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All 360 employee voice reps are invited to an annual event to share suggestions for working together better All 360 employee voice reps are invited to an annual event to share suggestions for working together better

RAISING YOUR VOICE IN THE WORKPLACE

Virgin Media turned its informal employee consultation forum into a structured network for getting opinion – and shifted the company culture in the process.

12th October 2018

When Virgin Media wanted to take its employee voice programme to the next level and create a more open culture and make business-wide improvements, a formal structure and business plan was created.

For many years, the company’s employee voice network was a national collective consultation forum, which is a legal requirement. But there was a feeling more could be done beyond consultation. How could the reps get more involved in things like rewards, policy and communication?

Time and resources were a major obstacle. Moira Jennings was lead employee voice rep in addition to her day job as a project manager – and it was becoming a struggle to get everything done. She and the business lead realised if the concept of employee voice was going to be taken seriously within the business, it needed a structure and full-time resource.


Putting together a business plan

Moira and the business lead put a business case together, with a 30-day, six-month and full-year plan, which included the creation of objectives and job descriptions for the voice reps – and Moira became full-time national employee voice lead.

Today, Virgin Media’s elected employee voice representatives have a percentage of their time dedicated to the role: five per cent if they are a local rep and 10 per cent for divisional, while national reps spend 20 per cent of their working time exploring company-wide ideas and solutions.


360
Number of local, divisional and national reps, out of approximately 13,000 employees.


The success of the programme is down to continual contact and dialogue, says Moira.

“I have one-to-ones with every national rep each month and with all the business leads and people leads of the forums. To build relationships, I have found people prefer one-to-one meetings, rather than as a group.”

 

An impact on the company culture

Making employee voice an effective force isn’t just about organisational structure. At Virgin Media, it’s been about driving cultural change, too.

“You need to have trust, and have an open and honest dialogue, and real buy-in – not just lip service – from your CEO and directors,” says Moira. “It’s vital to do everything you can to create a safe environment. The reps are not afraid to speak up – but at the same time, you need people who are vocal for the right reasons. If you are too militant about it, it won’t work.”

With everyone better able to have their say, how does Moira ensure that the focus stays on making voice a productive process that leads to positive change?

“It’s important to not always talk about negative issues,” she says. “If you ask what’s wrong, you’ll get comments about parking, air-conditioning, toilets and the canteen, which are important. However, if you ask for ideas, you’ll be surprised at the nuggets that come in.”


Business-wide improvements and engagement

The network has led to improvements across the business, such as ATMs installed at sites with no nearby shops, and a day off for everyone on their birthday in recognition of ongoing loyalty.

Moira makes sure every part of the business is fully engaged with the employee voice network, not least the communications team.

“If I’m talking to senior management, the comms team is an important part in that discussion,” she says. “We need the communication around employee voice to be strong. It’s easy to be quick at sharing what isn’t working, but you also need to publicise successes.”


Connecting with internal communication

Moira took advantage of this close connection when she asked a new starter in the internal communication team to attend a two-day employee voice meeting, get insight on the business, and think about how comms could help her network.

“He said it helped him fast track his own knowledge of the company, and I was able to pick his brains about how I can work better with internal comms,” says Moira. “He talked to reps about why they are passionate about employee voice, and will be writing an article for our internal intranet.”

 

Leaders are prepared to listen

Now that employee voice has been formalised, Moira has found leaders more open to listening to better ways of doing things. “A few years ago, if we made a counter-proposal to an idea, we’d have got a ‘No’. Managers didn’t want to hear they hadn’t got it right. Now, I’d say half of our counter proposals are either accepted or partially accepted. From a change perspective, that’s massive. I really feel we’ve shifted the culture.”

Moira takes a proactive approach to letting managers know about the assets they have in their teams.

“Whenever a new voice rep is appointed, we send an email to their line manager to congratulate them, explain the reps role and how they as a manager can support them.”

Of course, not everyone does, but Moira has a mission “to make them get what voice is all about”.

“I want them to understand that having an effective employee voice is a great asset to have in a team,” she says. “One of the best quotes I’ve heard is that if you use your employee forums right, they’re great smoke detectors.

"The guys on the floor are the best people to let the company know how people really feel and to tell you know about any concerns or rumblings. That two-way dialogue is a massive free benefit. You can get a good temperature check by speaking to voice reps. Why wouldn’t you want it?”

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