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Happy employees, better customer service

27th Jul 2005
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The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) welcomes the new Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations, which came into force in April 2005. In a whitepaper entitled, 'Confirm your thought-leadership', Michelle Wicker, who works as an employment solicitor at the DMA, says:

"In the DMA’s opinion, happy employees will provide better customer-focused service. If the system becomes cumbersome or too stringent, then this places additional burden upon management, which is not in the general interest of the company. Most large companies already have a policy in place to advise employees of any organisational changes. The advantage to the company having an agreement in place is that the arrangements and structures will be tailored to their individual circumstances."

The report was commissioned by online survey and reporting software vendor, FIRM. The whitepaper is to be published and released in the next few weeks.

Compliance is a good thing

So the word is out there! Compliance to the increases in new legislation, which is all too often perceived as an extra and sometimes as an unnecessary burden upon business, needn’t be a seen as costly or resource draining. New legislation offers many opportunities to present your company as one that practices and preaches Corporate Social Responsibility, one that includes staff in much of the decision-making processes that help to drive a business forward.

Without a motivated workforce, the engine of any company, what do you have? Nothing. Money can be the fuel for many projects, but you need people to add value to the business, so as to drive up company revenues, while also pleasing shareholders and customers alike. So you companies and organisations need to look beyond the burden of the 'red tape' and start to realise the benefits that CSR and good corporate governance, including good industrial relations, can give you.

Research by a number of organisations has revealed that if you want to have happy customers, particularly in a customer-facing business environment, then you should be doing your utmost to make sure that your employees feel happy too, that their opinions are valued and respected; so that they become integral to the company, and more loyal as a result. The benefits of employee involvement are wide-ranging, and this includes a significant reduction in absenteeism. It can also increase the productivity of your employees.

The difference: failure or success?

The Involvement and Participation Association, also welcomes the new regulations, and provides an insight into how they can either work well or fail in its whitepaper, 'High Performance Workplaces; Informing and Consulting Employees, The IPA’s response to the DTI’s consultation document' (2003). The pros and cons are revealed in the following table from the report.

What works well and why?

  • Working together to build a shared view of the business and its competitive environment.
  • Sharing information widely to enable all participants to have a shared grasp of the context within which decisions are being made.
  • Consultative processes which enable the workforce both individually and as a whole to contribute effectively to the debate on issues and to influence the outcomes.
  • A range of joint problem-solving techniques to address issues.
  • Feedback systems enabling employee ‘voice’ to be heard effectively and get messages back to the workforce.

Why does Information and consultation fail?

  • A lack of commitment from senior managers.
  • A failure to consult at an early enough stage and before the key decisions are made.
  • No dynamism – keep going around the same issues.
  • Poor agenda
  • Little or no evaluation, which means that the participants lack clarity about what they are doing.

Information Sources

  • Little or no training in information and consultation for participants (both managers and employee representatives)
  • Too much pressure on time and resources for participants.
  • A failure to follow up on promises or actions and
  • A lack of a supportive infrastructure.

The auditing role of technology

Technologies like online surveying and reporting software can help your company to take advantage of the opportunities presented by such legislation, while also reducing the hurdles and your company saving time and money. The British Council even uses FIRM’s Confirmit to develop its staff training and education programmes. The British Council has to comply not only to the new legislation, but also with the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act. Confirmit is used to assess an employee’s knowledge of the Acts, and how they need to put them into practice.

Not only has online surveying and reporting helped the British Council to reduce the survey-creation to report-creation and analysis cycle from around 3 months (for example) to a matter of days or weeks, but it has also facilitated the creation of a number of centres of excellence around the world, no matter where it operates and in 50-60 languages, employees can either be consulted, informed and trained to ensure that best practice, however determined, is followed. Ian Barnes, global web operations manager, elaborates:

"We are using Confirmit to deliver a training and evaluation suite for the organisation. The objective is first to test every single member of staff, every year to see if they understand the rules of Data Protection and Freedom of Information. Now we’ve got quite a small department, so we need automated techniques to achieve this, and because we have 7,500 employees in 110 countries and 230 offices. It’s just impossible for any size of UK-based department to individually inspect people’s knowledge in this area. So we’ve used Confirmit in a very novel way; we’ve blended a question and answer session with a CD-ROM, which is sent out to everybody."

In the same way that online surveying and reporting has been used to create best practice and to assess knowledge of the DPA and FOI, it can also be used to inform and consult with employees on a wide range of potential issues. It could even be used to facilitate voting on particular issues when the regulations are activated following the delivery of a petition by 10% of a company’s employees. Following that 40% of all employees must endorse any agreement for it to become valid, otherwise managers have the right not to enact any proposals that may have been agreed with a Works Council.

Wicker adds: "Online surveying and reporting can benefit companies in that a survey can be sent directly to the employee rather than being passed through the management hierarchy of the company. Employees would have a direct voice in the process and this would facilitate genuine communication. However, employees may feel they are unable to offer their true opinions if the survey is not anonymous, as it can be linked back to them. Therefore, any survey should remain transparent throughout the process."

In fact that’s the beauty of online surveying and reporting software like Confirmit, because they offer the means for employment processes to be transparent, while allowing those matters that need to be kept secure and confidential to be kept so. In addition to annual climate surveys, the software is suitable for global HR organisations to understand “moments of truth” across the entire employee lifecycle, from studies regarding the quality of the recruitment process all the way to exit interviews – most of which are not shared beyond the departmental HR and line management. The software also has the ability to provide a 360-degree assessment of the organisation and its employees. Reporting from such a system is available in real-time, so you act quickly on insight generated by the studies, as well as discover and monitor trends. This can all be integrated with Human Resources’ databases.

Collaboration for profit

With better informed, assessed, trained and consulted staff, managers will soon realise that the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s published fears, whereby managers may no longer be able to manage, doesn’t necessarily have to become true. If managers are working more collaboratively with staff, they could even develop better marketing strategies, and improved customer service while increasing shareholder and overall stakeholder value. So keep your staff happy by informing and consulting with them on a regular basis, and particularly if you seek to please shareholders and maintain a database of happy and loyal customers.

By Graham Jarvis
[email protected]

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