Centrica is an organisation that is – like many businesses currently – going through huge transformational change for the new world of work. While this is underpinned by technology, we want to ensure we build a culture where everyone can be themselves and do their best work, from anywhere.
At Microsoft, we’re also going through this journey. We’ve seen that giving people the tools to be more productive and collaborative whether in the office or at home is only one piece of the puzzle. An effective culture is one that gives people what they need to succeed. It also encourages everyone to truly be themselves. This drives a more diverse culture, and in turn, more innovation and agility for the future.
During 2020, many employees were working strictly from home. Microsoft had to work differently to extend this culture onto a digital platform. I’ve talked previously about how using this technology, especially in the manufacturing and utilities industries can help drive an innovative culture. From our learnings, we know that with the right tools and leadership, you can successfully have a transparent and collaborative culture.
Centrica also recognised this and began to survey their colleagues more frequently to check in on employee wellbeing. Their people told them that there was a growing sense of isolation. Feedback from employee groups also shared a greater need to focus on inclusivity, addressing barriers to inclusion and creating a workplace where all can thrive.
Creating a platform to share our culture change stories
In November, Centrica invited us to join their first ever Culture Hack which gave their employees a platform to come together, listen to different experiences and discuss ideas for what their culture could grow into. Culture change doesn’t always come from the top down, it can be from the bottom up and the Culture Hack was a great way to uncover the changes that were needed and to start driving them forward.
Here are three learnings from Centrica’s experience of running a Culture Hack to help you with your own culture change revolution as we enter a new world of work.
1. Use your values to drive your culture change
At Centrica, our values act as a guide to driving this culture change, our business is founded on a 200-year heritage of serving people and our values are central to our success:
Technology helps mobilise productivity and collaboration from anywhere. Our people are already using it effectively in their day-to-day, so we leveraged it to help us start our culture change. We decided the best way for people to come together would be a specific day. Then we would have follow up communications and events designed to keep the ball rolling.
We used Microsoft Teams to host the events. We hosted one main event for keynotes and talks and then created Channels to host smaller breakout groups, based on key topics. These groups were each assigned a Microsoft and Centrica facilitator. We gave clear advice on what we wanted these breakout sessions to achieve. We provided a virtual Whiteboard template, with prepared sticky notes as well as simple guidelines on how to get the best from the session and what we wanted them to discuss.
The most difficult part of running the Culture Hack was the planning and logistical side, but it was worth the extra effort. Our tech worked perfectly. Our people were genuinely excited and engaged. We even had people wanting to join last minute, which showed how enthusiastic the team were to be involved. It was challenging to manage the individual breakout sessions based on employee availability. However, scheduling the Culture Hack as much in advance as possible will definitely help if you’re looking to run your own.
2. Encourage everyone to get involved in the culture change
Our leaders have found that the virtual way of working requires dialling up their emotional intelligence skills to improve online collaboration, demonstrate empathy, model personal resilience and look after their team as well as having the ability to listen to and coach others.
The Culture Hack was something they were completely engaged with. We also encouraged everyone to join and share feedback. It was a very empathetic, collaborative space with people sharing and listening – you truly felt like everything was being taken on board. This is something highly important for culture change. Listening to feedback and ideas is the best way to ensure everyone stays on board with the movement.
Our speakers from Centrica, Microsoft and LinkedIn were well received. They generously shared stories of their own cultural transformation journey. Our people found that it provided inspiration as well as practical tips on how organisations can make a change that matters. When organising your own Culture Hack, be sure to share personal stories. Encourage people to come off mute or use the chat window to share their own ideas.
3. Implement the quick wins and act on the bigger ideas
Following the feedback, we got so many ideas to follow up on. What’s important for our colleagues is to show that we’re hearing them and taking action. So, while some ideas may take some time to develop, we have immediately implemented the ones we could. Sometimes, this is as easy as signposting our people to programmes we already run.
For example, skills was a big topic discussed during the Culture Hack. One of our Responsible Business Ambitions is to inspire and develop 100,000 people with essential STEM skills. So, post-event we shared how to access our Learning Academy, Workday Learning App, and The Career Development Hub with our colleagues so they could start building skills. These resources already existed but employees weren’t necessarily aware of them. Having a central place where resources can be shared can go a long way to alleviating some of the challenges faced by your teams.
We also have suggested people implement a ‘Golden Hour’ – something our Irish team in Bord Gáis does already. This is an hour everyday, blocked out in diaries, around lunch time when people are encouraged to leave their computer and get some screen-free time. A Microsoft Research study found that in the last few months workers experienced reduced boundaries and struggled with work-life balance. In the office, this is normally represented by grabbing lunch with a colleague, or going for a midday walk. We want people to ensure they take their breaks during the day. By implementing this organisational-wide, we can ensure everyone can take their time without feeling guilty, and come back refreshed.
For those ideas that take a little bit longer, we’re looking forward to hosting more discussion groups to develop them. However, we told people if they wanted positive change – don’t wait.
Creating a more transparent, collaborative future
For us, running a Culture Hack in partnership with Microsoft brought people together to co-create our new world of work. We were able to:
- Help our people understand why culture change is critical to delivering Centrica’s strategy and what it looks like.
- Source their feedback/input on the type of organisation we want to be.
- Reflect on how we, as individuals, may need to shift their own mindset, actions and behaviours.
- Commit to pragmatic actions to nudge us towards the desired future culture.
People loved the opportunity to be open. They appreciated our leadership team and Microsoft showing up and genuinely taking part, sharing their culture change experiences. Our speakers were extremely popular. People are already asking us when the next sessions are running. This is just the first stage of our culture change journey.
It’s never been more important to maintain a continuous conversation and ensure that all employees voices are heard, particularly as we begin to navigate a new world of work. Centrica have been on an incredible journey and we hope that the learnings they have shared in this blog provide some helpful inspiration for your organisation’s transformation journey.
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About the authors
Rik joined Microsoft at the start of 2020, with responsibility for Microsoft’s strategy across manufacturing, energy and resources in the UK. He is Microsoft’s lead when working with regulators, industry bodies, industry partners, and our largest customers to ensure Microsoft enables the needs of industry. Since joining, Rik has become a board member in techUK’s Smart Energy & Utilities working group, techUK’s Digital Twin steering board, UK Research & Innovation Manufacturing Made Smarter board, and the BIM4Water Digital Skills steering group. Prior to Microsoft, Rik worked at Cisco for 13 years, with global lead roles in energy and resource industries, IoT and security, and digital transformation.
He has an MBA in international leadership and is currently studying for a Masters in Green Economy.
Heather joined Centrica in 2020 as HR Director for Centrica’s Digital and Technology Services Division. Here, the focus is on reinforcing strong company culture, creating and leading employee engagement and development programs, and implementing reward and talent management strategies that enable the achievement of business goals and objectives as well as meeting the needs and aspirations of its employees. Prior to her appointment at Centrica, Heather has held senior HR leadership roles including as HR Director UK & Ireland for OTIS. Heather has also served in HR leadership roles at Virgin Media, International SOS, the Telegraph Media Group and BT Plc.
Heather holds a Bachelor of Law degree from Durham University, a Postgraduate Diploma from University of Law and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.