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View transcript

Ideas pour in from tea company's employees.

Ideas pour in from tea company's employees

The cup that cheers could be doing an awful lot more to lift its manufacturer.

Tetley Tea, Britain's second-biggest tea brand after PG Tips, earns only 2 pence per serving for its owner, Tata Global Beverages (TGB). Contrast that with the average 50 to 80 pence earned on a serving of most cold soft drinks and you begin to realize the scale of the problem - or the size of the potential - facing the world's main tea producers.

Hot-beverage companies have been striving for years, with little success, to generate greater profits per serving. Now Sian Harrington describes in the July 2011 issue of Human Resources how TGB is enlisting the creativity of its employees in its quest to double the revenue per serving of the average cup o' char.

In an interview with the company's chief HR and communication officer, Nalin Miglani, she learns that TGB has introduced a Think Big programme, aimed at encouraging employees to come forward with new ideas. Described by Miglani as 'Dragons' Den multiplied by American Idol', it has so far generated around 1,350 ideas - all examined by judges and voted for online by an external audience.

Think Big is a classic example of a programme designed to boost the involvement of employees in the company - to the benefit of the business as a whole and the people who work for it. John Schierer describes another in Volume: 56 Issue: 7 of HRMagazine.

Employees at US defence manufacturer Cobham Sensor Systems formulate, with their managers, so-called 'flight plans'. These describe a skill they would like to develop, reform they would like to achieve or position they wish to attain in the following 12 months.

Once they achieve their goals, they are recognized in weekly ceremonies attended by their supervisor and the area vice-president. They receive 'wings of achievement' and their pictures and flight plans are placed on a wall of fame.

Schierer reports that more than 650 employees achieved their goals in 2009. The company's order book swelled by 17%, revenue rose by a quarter, defects fell by 13% and the amount of work overdue for delivery declined by more than half. Perhaps most tellingly, employee turnover fell from 20% a year to 8.9%.

Cobham Sensor Systems now has more chances to tell people what they are doing right. 'When there is common understanding and reinforcement of what is right, people tend to repeat those behavious,' concludes Schierer. 'When people spend more time doing the right things, there is simply less time to do the wrong things.'

Despite the significant advantages that businesses report when employees are more engaged with the companies they work for, Garry Kranz reveals in Volume: 90 Issue: 5 of Workforce Management that a number of employers have let employee engagement slide as they have trimmed workforces and training budgets during the recession. He reports survey evidence that leaders as well as rank-and-file workers are feeling less motivated as they are asked to do more and more work for the same or less pay - and that the phenomenon is affecting most major economies.

'Disengaged employees worry companies for many reasons, including the potential loss of top performers, sagging productivity and less commitment to customer service,' he says.

According to Kranz, employee engagement must consist of more than offering opportunities for employee feedback, training and career advancement. Higher pay and better benefits must also come into the blend. Now I would drink a cup of tea to that!