Building staff morale and expertise

An innovative range of employee engagements, including a personal development plan for each team member has been implemented by GSK in Ireland to facilitate development and drive employee engagement, according to Commercial Director, Eimear Caslin.  Maureen Browne reports.

Dr. Eimear Caslin
Eimear Caslin

“Staff motivation and maintaining morale are major challenges for any organisation when teams are constantly under pressure and where there may be resource constraints. Organisations can sometime feel they don’t have the resources either in funding or time, to put significant investment into developing people or to creating opportunities for people to progress.

“I would see that as a false economy because we all know that people are so critical and fundamental to the success of every organisation.  At the end of the day if individuals don’t feel committed, valued and engaged you will never get the best out of them. I think this is  particularly true of the health services where the majority of staff are the public face of the health service, whether direct front line staff or managers and administrators.  They all have a pivotal role to play in delivering those services.  If we don’t, as organisations and managers, invest in people, we are doing a disservice to the individual and also to the overall performance of the organisation.

“Our approach in GSK is to find out what our employees have to say and listen to their views across a range of topics”

“Our approach in GSK is to find out what our employees have to say and listen to their views across a range of topics. We survey our employees globally every two years and part of the survey deals with how valued employees feel and areas where we could improve as an organisation. Their feedback gives us a temperature check and it helps us to pinpoint the areas on which we should focus. We then put a plan together and measure ourselves against it on a monthly basis to ensure to are making progress on the critical areas.

“For example we did a survey in 2016.  The overall results for the Irish business were quite positive, but there were some clear indicators that we could do more on development and employee engagement.  We believe that by putting some more effort in these areas we can realise significant gains in the performance of our organisation.”

Managers have to be creative in looking for opportunities to develop staff skills

Ms. Caslin said that as an Irish business, every employee has a development plan in place which has been agreed with her or his manager. This plan is formally reviewed twice a year and they encourage employees to have more regular discussions with their managers on a monthly basis.

In terms of staff engagement a couple of simple initiatives can make a big difference and it doesn’t have to involve spending money. Every two years GSK staff in Ireland select a charity which they will support. GSK commits to a specific funding to this charity for two years and the challenge is then for the staff to see how much they can add to this.  The current Irish charity is ‘Make A Wish’ and in addition GSK globally has an on-going partnership with Barretstown.

“We have a programme of team activities throughout the year, these are fun activities, which also raise funds for the GSK charity of the year.  They are really important as they boost morale and give people the opportunity to organise or take a lead role in co-ordinating these activities, so there are great opportunities for people to get involved.

“We have all kinds of events – a 50k and 100k cycle –  where we invite all employees, friends and families to take part. We get tee shirts printed and have a big buffet afterwards and these are fantastic days out.  We also do very simple things like cake sales and our most recent one raised nearly €1,000 euro with just  100 staff on site.  There is a great buzz during these events and we raise lots of money for charity.

“Different departments organise different functions, staff take ownership for different events and there is friendly competitiveness between teams organising events. We believe these events are very important for staff engagement and they don’t really cost money.”

Ms. Caslin said that, in building staff capabilities, the first thing is to understand what are the expectations of the role from the managers’ point of view and the capabilities required to fulfil these expectations. This can identify if there are any gaps that are preventing individuals or teams from reaching their potential.

“Some people might think the way forward would be for everyone to do a formal training course, but we believe the way to build capabilities is to have open and honest conversations between managers and direct reports first which would include the creation of  personal development plans to bridge any identified gaps.  You could find some people operating above expectations in certain aspects of a role but perhaps below expectations in other areas and it is on these gaps you need to focus to get the best out of people.  Our aim is to bridge the key gaps identified which is preventing an individual from reaching her or his potential and this could be through formal training, through on the job experience or through coaching/mentoring. It is really a 70/20/10 approach – 70% on the job, working though experience to get capabilities, 20% through mentoring, coaching and feedback from managers and colleagues and 10% is the formal training piece which is actually the  smallest proportion of the overall development plan.

“Once a  personal development plan is in place, you have to track it,  employees has to take real ownership to ensure they do what they have signed up to and managers have to do their part in terms of constructive feedback.”

Ms. Caslin argues that managers have to be creative in looking for opportunities to develop staff skills.  “You have to think broadly. The fastest way to get  a task done might be to give it to a person who has experience in that area, but we believe that it can provide a huge learning opportunity for somebody else.  It might take a little longer to get a new person up to speed but at the end of the process you have broadened the experience and capability across your team. There are times when you have to take a risk as well. Nobody is ever perfect and we are all on a learning curve, but as managers we need to invest  time in enabling people to broaden their capabilities.

“Opportunities are everywhere. They exist every day from simple things like taking a lead at a meeting, or taking charge of a project  to bigger changes such as moving into new roles.

“We have examples in GSK where we have swapped people between roles or used maternity leave as a way of giving people new experiences in very different roles on a short term basis.  Initially there may be some pain for the organisation as individuals upskill, but it will mean we will have a much stronger team in place who feel challenged and valued.”

GSK has approximately 1200 employees based across its Irish manufacturing and commercial businesses with a global staff of 100,000 in 115 countries.