In December 2018, West Sussex County Council’s (WSCC) Chief Executive committed to introducing an app to tackle the challenge of staff engagement. After a thorough commercial process, the programme was fast-tracked into operation by WSCCs Transformation Portfolio Office to meet the executive team's April commitment.
In reality, the momentum behind the programme had grown throughout 2018. The senior leadership team had already identified that culture, performance and finance were their three main challenges. And they reasoned that if the council were to successfully transform services and the communities they serve - against a backdrop of significant budgetary cuts - staff engagement is critical to their success.
However, this was not just a top-down driven solution! The 2018 staff conference, several pulse surveys and a full staff survey, identified that council employees were keen to know more about the decisions made at a corporate level and across the Directorates. Indeed, workforce feedback consistently asked for three things:
West Sussex is a three-tier English county and WSCC is the County authority responsible for public services such as education, transport, strategic planning, social services, public safety, the fire service and waste disposal. It is responsible for services to a community of almost 860,000 people in an area almost 2000 km2 in South East England.
The Transformation Team was responsible for fast-tracking the app into commission to help address three known staff engagement problems:
WSCC wanted to address these issues by focusing their attention on the workforce that current channels couldn’t reach. They called their solution the Big Exchange.
The Big Exchange (BE) is a rebranded version of the Talkfreely app that’s distributed to the council’s workforce via the app stores using the council’s own brand and logo. It offered WSCC a number of immediate advantages over their existing communication channels:
The Talkfreely team has been supportive, proactive and reactive. They helped us to navigate our way through the launch and on-boarding processes, their expertise in this field and their flexibility to work within the parameters of what can be a challenging sector has been invaluable. Whereas other suppliers may have provided the product and left, their team continues to collaborate with us to make the app as successful as it can be.
Julie Robinson, Project Manager
The Big Exchange is helping the Council to create a modern employee communication plan that reaches, engages and aligns.
Ravi Dhindsa, Head of Transformation
On 1 April 2019, the app was launched with first-phase functionality – a news page with corporate information that staff can react with uisng familiar interactions such as ‘likes’ and ‘comments’. Two weeks later, they launched the ‘Big Conversation’, a free-for-all page that allowed staff to post questions, debates or comment - but importantly also allowed a dialogue to develop as other staff were able to interact. Finally - in the first month - a small number of polls were included to generate feedback about future functionality on the app and to gather feedback on their existing staff benefits platform. The second and third months, incrementally added a little more functionality - a staff survey and an ideas section for example - but emphasised the need to create a dialogue.
Results at the end of the first quarter were highly encouraging:
Although this is an early peek at the project’s performance, it’s interesting to note - and contrary to preconceived conceptions - that there is a real council workforce appetite to get involved. For example - there were 25200 page views in the first month which means on average, each active user visited over 25 pages of content per month. Pretty good for ‘just’ a corporate news site!
Of course more work is needed to reach more staff (both corporate and non-corporate users), engage those staff in ways that encourage participation and dialogue, and align their engagement behind the council’s need to change and transform services in response to other - evolving - stakeholder expectations. The second phase promises to introduce more functionality based on new modules - but more importantly - the input and ideas of their workforce.
Introducing a new media channel for staff takes time to embed. As expected, the council's first tranche of users were already in corporate hubs and corporate roles.
Never-the-less, West Sussex were encouraged to see that they rapidly reached 1,000 users and the steady rise to 2,000 in the first quarter, even if (in the Council's words) "this has proven a little more difficult and has needed more focused attention":
This focus has helped the Council to reach tougher teams, for example, the FRS initially saw a low 3% adoption, but with focused attention this quickly increased by 30% in a month.
Talkfreely helps local authorities to engage employees other channels cannot reach - bringing organisations and their workforces closer together.
We do this by building the perfect employee communication tool set - allowing different organisations to maximise their employees contribution and unlock the true potential of disengaged and disconnected workforces.
Talkfreely is a leading provider of flexible internal communication platforms that help clients reach, engage and align their employees behind their company’s vision, mission, objectives, strategy and tactics.