, and about the purpose and the value.
Getting the balance right between HR being very hands on in driving commitment to action, versus giving managers autonomy to drive action themselves, has been the trickiest part.