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Case studies:

Croydon College: Boosting the HR Strategy

How the employee survey helps drive improvements in line manager capability

HR strategy, People Insight
“We’ve had such a positive experience working with People Insight. The team were fantastic in advising how to structure the questions and the survey to get the most insightful analytics as a result.”

Helen Langford, Head of HR, Croydon College

About Croydon College

Croydon College delivers education and training from entry level to level 6 (degree level) for those aged over 15 years old in a wide range of vocational subjects, general subjects and academic pathways. Coulsdon Sixth Form College concentrates on the delivery of academic pathways for 16-18 year olds. Coulsdon Sixth Form College is incorporated into Croydon College as one legal entity, though they continue to operate for students with their own unique identities. 

When Helen Langford, Head of HR joined the college in 2020 her first task was to pull together a new HR strategy, and the voice of 450 staff was essential to feed into the future HR practices. The college had new leadership with a bold corporate strategy.  

Croydon College Vision and Values

Changing the culture at Croydon College

One of the pillars of the strategy was investment in staff as the College’s greatest asset. Guided by this principle, Helen and the leadership team wanted to build a trusting, empowering culture and show colleagues that their opinion was heard and valued.  

As the new leadership team brought in more in person staff briefings, staff forums and focus groups co-facilitated with the unions the college was beginning to change from hierarchical, central decision-making to more of a listening culture.  

A key metric for this new culture would be improved feedback from staff surveys throughout the strategy period. 

Croydon college image

Setting up the employee survey for Croydon College

Helen commissioned the first externally ran employee survey in a decade, choosing People Insight based on a previous experience with us in another higher education institution. Said Helen

“We wanted an externally ran, professional survey that would give confidentiality assurances to our people. People Insight stood out as a credible partner who could provide robust, detailed data that we could easily analyse to make decisions about our future HR strategy.”

When deciding on the survey questions, Helen chose the PEARL employee engagement model as it is well researched, robust and provides extensive comparative benchmark data.

We added specific questions under the theme of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – which is a key priority in the Croydon College strategy for students and staff alike.

When it came to launching the survey, Helen and the team invested effort in good preparatory communications. The team created the ‘Have Your Say’ brand. They explained that the survey was coming, how it was confidential through People Insight, that the findings would be robust – and importantly, acted upon. They used posters, online communications, and Union and staff meetings to get the message out. 


See here for advice on communicating about your surveys.

Once the survey was launched, a live response rate tracker provided by People Insight meant that Helen’s team could communicate a leaderboard of departments and their response rates, creating a friendly competition between leaders to maximise survey responses.

“I’m thrilled that 66% of staff completed the survey – a great result considering this was our first proper survey in a while. It means we can be confident that the results are representative.” 

Helen Langford, Head of HR, Croydon College

Sharing and reviewing the college employee survey results

When the results were in, Helen was able to develop results presentations from the survey dashboards, first to share with the leadership team. Said Helen, 

“At this point I had access to the leadership team each week, and they were keen to see the results of the survey. We were pleased to see an overall engagement score of 72%, with a clear idea from the People Insight dashboard of where our strengths and challenges lay.” 

Following the exec team meeting, Helen was able to share more detailed findings with the principle and VP of finance, discussing what the high-level action areas needed to be. 

Next, Helen held an all-staff Zoom meeting and shared a presentation of the top line results. This was an essential step in continuing to develop the transparent and trusting relationship with colleagues. Fuller details were subsequently shared with Union groups and the staff forum.  

The overall survey results showed 3 key areas for further investigation:  

  1. The sense of purpose amongst staff 
  2. The desire for more autonomy 
  3. A continued focus on EDI  

Helen co-ran staff focus groups with the Unions to deep dive into each of these topics and explore solutions further. The HR team are engaging with internal networks and National Centre for Diversity to take some of the actions forwards.

Within 3 weeks all stakeholders had the chance to see and discuss the results, which is best practice in order to maintain momentum and move to action post-survey. Each school and professional services area had their own presentation. These served as an opportunity to discuss results and as a brief for action planning.  

Action planning

Helen supported each school and professional services area to create their action plans. It was the first time that this had happened and, in line with the survey feedback that people wanted more autonomy, the freedom to choose actions and make change happen was very well received.  

Feedback from the local action plans has gone into the overall college action plan so there’s a clear thread throughout the college, and a clear sense of direction.  

Learnings for other FE Colleges when undertaking employee surveys

Get the set up right 

Being clear on the data outputs you require will help you structure the survey set up. For example, making sure your survey participant information is organised correctly with teams, managers, and demographic information, will mean you can slice and dice the results to understand what’s happening in particular groups of employees. Your employee survey partner will help you make this happen. 


Communicate well before the survey 

Getting staff to participate in a survey requires trust. Ensure you are clear about confidentiality (working with a third-party survey provider will really help this.) Communicate well in advance of the survey and leading up to it, with honesty and transparency about what you will ask, why you are asking and what you’ll do with the results. Enlist the help of key stakeholders to support: your principle’s visible backing is absolutely essential. Involve staff groups and unions, so if they are asked, they can be supportive.  


Create healthy competition to improve your response rate 

The communications to heads of department and schools, sharing ongoing response rates from each team really helped improve response rates. What was important here was to get the tone right. It was healthy, fun, light-hearted competition, not a threat to force people to participate. 


Cascading the survey results to all the right stakeholders 

Planning how you will communicate the survey results is important to do well in advance of the survey closing. Getting their results out quickly was helpful in supporting the transparent, involving culture Croydon College is trying to develop. Making sure each group – the executive team, managers, unions, staff forum and the teachers in the classroom – had a results presentation that was relevant to them, in the right order, was also important. 


Results presentations for communicating and discussing survey results 

Helen said, 

“Whilst the online results dashboard was great, it took a lot of time to make the results slides for discussion in-house. In future, we’ll invest in the iDeck functionality on the platform which creates the presentation decks automatically which will be a real time saver!” 

Finally, how was it working with People Insight?

“We’ve had such a positive experience working with People Insight,” said Helen. “The team were fantastic in advising how to structure the questions and the survey to get the most insightful analytics as a result. 

 The survey results dashboard is great; managers have been really positive about using it so I know we made the right choice! 

Overall, the experience was seamless – with a real level of expertise and credibility compared to doing a staff survey in house.” 

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