CIPD Award winning project demonstrates the real value of Neutral Assessment by Alison Love

December 7th, 2018

A project involving a Neutral Assessment that we undertook has been recognised as a gold winner in the CIPD Wales Employee Engagement awards. We are delighted that the project has been recognised in this way, particularly as we have long extolled the virtues of the Neutral Assessment. Whenever we have used it, the feedback has been brilliant. We love feeling that what we are doing has brought real benefits to individuals and organisations alike.

What the issues were

This project was commissioned by Companies House, a long-standing client who we have worked with in this way several times. In this case, the Digital Services Team had consistently low engagement scores. There had been several changes in leadership, there was evidence of a general sense of dissatisfaction in the area and a lack of common purpose. There were high levels of turnover and absence and there was a negative impact on service delivery.

What we did

It was clear that all was not well but it was not clear why; that’s where we came in. We utilised a Neutral Assessment to understand the underlying causes, engage staff in identifying solutions and then put forward a number of recommendations. The key stages were:-

  • Agreeing clear terms of reference with the senior management team.
  • Communicating the terms of reference and what the Neutral Assessment would involve to all staff within the team.
  • Giving all staff the opportunity to meet with ourselves as independent consultants. It took some time and effort to gain staff trust in our independence and neutrality and ultimately, we achieved a high level of participation.
  • Meeting with staff to gather viewpoints and opinions in a neutral way and importantly engaging staff in identifying solutions; this included what they could do themselves to improve things as well as what others could do differently.
  • Collating the information gathered into a non-attributable and Neutral Assessment report with key recommendations for action.
  • Initially sharing our report with the senior management team by a combination of individual and senior management team feedback. There were some tough messages for the leadership team to hear. A key to the success of the project was the openness with which these tough messages were taken on board. Bravely, the whole report (warts and all) was shared with all staff. There was real openness and transparency as to what needed to be done and all staff where then engaged in developing an action plan for implementation of the recommendations.

The benefits of the approach

The benefits of using this approach were that;-

  • Our independence ensured that staff could provide honest feedback in a safe environment.
  • Staff were fully engaged and empowered throughout; this was not a process done to staff but done with them.
  • Our independence also allowed us to view things with a fresh pair of eyes and avoid making any assumptions due to previous experience or knowledge of historical issues; we were able to ask the stupid questions and challenge things in a non-threatening way.
  • This was not seen as an HR intervention; rather as something formulated by the business with the business and with the expert guidance and support of HR.

Angela Lewis, Director of People Transformation summed up the value of our contribution nicely as “using the neutral assessment as a tool to really understand the issues in particular areas of our organisation has been really powerful.  Non- judgmental and transparent this approach allowed us to work with our staff to address concerns, celebrate what was working and move forward in a structured way.  Listening and acting on the results have made a huge difference and impacted on performance, retention and engagement levels.

Outcomes and benefits

The results of the Neutral Assessment and implementation of the action plan have been fantastic. These include: –

  • Office Vibe engagement scores increasing from 5.2 to 7.4 within five months (the aim was for a 7).
  • Turnover decreasing from 10% to less than 1% and key skills retained in the organisation.
  • Sickness absence decreasing by 3.5%.
  • People survey results increasing from 55% to 62% in 12 months. The score for “My Manager” increasing from 56% to 64%.
  • Better collaboration between teams.
  • Improved Performance management.
  • New initiatives such as “innovation time” – a dedicated creative time each week for staff to work on personal digital projects.
  • Increased organisational improvement and customer service.

Working on this project in real partnership with our client has been a great privilege. To see the benefits that it has led to is an amazing source of satisfaction and pride in what we have achieved together. We look forward to many more opportunities to undertake similar projects.

A copy of our guidance note on Neutral Assessments is here. If you would like to discuss how it might work in a particular context or scenario then please contact us at [email protected] 01446 760993 (Wales) or [email protected] 0117 330 5980 (England). We would be delighted to be involved in many more successful projects and who knows yours could be next in line for an award!!

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