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Sturrock and Robson

The art of the possible: How Sturrock and Robson improved employee engagement by an extraordinary 16%

Amalie Lyneborg

Group Communications Manager

Sturrock and Robson

The ‘Have your Say’ programme has been the single most amazing experience of my working life. I’ve been to every site, in every country, and met pretty much every one of our employees to act on our commitment to our people. In return, I’m humbled to see how committed they are to us and it’s just incredible how far we’ve come.
Amalie Lyneborg

The art of the possible:How Sturrock and Robson boosted engagement by an extraordinary 16%, reaching a score of 90%.

Having experienced long-term prosperity followed by a market crash, two years ago Sturrock and Robson were a company who had just come out of a period of significant restructuring and reorganisation. They had successfully weathered the storm and their plan for growth was set. However, they were faced with a significant challenge to bring their people, buffeted by the experience, along with them. Leaders realised that connection between purpose and people had gradually declined over a number of years. It was time to refocus on the culture and values of Sturrock and Robson and re-engage their people, so they felt empowered and proud, no matter what their role.

This case study shows how Sturrock and Robson implemented an impressive re-engagement and cultural change programme with an incredible personal touch, which gave a voice to people whose valuable views had never been heard before, and achieved amazing results.

Have Your Say World Tour

Who areSturrock and Robson?

Sturrock and Robson are a global group of companies supplying specialist products and services to industries such as oil and gas, renewable energy and mining. Founded in the 1910s in South Africa, today it is a diversified group with offices in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa, Australia, and the USA. A fourth-generation family business, with Greg Robson as the current Executive Chairman, today the business is focussed on people development and driving growth through sustainable industrial solutions for their clients.

What challenges haveSturrock and Robson faced?

In the early 2000s, Sturrock and Robson enjoyed a prolonged period of success with strong demand from buoyant markets, so growth and profitability were booming.

However, problems hit when commodity prices dropped and the oil price subsequently fell through the floor. This had a serious effect on business performance and led Greg, freshly appointed as Executive Chairman, and his executive team to undertake a significant restructuring programme which stabilised the company.

Going forward, they knew business growth would require significant changes to operations and diversifying into new markets. However, they were faced with important people challenges:

  1. Whilst company performance had been strong, there had been less focus on company culture. People in divisions all over the world were operating in silos, having lost their connection with the Sturrock and Robson values and way of doing business.
  2. Having experienced significant restructuring and been deprived of good news, morale was low. Many felt a lack of purpose and had little appetite for innovation or change.

What People Insight andSturrock and Robson did together

Greg appointed Amalie Lyneborg from his team to run the employee engagement project, to listen to and act upon the employee feedback. Having assessed several providers, she engaged People Insight because of our ability to provide advice and expertise. She said,

“The first representative that we met from People Insight gave a good flavour of an organisation who have really helped us. People Insight were excellent – guiding us through the process and making an effort to understand our particular business.” –  Amalie Lyneborg

Stakeholder Interviews

The project started with stakeholder interviews with board members and MDs from the operating companies. This helped gain buy-in to the process and understand everyone’s concerns to feed into questionnaire design. Said Richard McDonough, business psychologist who ran the interviews,

“Leaders gave us a valuable insight into their teams and how they saw the project. We were also able to reassure them about us as an external provider with a professional process and response anonymity. Doing interviews like this builds trust and can be a really nimble activity. In fact, one leader I spoke to was in the middle of a fishing trip in Alaska, and we still managed to capture his views from the boat!.”   – Richard McDonough

The questionnaire incorporated this feedback and was based on the PEARLTM model to cover all aspects of engagement.

Survey

Amalie launched a communications programme to explain the ‘Have Your Say’ survey. As the survey had buy-in from all of the senior team and was led with personal communication from Greg, it was clear to the Group that there was an authentic desire to listen. Every communication – from posters and announcements, through to Amalie’s personal discussions with each individual business were consistent in message and branding. Amalie said,

“The time we took to set up the survey paid off. Once live, we had fantastic response, especially considering this was our first ever employee engagement survey – 88%. People were really keen to have their voice heard”.

Survey branding for Have Your Say

Results

Once the results were in, the main priority was to keep news flowing to employees so they felt connected with each stage. Both Group and individual company posters were created to share key headlines from the survey. Amalie said,

“We made a commitment before the survey to truly understand how we could improve and subsequently follow that with action. We wanted to show respect for the fact that our people had really applied themselves to coming up with constructive solutions.” – Amalie Lyneborg

Detailed reports were issued to leaders and People Insight guided Amalie and her colleagues through a feedback and interpretation presentation.

“The feedback was challenging,” said Amalie, “but People Insight helped us focus on the key changes that would make the biggest difference to engagement. Afterwards, we felt confident and equipped to recommend areas for action to the executive teams.” – Amalie Lyneborg

 

Guidance and Advice

Greg was passionate about fostering connectivity within the Group and trying to create a personal connection with employees to drive change. The commitment was evident in the significant resources put behind this programme in supporting Amalie to deliver a face-to-face action planning & change delivery roadshow in each country, over a 2-year period.

People Insight, as experts at action planning design, were able to advise on how to structure and run the workshops, interpreting quantitative and qualitative data effectively and focussing on priorities that would make the most difference to engagement.

A most impressivechange programme

In each business, Amalie was the dedicated ‘face’ of the project, bringing a personal touch to the programme. Her aim was to inspire trust and demonstrate that the Group really saw each employee as an expert within their business, with a unique and important point of view.

Planning actions & making them happen

At each business Amalie worked with the management teams, to prepare the results communications. They were delivered in a morning session, then, in small groups, people developed ideas for how to solve the issues with coaching and guidance from Amalie. Each employee came away from the day feeling that they had been given a chance to have their say, in person.

The following day, a spokesperson from each group took their suggestions to the management team, and Amalie helped them form business-level action plans, communicated back via posters, emails and team meetings.

The importance of this activity can’t be underestimated, with each of the businesses facilitating the chance for all employees to participate in the discussion groups. For example, in order to deliver this activity one of the largest businesses, that runs 24/7, was shut down for a whole day – a decision which was previously unheard of.

“The clear dedication of the organisation to this process was rewarded with people being willing to really put themselves out there and make a positive contribution.” -Greg

 

Once every business had this session, there was a long-term follow up plan:
  1. Amalie conducted regular check-ins with management to assess progress against their action plans
  2. Amalie carried out ‘Have Your Say’ follow up visits with each business. These sessions demonstrated the Group’s ongoing interest in, and support for improvement and change.
  3. During the follow up visits, Amalie undertook site walkabouts, so she could have one to one interactions, really listen, and have genuine conversations about how things were improving. Ensuring people understood that they could have an impact, no matter what their role, was key.
  4. Every time Greg and his senior management team carried out a business performance review, they consistently assessed progress against the ‘Have Your Say’ plan, to embed the thinking into how the businesses are run.
Amalie talks to colleagues at Pandrol as part of Have Your Say follow up visits

Cultural Change

The Have Your Say programme had laid a strong foundation for further work on our culture. Collaboration with the Group Head Office was replacing isolation, and optimism was replacing bad news.

We were rebuilding trust” said Greg. “It was time to re-engage people with our vision and values. As the head of the family firm, I felt it was important that I did this personally. I therefore travelled to each country to explain our vision, our value system and to lay out the journey ahead of us. I wanted to hear how people interpreted and lived our values and share stories across the businesses. Ironically, through this process which was designed to inspire change in others, I in turn came away inspired by the creativity, passion and bravery which we found growing in our Group.
Greg Robson 

Results: What differencedid the change programme make?

The impact of all the visits and the message that the team had brought was gaining traction. Action progress was an agenda item in every senior meeting.  Communications were consistent, tying change back to ‘Have Your Say’. It became clear how much of a difference the programme was making to people, and momentum had gathered.

When People Insight carried out the second Have Your Say survey, they achieved a record-breaking improvement.

For context, an improvement of 5-6% in an engagement score is considered good, however Sturrock and Robson had achieved an average increase of 16%, with all of the businesses enjoying substantial improvements. Every metric improved, including key highlights below:

Questions Increase in score
Senior leaders provide a clear vision of the overall direction 24%
I believe that action will be taken as a result of Have your Say 22%
Change is well managed at Sturrock and Robson 28%
The purpose of Sturrock and Robson makes me feel good about my work 25%

 

These results demonstrate the dramatic impact of the Have Your Say programme on employees’ positivity about the purpose, the change programme, the vision and the commitment to action from the top. Said Amalie,

“The ‘Have your Say’ programme has been the single most amazing experience of my working life. I’ve been to every site, in every country, and met pretty much every one of our employees to act on our commitment to our people. In return, I’m humbled to see how committed they are to us and it’s just incredible how far we’ve come.”

In addition, Greg reflected on how the engagement score has correlated with performance across the business.

“Looking back at the engagement scores,” said Greg, “we can see that low scores were a predictor of poor performance in some of our businesses. Going forward this is an early indicator we include in our management information suite.”

Next steps

“Of course,” said Greg, “we are absolutely delighted with the feedback. The challenge is to maintain engagement and live up to the expectation we’ve set that we’ll listen and take input seriously.”  — Greg Robson

Talking to Greg, Amalie and Jane Burgess, Sturrock and Robson’s new Global Head of HR, plans and activities are in place to maintain momentum, including:

  • Investment in additional HR headcount
  • Recruiting for cultural fit
  • A focus on developing the skills and capabilities required to support diversification
  • Succession planning to ensure future senior managers are capable of delivering the vision
  • Learning from the businesses with high engagement performance to build consistency across the Group

What are the key learningsfrom the Have Your Say programme?

It’s clear that significant effort was put behind this high priority programme. Here’s what Greg, Amalie and the team advise other companies facing the need to improve culture and engagement to consider:

  • Sincere, committed leadership. A change programme needs to be led from the top, with 100% commitment to seeing through change
  • Real resource investment is required. Amalie’s role in leading countless workshops on four continents over 2 years was impactful and successful – but required significant time and effort.
  • Change works when:
    You get in front of your people. Ensure there is a ‘face of the programme’, like Amalie, to get amongst your people and create personal, meaningful interactions with face-to-face meetings and shop floor walkthroughs. Both during the initial roll out, and at follow up visits. This was the most important learning from the programme.
    It is personal. As a leader and family member, Executive Chairman Greg was able to articulate why it meant so much, and show he cared.
    You are humble and sincere. Listen to feedback with humility. Acknowledge individual input and show you have acted.
    You communicate consistently, about why you are doing it and what you are doing as a result of your programme, to ensure that your people know what’s happening and feel they’ve had an impact.

“Communication is much better than before, and I am very happy about it! People spoke up and I think 80% of the issues have been resolved.”

 

“It’s good to see the great improvements the company has made since the last survey. Credit to the Management Team on their continuous efforts in making it such a positive work environment.”

A last word from Greg

It’s been a challenge, but one well worth the effort. We’ve rediscovered our values, regained our pride in the business and built a resilient culture that supports the changes we’re making. The incredible work done by Amalie and the teams has had an immediate impact on both the way we do business and on our performance. I’m confident that when we look back in the future, even against the backdrop of our long history, this programme will stand out as having had a lasting, significant positive impact.
Greg Robson 
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