Engage, Empower and Enrich: A Case Study in Positive Change at Coastal Community

By Ken Blosser

This is an overview of how in 2011, Coastal Community achieved the most successful technology conversion in their 60 year history, with no significant member impact, higher levels of employee confidence and competence, and documented increases in employee engagement.

Coastal Community has a long history of paying attention to the people side of change.

Process, Participation and Best Practice
When three credit unions merged to form Coastal Community Credit Union (CCCU) in 2005, the executive team recognized that a key factor in the successful integration of the businesses was to have a disciplined process to deal with the human side of change.  Coastal Community partnered with Insights Vancouver to build their internal capacity for managing change.

Throughout the organization, leaders learned the power of using a common language for planning, assessing and monitoring different levels of engagement. The executive team explored how to apply effective sponsorship skills; managers and project teams learned best practices as change agents; change champions supported the day-to-day communication to build transparency and trust.  Based on regular assessments, leaders drew on a balanced approach that ensured the most relevant and timely actions.

Together, a group of courageous leaders from different parts of the organization took on a mammoth integration project and came out of the merger stronger than ever – ready and able to withstand the economic downturn of 2008.

When the new challenge of the technology conversion came up in 2011, Coastal Community knew they had a winning formula already in place. The Insights Engagement process worked well as a foundation; they also knew that this was an opportunity to refresh and renew their internal capacity to apply best practices in a changing environment.

Tapping Tech for Pulse Checks
Leaders wanted to expand the process to make better use of current technology.  They chose to measure levels of engagement throughout the change using a “Pulse Check” survey on their intranet.  They wanted open transparency so all could see the results – and know that their input was informing leaders’ behaviours.  Leaders also wanted to ensure that they were focusing their energies with the right actions at the right time for ‘just in time’ adaptations to the change plan.

To build employee confidence in the surveying process, Bruno Dragani, chief people & administration officer, worked with Insights Vancouver president Joyce Gwilliam to prepare a short web-cast about the engagement building process and how the short on-line surveys were going to inform leadership behaviours.  The 14 minute web-cast was available to all employees.

The Insights Engagement Model (see chart) was reviewed within the context of the emerging technology conversion.  Five iterative steps in the engagement process were presented:

1) Clarify the change.
2) Communicate the change.
3) Foster acceptance.
4) Implement; and
5) Sustain the benefits of the change.


Survey for Growing Success
Over a period of three months, six Pulse Check Engagement surveys went out to employees.  The surveys were short (less than a minute per employee), but the immediate results showed whether the desired level of 80 per cent engagement at each step was attained – or not.  Change agents were focused on intended outcomes at each stage of engagement.

For example:
Step 1:  General awareness about the change by stakeholders.
Step 2:  Shared understanding by stakeholders.
Step 3:  Active involvement through activities such as two way dialogue, training and dealing with the emotional ups and downs of the proposed change.
Step 4:  Application of the new way.
Step 5: Advocating the new way as ‘just the way we do business’, and incorporation of continuous improvements.

As expected, in the first surveys, people were engaged at the awareness level, but did not have the understanding to engage in two-way dialogue.  At each Pulse Check, leaders met, reviewed the level of engagement and adjusted their behaviour accordingly.  The Insights’ resources provided best practice suggestions for addressing temporary drops for each step in the Engagement Model.  Within a matter of weeks, using a balanced, four quadrant approach, the levels of engagement showed a readiness for implementation – right on schedule.

Through regular surveying, leaders were informed about both the current levels of engagement and which best practice suggestions were most likely to provide the greatest return on investment.  By having this information, leaders were able to focus their attention on raising stakeholder engagement, while keeping the project on time and on budget.

The lessons learned by Coastal Community have provided them with a valuable checklist for future changes – as well as for other organizations committed to achieving results on time, on budget and with maximum employee engagement.

Sharing Seven Lessons Learned

  1. Create a common language for managing the people side of change – from executives, to managers, to frontline employees.
  2. Let people know that engagement is important and how it will be measured.
  3. Engagement is not a simple ‘yes I am engaged’ or ‘no I am not engaged’.  Survey the different levels of engagement throughout the change process and adapt accordingly.
  4. Leaders want to be effective change sponsors. Provide them with focused, just-in-time best practices that are aligned with real data from the current change project.
  5. Select internal champions at each work site, and invest in their understanding about how to measure and build engagement.  They can work with leaders to analyze data and identify best practices.  Plus, you are ensuring that emerging leaders are already increasing their capacity for leading in a changing environment.
  6. Employees want to be engaged.  Having the opportunity to participate in an easy and transparent engagement surveying process, and seeing how their responses can influence change, go a long way to building high performing and loyal employees.
  7. Taking the time to measure levels of engagement at a project level results in a more engaged workforce overall.

The Full Measure of Engagement
Deborah Edwards, AVP of human resources for Coastal Community, comments that, “Rigorous measurement of engagement at a micro-project level yields macro-organizational results.”  Simply put, small things make a big difference. How big?

While most organizations expect at least a temporary drop in overall organizational engagement during major change initiatives, the Aon/Hewitt “50 Best Employers in Canada” survey (done during to the banking conversion) saw Coastal Community leap from 49th to 20th spot in Canada.

This type of result recognizes the results organizations can achieve when they – especially in times of changes – engage their people often, empower their leaders with best practices and enrich the organization with the knowledge and skills necessary for long term success.

Ken Blosser is Director of Operations at the Insights Learning and Development Vancouver office.  He is part of a team delivering people development solutions that have immediate impact, and enable positive, lasting change within organizations.

(PeopleTalk: Fall 2012)

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