Sainsbury's Talks Talent and Joins the Employee Engagement Taskforce

Jacki Connor

In March, the UK prime minister David Cameron gave backing to an Employee Engagement Task Force, led by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke (authors of the report "Engaging for Success.") The Task Force’s mission, according to prime minister, is "creating sustainable growth in the economy and improving people’s wellbeing."

UK Grocer Sainsbury’s Director of Customer Service (and formerly of Colleague Engagement), Jacki Connor, became a member of the UK Employee Engagement Task Force. Sainsbury’s is a corporation that definitely knows the value of an engaged workforce. But they don’t have "employees" at Sainsbury’s—they have "colleagues."

HRIQ speaks with Connors about their employee engagement initiatives and her involvement in the Task Force.

Sainsbury’s mission is to be a great place to work. How do you build a successful employer brand through colleague engagement?

One of Sainsbury's Corporate Responsibility commitments is to be "A great place to work." As a large employer, and often the largest employer in the local community, we know we have a responsibility to our potential and existing colleagues and we take every opportunity to engage with them.

We have created our own internal brand, "You make the difference," to support delivery against our commitment and we worked with our colleagues to create our brand. They told us that understanding the role they play in our business and being valued for their contribution to our success was incredibly important to them and this is exactly what our brand brings to life for them.
How do you communicate and measure levels of colleague engagement internally?

We measure our success on an on-going basis using our own internal engagement index which we developed ourselves. We did this by talking to colleagues to understand what their key levers of engagement are and then measuring ourselves against these. We also look at labor turnover and absence levels as another indicator of our success in this area.

Recently, has there been any reinvention of your talent management programs through technology?

We constantly review our talent programs because we know how important development is for our colleagues, whether this is linked to promotion and transition into new roles or simply allowing every colleague to become the best they can be. We don't overly-rely on technology for any of our development programs since the majority of our colleagues do not have easy access to PCs on the sales floor.

Sainsbury’s uses employee engagement to develop ideas that make the customer experience better. How do you link talent management programs into a cohesive branding strategy?

We constantly ask our colleagues to help us develop new ideas, they spend the majority of their time dealing with and talking to customers so they often have great ideas about how to make our customers lives’ easier. They will often submit their ideas to our suggestion scheme, Tell Justin. Justin King is our CEO and he encourages colleagues to write to him with their ideas and we have had 33,000 suggestions in six years.

Can you talk about your involvement with the UK Employee Engagement task force?

We took part in the initial stages of the Employee Engagement task force last year which resulted in the McLeod report and were happy to share our ideas with other companies. This remains the case and we are looking forward to sharing and learning more best practice.

Interview conducted by Alexandra Guadagno, Editor for Human Resources iQ.