Has IIP passed it’s sell-by date?

Following its launch in 1991, Investors In People (IIP) quickly established itself as one of the key kite marks organisations should obtain.  Some NHS Trusts successfully applied for IIP accreditation early on.  But just as others were beginning to consider taking this step, Improving Working Lives (IWL) entered our consciousness in the NHS.

IWL was broader than “learning & development” and it quickly become one of the key HR initiatives of the naughties.   As I worked towards my first maternity leave in 2005, I successfully lead my Trust through their Practice Plus assessment.  But six months later,  IWL was on its decline.

Time has moved on, and IWL is now a mere memory:  staff engagement is what everybody is talking about in the NHS (although a bit hampered by the impact of the White Paper and major cost-savings programme).

And whilst this has all been going on, IIP appears to have re-invented itself. Nowadays organisations can achieve Bronze, Silver and Gold standards, based on an assessment of a range of other criteria such as the people /business strategy, reward and recognition, and yes, staff engagement.

In terms of the IIP assessment, staff are no longer subjected to focus groups, but instead are asked complete an on-line survey, The results are presented in a spider-web graph that can be viewed on-line.

Some of the IIP questions are similar to the national NHS staff survey and the responses can be compared for similarities and differences. Interestingly, sometimes the IIP outcomes are different from what the staff survey tells us.

And whilst every HR practitioner understands the value of the feedback gained from an IIP assessment, does having this kite mark make any difference?

I was involved in an interesting debate recently with an IIP assessor on this very topic.   IIP can be an invaluable Recruitment & Retention tool.  However, do the general public understand what it is or what it entails?  And in particular  – what the Gold, Silver and Bronze standards represent?  Probably not.

So, I don’t think IIP has passed its sell-by date.  And overall, I like what IIP has done is make itself relevant:  it is still a kite mark worth achieving.  But I don’t think that it has promoted its changes sufficiently enough to carry the weight that it deserves.    Greater promotion will not only benefit IIP, but those organisations who invest time in applying for accredition.

Finally, congratulations to Kings College Hospital, London for being the first acute Trust in the country to achieve Gold Standard.

Does Your Relationship With The TUs Represent Good Staff Engagement?

The local TU representative (staff side representative) carries the enormous responsibility of being an advocate of the local members of his department or professional group.  In an ideal scenario, your staff side rep should be able to reliably inform the Trust on what the local members think of proposals and service developments.   It is not uncommon to “test the temperature” around a new idea by running it past (informally) the local staff side rep first.

In organisations (and I mainly refer to NHS Trusts) where there is a sense of trust between management and staff side, this relationship can be dynamic, collaborative and very constructive.  Where there is little trust, the organisation can find itself with a dysfunctional and disruptive workforce.  I have been struck this week by how important staff side relationships are.

Let’s take Job Evaluation:  The NHS has a national, bespoke system called Agenda for Change.  Implemented in 2005, thousands of managers, HR staff and staff side reps were trained in this system.  It’s not a perfect system, but it has helped to reduce the potential of pay inequity and attempts to bring transparency to a creative art form.

Although there is national guidance, I find that with each Trust I work with there is local interpretation: this ranges from how each factor is scored to how the process is carried out.    For example:

  • The Trusts where there is poor staff side relationship, the process is long and drawn-out. 
  • In other Trusts, management have worked with staff side to streamline the process. 

In one Trust, the time it takes to evaluate a set of 10 posts is 8 times longer than another one!  This has an obvious impact on productivity and carries a significant cost to the organisation.

The key to driving efficiences lies with the local staff side.  There needs to be an element of trust between all parties with any radical changes to an established system. 

The Trust that has significantly stream-lined its process has high staff engagement.  The staff trust the process and their local representatives to ensure that the right outcome is reached.

On the other hand, the Trust who has a long, labourious process has poor staff engagement.  The local staff side are fighting to protect the status quo as they fear that the staff may be disadvantaged if any efficiences are built into the system.

Job evaluaton may seem a dry topic to reflect upon in relation to staff engagement, but the underlying outcome is money.  And money matters to staff.  If staff are engaged  they will allow their local staff side reps to work collaboratively with managers.  This can only result in a win-win for everybody.

I’ve written about Staff Engagement before, and my views haven’t changed.  It’s important to recognise that staff engagement permeates through-out all elements of the organisation, and it all starts with the Trade Unions.

Can the office environment affect staff satisfaction?

Last week I went for a meeting with a potential new client.  I had visited this hospital once before to visit a friend.  This time, I entered through the blue cast iron gates with my “What would it be like to work here?” hat on.

I was immediately struck by how smart and clean the building was.  The reception and security area looked modern, and I was even more impressed by the faux-leather seats in the staff-only cafe.  Every member of staff wore a visible name badge.  There was an energetic buzz in the air that I could almost touch.   Before I even got to meet the client, my impressions of this hospital were overwhelmingly positive. 

As I left the hospital, I began to think about the impact the hospital environment had left on me, and how this might also impact on the staff who work there.  I had done my homework so I knew that this hospital has a high staff satisfaction rating.  I then thought about the other hospitals or PCTs that I know well:  those Trusts whose staff work in poor office environments also performed badly on their staff satisfaction scores*.  I’ll admit that there are a number of factors that are considered in determining a Trust’s Staff Satisfaction Score.  But correlation (slightly unscientific) between the working environment and the staff satisfaction scores is so strong that it cannot be ignored.  But this should not come as a surprise, as the famous Hawthorne experiments have already demonstrated this.

And this is where the dilema lies for public organisations.   Michael West of Aston University has demonstrated through his research that there is a direct correlation between staff engagement and the quality of clinincal care.   A pleasant office environment will raise staff satisfaction & engagement, but to create this requires money to be invested in the building, maintenance and furniture (at the very minimum).  This is money which is diverted from services delivering clinical care to patients.   In other words, to create the environment for staff to provide high levels of clinical care, money needs to be taken out of these services to improve the working environment. 

Managing the public relations of this is difficult.  How do you explain to patients that they will have to wait a bit longer for their operation because money is being spent on improving the hospital building, but it is hoped that, as a result, they will receive better patient care as a result?  

And are NHS Trusts who have influential HRDs and / or have Board members who are interested in staff engagement and satisfication more likely to support investment in this area whilst simultaneously managing the public perception of this?  And why should it depend on members of the senior team to drive this agenda, when the evidence on potential benefits is clear?

The staff engagement agenda and the associated measure of staff satisfaction is high on the agenda of NHS HR Directors at present.  It will interesting to see the developments in this area over the next couple of years.

* All NHS Trusts are required to complete a staff attitude survey every year.  As this is a national survey, the results can be meaningfully compared bewteen NHS Trust.

What’s so Engaging about Staff Engagement?

Earlier this week, I joined the NHS Employer’s webinar on the subject of “Staff Engagement During Tough Times”.  It was a useful webinar (if not a bit dry for me) and it was useful hearing about what other parts of the NHS are doing about increasing staff engagement.  This comes at an important time, as the NHS Staff Survey results for 2009 have just been released.

I started to ponder during the webinar about why the topic of staff engagement so popular at the moment?  Everybody wants to be doing it, talking about it, finding out what other people have done, going to conferences, attending webinars.  It’s part of everybody’s HR Strategy this year.  And the conclusion that I reached is that we’re all searching for the Staff Engagement Panacea, the hidden secret, the magic ingredient that we can put into practice in our own organisations that will lead to happy, motivated staff.

The bottom line is that there is no panacea.  Instead, these are my suggestions to help you on the way to developing your staff engagement strategy:

  1. The culture of every organisation is different.  Therefore, different staff engagement interventions work differently for different organisations (even within the same industry).  Before embarking on any staff engagement project, undertake some sort of “temperature test” or survey.  (The best approach is a survey that gives you quantative and qualatitive data.)  Understand your organisation.  Once you’ve done this, you’ll be in a better position to decide which staff engagement initiatives will work best.
  2. Benchmark your organisation against others, both within and outside your sector or industry.  Gather ideas, make comparisions and identify any barriers to successful implementation.  Cost is always an issue: Many staff engagement initiatives require the investment of time as opposed to spending money on an outsourced product or service.
  3. To increase staff engagement you will need to implement and sustain a number of different initiatives.  There is no one intervention that will lead to increased staff engagement.  Your staff engagement strategy should contain a range of interventions that will work cohesively and in tandem.
  4. Although staff engagement is about involving and listening to the front-line staff, you won’t increase staff engagement if the top team haven’t bought into your staff engagement strategy.  Win the top team over first.  Change their behaviours before embarking on winning the hearts and minds of the rest of your staff.
  5. You can’t build Rome in a day.   If your staff survey has just been published, then you’ll probably be surveying the staff again in six months time.  Being realistic, there’s no-way that you can substantially increase staff engagement in such a short space of time.  Manage the expectations of the Executive Team and the staff in general:  your staff engagement strategy should reflect the longer-term, and the tangible benefits will not be apparent for at least 18 months.

 Having said all that, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the level of staff satisfaction rise in your organisation once the fruits of your staff engagement strategy ripen.  Good Luck.