Engagement is a vehicle for driving culture, says Cell C's Juliet Mhango

But there is no one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement.

Over the last year, a huge focus for Cell C has been their culture project, which has recently undergone an entire revamp. With the introduction of their online streaming service black, for example, the company's strategy has changed somewhat and it became evident to the executive team that the culture of the organisation would have to align with the new strategy if they were to succeed with some of their new ventures.

Cell C CHRO Juliet Mhango says this is why the company went through a whole process of defining what their desired culture was. 

"We had culture sessions, where we first decided what we wanted to see as the executive team. Once we knew what it was that we wanted the organisation to feel like and the way we wanted our employees to think and approach their work, we then spent time exploring avenues through which we could achieve those objectives," says Juliet.

"As an example, we decided that teamwork and collaboration would have to be key pillars of our culture because people needed to pull together towards a common vision. So that was an area that we dealt with. We also decided that we want the company to be more customer-centric, so 'putting to the consumer first' became of our values'."

Once the desired values and culture of the organisation were fleshed out, they were defined as the “Cell C Way”. There was a big employee engagement drive to bring the Cell C Way to life.

Most concerns are easy to address

For instance, the company introduced engagement sessions between the CEO and staff, where he gives them a view of where the business is, where we're going and checking that they are aligned with that. It's an open discussion where he shares what his vision is and employees share their experiences of the organisation and their ideas of what they think the organisation is doing right or wrong. "There is a lot of ideation, in those sessions. We have lots of millennials in this company so those sessions tend to be quite vibrant and frank," says Juliet.

Because you are dealing with people who, by virtue of being ‘people’, are different, the effectiveness of engagement will vary from person to person and from company to company. As an HR leader, Juliet says you might have the pressure to do what others are doing, borrowing employee engagement ideas from what is perceived to be trendy. But that is a recipe for failure. Some companies will have a gaming station or pool table in the office as a means of creating an environment for employees to engage with one another. But, while that might work in, say, a tech company, it might not necessarily be a good idea in an auditing firm.

No one size fits all

The best approach, Juliet says, is to simply ask your employees what they feel about their environment. Because, ultimately, employee engagement is about identifying solutions specific to your workplace. It’s about figuring out the loopholes in work processes and ironing out grievances that only your employees can tell you about. Just like your customers are the best people to provide feedback about your product or service, your employees are the best people to provide feedback about the workplace.

"Most of the time, you find that the negative feedback points to an issue that can be corrected without too much of a hassle. A lot of our HR initiatives have come from those kinds of conversations where employees have said that they are unhappy with the lack of variety at the canteen, for example," says Juliet.  

"Some of the tougher questions are around people who are unhappy in their roles and want to find opportunities that are more challenging. Those are the things that we also have to deal with but might require more discussion with business unit heads and line managers."

Juliet says there are a variety of ways to engage with your workforce. You can run a survey to find out where employees are coming from, and take it from there, as they did. You can also have morale boosting initiatives like Cell C's CEO awards, which is an annual celebration attended by all 2,500 or so employees where people are rewarded for embodying the culture and values of the organisation. 

It takes time

Some of the things that improve engagement and productivity include social cohesion, feeling supported by one's supervisor, information sharing, common goals and vision, communication, and trust. At the end of the day, employees want to feel valued and respected. They want to know that their work is meaningful and their ideas are heard. Retention risk assessments must also be conducted with all employees, especially those with high potential and those in critical positions. Because, if you know what risk you have of losing them, you can take measures to reduce it.

Essentially, shifting a culture of an organisation does not happen overnight, it takes time and requires the commitment and engagement of employees and leaders alike. It is not an HR project but requires everyone’s alignment with the vision and values of the company. Juliet is passionate about embedding the Cell C Way.