As the new chief information officer and senior vice president in charge of business transformation at Des Moines, Iowa-based property/casualty carrier GuideOne Insurance, Doug Cretsinger faced some big challenges.
He managed a staff of around 100 team members plus another 200 or so contract workers. Staff turnover in the IT department was high and employee commitment was low, the company was replacing its core technology systems, and there were numerous problems with the physical workspace.
Cretsinger, who joined GuideOne in 2013, decided to tackle the problems head on. Knowing it wouldn’t be easy, he decided to interview each of his team members in person to get their perspectives on the work environment.
“I wanted to get to know my staff personally, so I started by literally interviewing all 100 people. Some of my peers and colleagues thought I was crazy to do that…I set up half-hour interviews with all of my staff. I wanted to hear their concerns. I wanted to hear their proposed solutions. I wanted to give them a voice,” Cretsinger said during a webcast on employee engagement sponsored by TINYpulse, a creator of employee engagement software, and the consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte.
He started by asking each employee three questions: Where are you from? What challenges are you facing? What should we do about those challenges?
The employees were given the questions in advance and came prepared for their 30-minute interviews, Cretsinger said. “Many of them came not with the problems but with solutions, [such as] ‘I really think we need to try this different approach.’
“I got a lot of ideas and actually took a page of notes on every interview,” Cretsinger said.
The interview process took 90 days. In the end, he had “100 pages of notes on peoples’ perceptions,…problems they identified…and solutions they thought we should be pursuing,” he said.
There were a number of commonalities. One prevailing theme: “I’ve worked here for 10 years, and this is the first time I’ve talked to the CIO one-on-one.”
“That struck me. They didn’t have a communication channel with their CIO or their management team,” Cretsinger said.
Other concerns were about the stress of replacing legacy systems that some had worked on for decades, the overwhelming volume of work and assignment backlogs, outdated hardware and software, and other workplace transformations that were occurring.
Cretsinger created a report from those 100 pages of notes that he shared not only with senior management but with his team as well.
“We put together a list of actions. We were going to take on the top 10 trends that I heard through the interview process,” he said.
Cretsinger felt the initial interaction with staff was successful and wanted to keep the channels of communication open but knew he couldn’t continue the process of one-on-one interviews with 100 people in the long term.
“I needed a better solution,” he said.
He found out about the employee engagement application by TINYpulse through a mentor, so he decided to try it on a trial basis.
The cloud-based software application allows for anonymous employee feedback via a regularly scheduled email survey, for instance, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. In GuideOne’s case, weekly emails were sent that contained only one question, which typically varied from week to week.
There is one recurring question, however, that TINYpulse sends to all of its client organizations on four-to-six-week intervals: How happy are you at work?
According to a Bersin by Deloitte case study on GuideOne’s experience, “Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement, How GuideOne Insurance Leverages Weekly Pulse Surveys to Monitor Employee Commitment,” that question “gets straight to the heart of employee engagement and gives a recurring benchmark against which executives can compare their teams within their business or across industries.”
The Bersin by Deloitte case study noted that, on average, 66 percent of GuideOne employees regularly respond to the weekly survey question. The response rate goes as high as 75 percent when simple questions are asked. With complicated questions that require more thought and response time, the rate typically drops.
Cretsinger is able to view his employees’ anonymous responses in real time and take action immediately on problems if needed. He reports back to his staff on a weekly basis regarding the issues and trends that were identified in the week’s emails. And he offers suggestions on how employees can empower themselves to make changes in their work environment.
Cretsinger believes the anonymity of the responses is crucial to keeping high levels of employee engagement. He also made sure at every step of the way in implementing the survey process that his employees were on board.
“I asked for permission and got permission to both implement the survey and share the results. That was important,” he said.
GuideOne has been using the TINYpulse app for more than a year, and it appears to be successful. Cretsinger said he’s seen a major improvement in employee engagement. The turnover rate in the IT department was reduced from 12 percent to just over 3 percent in 18 months. The company is now in the process of implementing the surveys companywide.
“Please don’t do a survey or ask questions unless you’re prepared to take action. You have to have the engagement of the leadership team. This is why Doug has been so successful, because he had that commitment. Don’t do this unless you’re prepared to listen—and make a change,” Nakao said during the webcast detailing GuideOne’s experience.
He also said it’s important not to wait too long. “If you’re going to wait a year to get results, chances are you’re not going to be able to address them,” Nakao said.
And the results must be shared with the team. “If you’re going to ask an employee to take the time to do something, they want to see what other people are saying. And a lot of times that actually helps guide them into what they’re thinking about the problem,” he said. Nakao added that companies that share results get the highest employee participation rates.
Companies also need to benchmark the survey results and filter the data, so that trends can be monitored over time so see if improvements have made, he said.
“Kevin is exactly right,” Cretsinger said. “Don’t go into this thinking you’re just going to ask for feedback and you’re going to get it and that’s the end. Completing that feedback loop, communicating back what you heard and what you’re going to do about it, that’s the most important step.”
He said he had a weekly dialogue with his staff about what he heard during the week and what he intended to do about it.
“I couldn’t promise to fix everything, and I didn’t. But I did promise to take action on things that I could. In some cases, I needed their help in order to implement the changes,” he said.
“I looked at the cost and the features and decided to pilot it with my team. And here we are two years later and I have found it to be extremely helpful in my organization. I had to commit, and I did,” Cretsinger said.