Unlocking engagement: Review of the 'Innovative Workplaces' Initiative

This project, funded by the East Midlands Development Agency (emda) in 2009/10, was managed and delivered by Acas in East Midlands. The United Kingdom Work Organisation Network (UKWON) was the delivery partner on the project and the Nottingham Trent University Business School (NTU) was responsible for its evaluation.

The IWP approach
The IWP was innovative in a number of respects. It set out to:
 – stimulate organisational change,
– be workplace focused,
– provide customised organisational support,
– develop management and leadership skills through a practical, rather than
  a theoretical approach,
– provide an integrated evaluation of the impact of this pilot initiative.

The IWP offered direct support to two nominated representatives (referred to as
gatekeepers) from each of the ten participating organisations. The underpinning rationale was that a handful of key individuals could successfully be the catalyst for sustainable organisational change. The IWP began with the gatekeepers undertaking a three and half day course to develop their management and leadership skills, devise their action plans and begin to establish the interactions necessary for successful action learning. An Acas facilitator (and a back up facilitator) was linked to each organisation and they helped the gatekeepers draw up their action plans. Full day monthly participant network meetings facilitated by UKWON incorporated action learning sets in which the participants were invited to both support and challenge one another when devising and implementing their action plans.

Mechanisms for improving employee voice ranged from the establishment of a workplace employee forum, to a steering group with employee representatives with reporting task groups and/or employee focus groups facilitated by Acas. The IWP had resulted in seven out of eight organisations putting in place mechanisms to promote and capture new ideas.

All the participating organisations reported that the IWP had led, not only to the achievement of some of the workplace changes sought in their initial plans, butalso to improvements in the wider employee relations climate: improving levels of employee engagement, morale, communications between management and employees or staff in different functional areas, workforce flexibility and the implementation of change.
Improved communication was identified by respondents from all the participating organisations as the ‘single most important change’.
Managers in half of the participating organisations reported that one outcome of their involvement in the IWP was that issues formerly referred directly to them were now being resolved at a lower level in the management chain or by employees themselves. This was identified by respondents as saving
management time with consequent improvements in efficiency and productivity.
The economic impact assessment of the IWP reported an overall minimum return on investment of £4 for every £1. Participating organisations attributed proportions of improvements in staff productivity and present and future employment growth directly to the IWP. The economic impacts quoted can be thought of as cautious estimates, due to the fact that it was not possible to fully measure all benefits.
From the perspective of the facilitators themselves, it was unanimously identified that having terms of reference agreed with senior management in place at the outset would have enabled more rapid progress against the action plans. A feature of the IWP was that it had intentionally included a diverse range of organisations. From the perspective of the participants this diversity had the advantage of offering new perspectives. One suggestion from gatekeepers at a couple of the participating organisations however was that having access to a mentor from a similar industry or sector would be a valuable addition to the interventions offered by the project.