For global grocery tech business Ocado Group, recognising and rewarding its essential workers during the toughest times imaginable has brought about fresh, innovative ways of celebrating employees who have gone above and beyond.
People engagement specialist Emily Abell, and people communications and engagement officer Harriet Reddish, from Ocado Logistics faced huge challenges providing rewards and benefits to a dispersed workforce. In collaboration with Benefex they have reframed their employee offerings and launched a new initiative that has been shortlisted for Best Motivation or Recognition Scheme at this year’s Employee Benefit Awards.
Tough times and little reward
The suspension of most face-to-face meetings over the last two years has meant that recognising employees that have gone that extra mile been harder than ever – especially when your staff comprises the logistical arm of the Ocado Group. The 15,000-strong frontline workforce, which includes drivers and warehouse staff, and their support function is predominantly based either in the warehouse or driving delivery trucks and working offline in multiple locations. This means that face-to-face time with managers isn’t easy to facilitate, and feedback and appreciation doesn’t always get passed on.
A disjointed reward experience
With recognition being an essential part of Ocado Logistics, there have always been departmental schemes in place which relied on manager nominations and culminated in an annual event that targeted a small proportion of the overall workforce – around 1%. “Just before the pandemic started, we brought some of those individual departments together into a new logistics business area. The existing schemes were exclusive and inconsistent across the new business unit,” explains Harriet.
What’s more, Covid dramatically changed the way the teams were working, restricting opportunities for engagement and recognition activities. “We had to rethink our approach, so the pandemic accelerated the need for an interactive platform and highlighted the value of online recognition,” says Emily. “On top of that, our people went to extraordinary lengths during the pandemic, and we wanted a way to say thank you to all who worked tirelessly to feed the nation and an online platform allowed us to recognise more people more regularly,” she adds.
Accessibility is key
The nature of the work Ocado Logistics staff do means catching employees at the beginning or the end of their shift to pass on positive customer feedback or a thank you which isn’t always possible. The team decided a platform that enables people to post real-time messages, then follow-up in person when they are next on shift would be ideal.
“All the communication and training had to be accessible to all of our employees working both during the day and at night and at various different locations, so we spent a lot of time working with our operational management teams to schedule training sessions at the right time, and then communicate via posters and plasmas on our intranet,” explains Emily.
In addition, this employee group has limited access the corporate systems meaning they only connect with their personal devices. “It has been a challenge, but we have got portals and desktops on site that people can use, and we demonstrate the value of downloading the app too,” explains Harriet.
How can the tech enable consistency?
Since the launch, they have had about 14,000 employees log into the platform, and nearly 40% have recognised, reacted or commented. They have rewarded 80% of their employees too. “That might be with the ‘Reach your key milestone’ scheme or the Above and Beyond Awards or through one of the recognition campaigns that we’ve run. Now all our sites have access to the platform and can nominate for the Above and Beyond Award. It’s much more scalable as we’re continuing to grow, and it also means that our employees are getting a much more consistent experience,” says Harriet.
How can it help retention?
For the Ocado team, one of the biggest retention challenges is the relationship between managers and their employees because there is so little face time with them. “Our managers are often focusing on the challenges so it’s really difficult for them to build a strong relationship with their employees. That’s one of the reasons we’ve tried to connect the recognition and the management support piece together and in the hope that that does have a big impact on the turnover too,” says Emily.
What are the launching ‘dos and don’ts’?
1. Listen to your employees
“The biggest thing for us throughout the entire process was to remember that this is a platform for our employees. Pulse surveys had already identified recognition as a focus area for us, we knew that we had inconsistent schemes, and wanted to do something a bit different, but it was listening to them that started the whole thing,” says Emily. The team set up listening groups with over 300 people across all the sites to understand what they want to be recognised for, how they want to be recognised and what they would want to receive. “Once we had that insight, we organised a working party made up of various employee groups and provided training sessions. It’s really about understanding what people like, what we can improve, and receiving feedback, even if it is negative. It’s never really a negative though, because it gives you the opportunity to do something about it and to really build something good for them,” says Harriet.
2. Involve employees at every stage
To kick off the campaign, the Ocado team ran prize draws to encourage people to log in. They also continued the theme of employee involvement with their Above and Beyond Award – a nomination process for monthly awards and annual recognition, and also created an employee rating panel where the monthly winners are nominated by customers but voted for and chosen by staff. They also created a demo site where managers were given access before the programme went live so they could get used to the platform and understand what they were promoting to their employees.
3. Use social engagement at every touchpoint
The team already had experience of rolling out schemes across a fragmented employee base, but the pandemic meant they couldn’t undertake face-to-face promotion across locations. Instead, they used existing tools like intranet sites and screens but made sure the content was as engaging as possible. “We spent a lot of time as a team thinking about the launch plan in terms of what resources our managers needed, the FAQs, demos and how to use it and even made a video of employees talking about the value of recognition so that they were endorsing the product,” says Harriet. “Social approval is really important. People don’t have a lot of time in their shifts, so you have to sell it to them and there is no better way than another one of their peer group telling them what it means to them and how they’re going to use it,” she adds.
4. Think seasonally for content
“To make sure that content stays fresh and interesting we’ve run a couple of campaigns using a combination of both the Benefex platform and face-to face-recognition,” says Emily. “The first one was Secret Santa at Christmas time which gave employees an opportunity to submit a message to a colleague who’d made a difference to them that year through the nominate feature on the platform. We then sent out the messages and attached a reward for Christmas,” she adds. Since then, they have run an Employee Appreciation Day campaign to encourage more face-to-face recognition. “We sent all of our sites some scratch cards and encouraged managers to hand them out to employees who were doing a good job. Employees scratch off a reward on the back of the card and then we sent out the rewards via the platform. They were just small things because we wanted to encourage more of that ‘little and often’ recognition. The Secret Santa rewards were slightly bigger, but we’re still very much trying to get the balance right. These campaigns have gone down really well. We’ve seen higher levels of recognition and traffic coming through the platform as a result,” adds Harriet.
5. Check timelines and back-end issues before launching
The team experienced some challenges before launch and with HR operating on two different systems, both needed to be fed into the Benefex platform: “My recommendation to anybody going through this is to check the hoops that you’ve got to jump through from a corporate perspective before you start so you have a plan and don’t get caught out with things a couple of weeks before you launch that you haven’t done!” advises Harriet.
6. Ask for help!
The team found it valuable having a Benefex expert on hand throughout the process as Emily explains: “It really made it feel like a joined-up approach from the beginning. Our Success Manager, Abbie, ran so many training sessions to ensure we that did everything the right way for our management team. She’s always been there to provide advice and guidance on all things recognition, which has just been so valuable for us.”