A Winner's Story: Allia, Best Small Employer for Employee Engagement 2016

The Best Employers Eastern Region initiative was founded in 2012 by professional recruitment specialists Pure and people development and psychometrics experts eras ltd.  It aims to celebrate the region’s best employers and supports organisations across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire to create inspiring, innovative and engaging places to work.

Having handed out more than 24 Best Employers Eastern Region Awards to date, Pure was keen to further explore what makes these award-winning organisations so successful in the eyes of their own employees. Caroline Batchelor, Associate Director at Pure, caught up with Rachel Coquard, Head of HR at Allia Ltd in Cambridge. The not-for-profit charitable organisation which was crowned the region’s Best Small Employer for Employee Engagement in 2016.

Originally established in 1999, the unique organisation supports the development of positive social ventures by providing services including enterprise advice, funding and affordable workspace. It has almost doubled its employee numbers in the last two years and opened two new centres in Cambridge and Peterborough. Rachel explained to Caroline how the charity had used the Best Employers Eastern Region to introduce a staff survey and to maintain the charity’s core values as it continued to grow. She also revealed how receiving the accolade and being part of the initiative had already benefited the business.

Introducing a staff survey

“What our employees think, is fundamental to the whole performance of our organisation. All the great work we do only happens because of our team, they really are our greatest asset. As our plan is to continue to grow and to create even more positive impact, it’s critical that we ensure our values and our people remain at the heart of everything we do. Having grown to a point where it had become difficult for the HR committee to speak to all our employees we decided to introduce a staff survey and found the Best Employers Eastern Region’s as part of our research. It was a perfect fit. Our culture, values and engagement levels were exactly what we wanted to monitor and this provided us with a survey which was already in place and ready to go.”

Maintaining a culture of team work

“Our ethos has been developed by bringing people together and we wanted to reinforce this team-focussed culture as we continued to grow and spread across multiple sites. The results of the Best Employers Eastern Region survey helped us to identify ways to do this. We’ve started to look at bringing people from different sites together through more team events and at different ways of communicating across a wider network, including an intranet and more established one-to-ones. We’ve also introduced six-monthly team briefings to ensure everyone understands the business and to share information on what we are trying to achieve. We will continue to monitor our engagement levels by using the Best Employers Eastern Region survey and by introducing our own smaller staff surveys in between.”

Recruiting for the future

“Our ongoing aim is to ensure that we employ people who share our values of teamwork, innovation, clarity of vision and customer focus. People are normally attracted to work for us by what we do, but we are unique and it doesn’t suit everyone. Most of our employees believe in making a better place to live and share common traits of empathy and team working. We use personality profiling when we are recruiting as another selection tool to help us find the right cultural fit. We want people to enjoy coming to work, and to love what they do, so they are committed to achieving the outcomes needed.”

Building an employer brand

“As a not-for-profit organisation, one of our biggest recruitment challenges is budget. We must be very careful how we spend our money so our focus is on standing out in other ways and on building our own employer brand. As we’ve become more known in the local area, people are starting to come to us with speculative CVs and we are starting to build up a bank of people wanting to work with us. We’ve also had people start with us purely as volunteers who have gone on to paid employment when an opportunity arose.

“Winning the Best Employers Eastern Region Award for Employee Engagement will be another boost in raising our employer brand and in helping us attract talented people into the organisation. It has also confirmed how people feel about working for the organisation and we are proud that our results stood out and shone against some of the other fantastic organisations involved. To see the passion with which people described their experience of working with us brings such a warm feeling but we know we can’t be complacent. We want to focus on making the organisation even better and on putting more in actions in place as we continue to grow.”

Top tips for other organisations

“Our main tips for other organisations looking to introduce a staff survey are to be prepared for honest feedback and to engage people from the outset. It’s important to clearly communicate why you are introducing an employee survey and to show that you are committed to acting on results. Encourage honest input by making sure people know that it is anonymous and confidential, and that you want to know both the good and the bad so that you can develop an action plan based on the feedback.”

The Best Employers Eastern Region initiative was founded in 2012 by professional recruitment specialists Pure and people development and psychometrics experts eras ltd.  It aims to celebrate the region’s best employers and supports organisations across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire to create inspiring, innovative and engaging places to work.

Having handed out more than 24 Best Employers Eastern Region Awards to date, Pure was keen to further explore what makes these award-winning organisations so successful in the eyes of their own employees. Caroline Batchelor, Associate Director at Pure, caught up with Rachel Coquard, Head of HR at Allia Ltd in Cambridge. The not-for-profit charitable organisation which was crowned the region’s Best Small Employer for Employee Engagement in 2016.

Originally established in 1999, the unique organisation supports the development of positive social ventures by providing services including enterprise advice, funding and affordable workspace. It has almost doubled its employee numbers in the last two years and opened two new centres in Cambridge and Peterborough. Rachel explained to Caroline how the charity had used the Best Employers Eastern Region to introduce a staff survey and to maintain the charity’s core values as it continued to grow. She also revealed how receiving the accolade and being part of the initiative had already benefited the business.

Introducing a staff survey

“What our employees think, is fundamental to the whole performance of our organisation. All the great work we do only happens because of our team, they really are our greatest asset. As our plan is to continue to grow and to create even more positive impact, it’s critical that we ensure our values and our people remain at the heart of everything we do. Having grown to a point where it had become difficult for the HR committee to speak to all our employees we decided to introduce a staff survey and found the Best Employers Eastern Region’s as part of our research. It was a perfect fit. Our culture, values and engagement levels were exactly what we wanted to monitor and this provided us with a survey which was already in place and ready to go.”

Maintaining a culture of team work

“Our ethos has been developed by bringing people together and we wanted to reinforce this team-focussed culture as we continued to grow and spread across multiple sites. The results of the Best Employers Eastern Region survey helped us to identify ways to do this. We’ve started to look at bringing people from different sites together through more team events and at different ways of communicating across a wider network, including an intranet and more established one-to-ones. We’ve also introduced six-monthly team briefings to ensure everyone understands the business and to share information on what we are trying to achieve. We will continue to monitor our engagement levels by using the Best Employers Eastern Region survey and by introducing our own smaller staff surveys in between.”

Recruiting for the future

“Our ongoing aim is to ensure that we employ people who share our values of teamwork, innovation, clarity of vision and customer focus. People are normally attracted to work for us by what we do, but we are unique and it doesn’t suit everyone. Most of our employees believe in making a better place to live and share common traits of empathy and team working. We use personality profiling when we are recruiting as another selection tool to help us find the right cultural fit. We want people to enjoy coming to work, and to love what they do, so they are committed to achieving the outcomes needed.”

Building an employer brand

“As a not-for-profit organisation, one of our biggest recruitment challenges is budget. We must be very careful how we spend our money so our focus is on standing out in other ways and on building our own employer brand. As we’ve become more known in the local area, people are starting to come to us with speculative CVs and we are starting to build up a bank of people wanting to work with us. We’ve also had people start with us purely as volunteers who have gone on to paid employment when an opportunity arose.

“Winning the Best Employers Eastern Region Award for Employee Engagement will be another boost in raising our employer brand and in helping us attract talented people into the organisation. It has also confirmed how people feel about working for the organisation and we are proud that our results stood out and shone against some of the other fantastic organisations involved. To see the passion with which people described their experience of working with us brings such a warm feeling but we know we can’t be complacent. We want to focus on making the organisation even better and on putting more in actions in place as we continue to grow.”

Top tips for other organisations

“Our main tips for other organisations looking to introduce a staff survey are to be prepared for honest feedback and to engage people from the outset. It’s important to clearly communicate why you are introducing an employee survey and to show that you are committed to acting on results. Encourage honest input by making sure people know that it is anonymous and confidential, and that you want to know both the good and the bad so that you can develop an action plan based on the feedback.”

 For further information about Best Employers Eastern Region, please contact Lucy Plumb.