How Hamilton City Council discarded clunky engagement surveys in favour of a streamlined approach to employee engagement
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Hamilton City Council is one of New Zealand’s largest council areas located in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island. From pipes to playgrounds, parks to parking, pools to paintings —the range and complexity of what the Council covers is staggering.
In recent years, the Council has earned a reputation for being a "smart city" — known for pushing the boundaries, keeping an open mindset, and being willing to develop and grow.
This reputation is upheld through a laser focus on people and an underlying purpose to improve the lives and wellbeing of the city’s proud population, "Hamiltonians" as they are known. HR Business Organisational Development Partner at Council, Theresa Aucamp, works alongside a team of HR professionals and internal communications specialists to connect the council’s people to its purpose, ensuring the organisation operates as one team, whether a gardener or an accountant, and reflects Hamilton’s sense of community within its ranks.
Challenge: Slow, overwhelming employee engagement process and a growing need for DEI programs
Before 2020, Hamilton City Council was running annual engagement surveys, but the process was slow and overwhelming, and the data insights were complex and disconnected.
“It took three to four weeks to get a report in front of directors. It wasn’t good enough,” says Theresa.
Her team also found there were limited customisations of their tool at the time which meant that while they had a sense of how people felt, these sentiments were not linked to the key drivers of engagement. It became difficult to know where to focus the organisation’s efforts.
At the same time, the Council had come under mounting pressure to increase diversity among the Council’s public representatives and more closely reflect the people they serve. This led to diversity & inclusion being pushed higher up Theresa’s HR agenda.
“At Hamilton City Council our vision is to ensure Hamiltonians enjoy a connected, vibrant, attractive, and prosperous city. Our mission is to build an organisation that ambitiously delivers on our promise to the community. We are committed to developing and delivering a diversity and inclusion (D&I) programme of work through which we aim to create a workplace culture that celebrates, includes and reflects the diverse nature of our staff and city; where everyone feels empowered to bring their full, authentic selves to work.” says Theresa.
Solution: A fast, simple, insightful Engagement tool with scope to grow
Theresa and the Organisational Development team’s aim was to adopt a fit-for-purpose "world-class" solution that meet the following selection criteria:
- Measures the end-to-end employee experience via a science-backed approach
- Enables us to include the previous year’s survey questions and results for benchmarking
- Can be aligned to our organisational models/ branding and language
- Offers predictive analytics to support strategy
- Offers people science and functional expertise
- Provides real-time data access, reports, dashboards, and a mobile app
- Can translate and theme open comments into reports in a safe and anonymous way
- Provides benchmarking to national and global markets
- Automatically generates PowerPoint presentations and reports
Data collected in this system would then be used to identify hotspots that need attention and help drive our people strategies (supporting data-driven decision-making).
Following a rigorous procurement process that rated four suppliers by a selection panel against 12 criteria, Culture Amp came out the winner on every measure including cost, ease of use, speed and customisation. Culture Amp also gave the Council the ability to work closely alongside their People Scientists to review past surveys and create a method for benchmarking against historical data, allowing the organisation to clearly communicate long-term trends back to the leadership team and maintain a sense of continuity.
“Our aim for involving Culture Amp was to move to one platform for measuring the employee experience, including onboarding, engagement, pulse checking against targeted initiatives and exit. A single platform would ensure a positive and consistent user experience and provide reliable analytics across the employee experience.” says Theresa.
It was important to them to implement a new engagement platform that would improve their efficient use of time and resources, effective measurement across the employee lifecycle and provision of actionable insights, real-time dashboards and personalised dashboards for individuals and people leaders, and predictive analytics to enable them to assess and mitigate turnover and other people risks.
The Council began using Culture Amp in 2020 for annual Engagement Surveys, and has since expanded its use to include frequent pulse surveys on topics such as wellbeing and attitudes towards COVID-19 and vaccination, as well as a customised diversity and inclusion survey. All staff also have access to Culture Amp’s Skills Coach tool.
Theresa works closely with internal communications teams, leaders, project stakeholders and Executive teams, to ensure the surveys are completed by all employees, no matter their role or location - with incentives in place for teams with 100% completion. This is supported by a strong "care" message.
“We care what people have to say so we saturate our business at survey time. We distribute emails and link to the survey via Microsoft Teams. We put up posters everywhere, take over digital screens in offices, distribute iPads locked to the survey for our teams who might not have computer access like our pool lifeguards, gardeners, zookeepers, etc.” says Theresa.
Result: A user-friendly, data-driven approach to Engagement and DEI
In less than two years, the Council has established a simple, streamlined approach to employee engagement that is delivering rich data insights and steering the organisation’s development activities in the right direction.
A user-friendly tool that has tails wagging
Culture Amp’s intuitive interface, easy customisation process and clear presentation of data have received positive feedback and have been well accepted by the Council’s leaders.
“In the first year, we did some hand-holding and provided some extra coaching and support to our managers to use the new platform and interpret the results, however, the system is so easy to navigate that some managers were comfortable navigating their own results. It’s really become the tool of preference and there’s great scope to grow,” she adds.
Engagement scores steady and focus clear, despite disruption
The council’s engagement scores have remained steady over the past 24 months, despite the tool being introduced right when COVID-19 hit as the entire organisation grappled with disruption. Theresa’s team has also been able to identify key focus areas for improvement including collaboration, communication and learning and development (L&D), all of which have seen a positive increase in employee sentiment across the organisation.
“Considering that both years have been COVID years, we’re very pleased. It has stayed similar to 2020 despite the disruption. The communication from senior management has been great throughout this time and it’s great to see this reflected in our scores,” says Theresa.
Data to validate HR initiatives
Culture Amp’s data has been invaluable in allowing Theresa and the organisational development team to sense-check their approach toward things like wellbeing and COVID management, ensuring their energy and resources are channeled in the right places.
During the height of the pandemic, Council launched a series of initiatives to support employees; from a new approach to internal communication, to helping employees pay their household bills, to counseling support. Culture Amp’s pulse check surveys were launched within three days and provided great peace of mind to her team that they were on the right track.
“Culture Amp provided validation of the work we were doing. It showed us we were hitting the mark,” says Theresa.
Great visibility for ongoing DEI work
Prior to using Culture Amp, Council’s approach to D&I was in its infancy. Now, Theresa and her team have robust demographic data that can be overlaid against engagement data.
“Our payroll function does not collect diversity demographics at this stage, so this was the first time we had to implement diversity-sensitive demographics like sexual orientation. We didn’t know how that would go. It was a stab in the dark, but with Culture Amp we have all the data and we have identified the areas we need to focus on. Ideally, we’ll move to twice-yearly D&I surveys or combine it with engagement surveys so we can track how this is trending as we build out more programs,” says Theresa.
Utilising Culture Amp’s tools and team to its full potential
Culture Amp has become a trusted partner to Council. Theresa and her team are now looking to migrate their exit surveys across to Culture Amp so they can be linked to engagement and provide another data reference on the entire employee lifecycle. They also plan to incorporate Skills Coach into their employee onboarding process, so that L&D initiatives are introduced early in the employee experience.
“The service Culture Amp provides is excellent. They’re so quick at responding and finding solutions to your problems and the tool is so intuitive,” says Theresa.
What really sets Culture Amp apart is not only the tool but the team’s expertise in People Science and employee experience.
“Their knowledge and professionalism when presenting you with information build great trust. They know their data science and what impacts performance and engagement. We ask lots of random questions, and they give us the ability to try new things. It’s a great opportunity for us as an organisation.”
Slow, overwhelming employee engagement process and a growing need for DEI programs
A fast, simple engagement tool with scope to grow
A user-friendly, data-driven approach to engagement and diversity & inclusion