Finance / How taking employees out of their comfort zone reaps rewards

How taking employees out of their comfort zone reaps rewards

Employees who feel motivated and inspired in their jobs can help improve the performance and productivity in an organisation.

Group of Multiethnic Cheerful Designers with Speech Bubbles

But keeping a workforce engaged is not always easy. Companies need to have programmes in place which focus both on an individual’s personal goals as well as ones for the workforce.

Capital One is one firm that has been successfully implementing schemes to help its employees feel engaged. Last year it won the UK’s Best Large Workplaces award for the second year running. But it did not always have such an engaged workforce.

Before Capital One entered the Great Place to Work Awards, “Engagement was lower than we wanted it to be,” says Karen Bowes, vice president of international HR and sustainability at Capital One. “We had lost that edge in the UK. We went on a sustained programme of rebuilding trust between the business, leadership, management and the employees.

“What was key was asking the employees to engage themselves, to get involved, to understand the business, the benefits and the environment we create.”

Capital One’s transformation was facilitated by focusing the staff towards four different principles of employee engagement. Bowes explains that the first of these was the power of purpose or what we are trying to do every day and why? This focused on the human side. The second was leadership, which looked at getting the leaders of the company to really lean in, be present, listen, communicate and make things happen.

The third was listening and acting on what employees’ experiences on the ground, what was getting in their way and causing them to become demotivated and what could be done to change these things quickly. The fourth was a sense of cameraderie – a sense of not taking things too seriously and having fun.

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The main challenges for Capital One came around the idea of purpose and leadership. “The reason is that it can sound a bit fluffy,” says Bowes. “We are trained from an early age in business to be clever, to think with the right brain and to intellectualise everything. It is hard to get leaders to a point where they realise the power of purpose because it is so outside their comfort zone. That is where we made our biggest investment. It was around the development of leaders.

“We took our first 50 leaders and put them through a leadership development programme about envisioning the future, inspiring and engaging the heart and that pushed them out of their comfort zone. They worked with actors and told stories. We also did some work with a company called Speak the Speech. We asked our top 50 to start talking on video about why their purpose was important and asked them to connect to it on a very personal level.

“It is the power of bringing out the person within, and this idea of authentically connecting with what you are saying. It is about translating those very human stories with presence, and with impact. It is about bringing out the best of you, so you are authentic on stage.”

From this process Capital One discovered that for employees to feel engaged it was vital their leaders were present in the organisation.

Bowes explains being present as a leader can be interpreted in a number of ways. It can be on stage telling a story, but it can also be about how connected you are to your team on the floor.

She says: “Do you have barriers around you that exist in four walls, or are you out on the floor sitting with your team, engaging, working, but also listening and talking and just being present? That makes a real difference to accessibility and trust. It breaks down hierarchies.”

To help create an environment where teams works together and which push people’s leadership skills, managers at Capital One are also taken off site for advanced classes.

This has included a visit to the Royal Navy in Portsmouth for sinking ship simulations, to help managers understand how to come together as a team, or using a horse whisper to show managers how to use emotive skills in the work place. If horses sense you are nervous or not being honest, they will not do what you tell them.

Bowes explains: “Just telling a person to do something isn’t necessarily going to get the outcome you want.”

Personal development programmes based on Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, are also run for all members of staff. Bowes explains that the course, which is run on a volunteer basis, focuses on you as a person instead of you in your job.  Around 75 to 80 per cent of staff have completed it. “It gets you to focus on your goals in the future, what are you trying to achieve and the steps you can take to realise your goals, and how you manage along the way,” Bowes says.

“It takes you from a place of dependence to one of independence, but then to a place of interdependence. The employer trusts you and you are the best version of you. People like it because while they can focus on work goals they can also focus on personal goals.”

Capital One’s policy of creating an atmosphere of cameraderie seems to be bearing fruit. In its contact centres, attrition rates are well below the national average. “It is about entrusting you do a great job,” says Bowes. “You are not tied to your desk – if you need a break you can take one.”

Empowering employees to work not only on their work goals but their personal ones seems to be helping keep staff engaged at Capital One. Pushing leaders out of their comfort zone and creating an environment where people do not take themselves too seriously could well be making a difference.

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