Corporate purpose

How EY is reconnecting employees with its corporate purpose

Years after EY first launched its corporate purpose, the professional services firm launched a programme to re-engage employees

I land on a purple square, turn over the card to read: ‘The Bank of England’s Quantitative Easing programme totalled £375 billion. If this amount was put into £50 notes and piled up, how high would it go (in kilometres)?’ I am offered four answers: 288.5km, 603.5km, 847.5km, 1236.5km. I have no clue.

How thick is a £50 note? Less than a millimetre? I don’t have any £50 notes to check. But it surely can’t be 847.5km, which is roughly the distance between London and St Andrew’s in Scotland, can it? Yes! It is, and I’ve just won five points. I throw the dice again, count the squares and land on a grey one. It’s time to pick up a Better questions card.

‘You have been asked to create a team to deliver a key project. What question would you ask yourself to ensure you got the best team for the job?’ Cue bemused look. I’m in the London Bridge offices of EY, playing the Better working world board game with Gill Poloni, head of communications and engagement, and strategic communications director of UK and Ireland Alistair Smith. We have dice, plastic counters, two different sized egg timers, plastic clapping hands and a selection of different coloured cards entitled Discussion, Quiz and Better questions. There are even augmented reality squares on the board, although sadly Blippar, whose technology enabled this function, has gone into administration since launch and these no longer work.

The objective of the game, which EY started to roll out two years ago across 21 offices in the UK and Ireland, is to reconnect the consultancy’s 12,000 employees with its purpose Building a better working world, which launched in 2014 with a nationwide-engagement programme. Its purpose is viewed as the ‘Northern Star’ for EY to achieve its Vision 2020 of becoming the leading global professional services organisation by 2020.

You are giving them the instrument to have a really good conversation, but also to understand there are no right or wrong answers

But about one third of EY’s staff have joined since its launch, and the consultancy’s Global People Survey in 2017 revealed a dip in the number of employees who understood how their role contributed to the global vision. As Poloni herself admits, ‘not much’ had been done to engage colleagues in the intervening period, so the board game was designed to encourage people to think about EY’s purpose and how it connected with their day-to-day role and also increase awareness of their current contribution. Smith explains: ‘When the [former] global CEO [Mark Weinberger] launched his vision back in 2012, people in the UK did a jigsaw which facilitated a discussion around strategy. And then they did another jigsaw a few years later. There is some history in people around a table.’

Poloni adds: ‘Certainly, people who were here [for the jigsaws] were very enthusiastic about the board game. Yes, we did this before, and we enjoyed it. For people who weren’t here, we had to say Trust us. This does work. It might feel odd and a bit of a silly thing to do, but it is a really good way to prompt a conversation.’

‘You have got to be quite brave and bold to do something like this. But we also found that, in doing something like this, you don’t just send it out into the ether. You have to do so much socialising. You are giving them the instrument to have a really good conversation, but also to understand there are no right or wrong answers.’ ‘A lot of this is around helping people understand the role they play in building a better working world,’ says Smith.

‘For example, the team in our advisory arm in our Irish office who are working on the new national children’s hospital, don’t have a huge challenge to think through why that is good for Ireland, but perhaps some of the people working in core business services, such as finance, facilities or resources, might find it harder to connect.’

The key to making such an employee engagement exercise work is, according to Poloni, great facilitators. They must have a good understanding of EY’s purpose but, perhaps more importantly, have formed in their own mind what Building a better working world means to them. ‘If it is not something you understand or love, you are going to struggle to run the session,’ she says. Each facilitator is responsible for a game involving between 12 and 15 colleagues, divided into two teams, over two hours. ‘We trained about 500 people to act as facilitators,’ adds Poloni.

‘Everybody within EY in the UK is already part of a counselling family, with a director or senior manager as counselling family leader. Every quarter, they have a face-to-face discussion, and we supply the content. It is usually pastoral stuff.’ Smith explains: ‘A lot of our workforce will work on different projects with different people, so they don’t have a clearly defined team. This is a group to which they belong, headed by somebody responsible for their pastoral care.’

There are currently 240 counselling families. The majority of the family leaders were facilitators, but they also invited colleagues to join them. ‘Some are big families, with 80 members, which one person couldn’t facilitate on their own,’ says Poloni. ‘Others decided to do it in big groups, with 200 people in the restaurant with drinks and nibbles. We always need a big group solution for any project like this, but with 21 separate offices, you always try to build something that works for everyone.’

What does our purpose mean for our business and what each of us do every day?’

EY Ireland, which employs 1,000 people, does not have a counselling family structure, and so 80 facilitators were trained as all staff played on one day. As the facilitators were being trained, a teaser campaign – including a video advert – ran across the organisation to build excitement.

‘We may have been a wee bit over-complicated in some elements,’ admits Poloni. ‘There is a hefty facilitator’s guide, and it does take 30 minutes to explain the game.’ From the outset, Poloni and her team devised ways to measure engagement. There were not enough games for everybody to play simultaneously, so facilitators had to physically collect them.

‘We had a six-week window as we wanted to launch this before our Global People Survey, so we measured take up, briefings, how many people collected games and we randomly surveyed 1,000 a week for six weeks, asking Have you heard about the game? Have you played it? Have you got a date in the diary to play it?

There are seven yellow Discussion cards, which must be played in each game, and involves each player. The purple Quiz cards are played by one team, with 30 seconds to answer, while the grey Better questions cards pitch the teams against each other. The facilitator acts as time keeper, scorer and keeps the game moving, but also to skip cards that are not relevant to their group.

Those who correctly answer Quiz questions score five points, while Better questions prompt each team to discuss among themselves for five minutes, before revealing their question to the facilitator.  Up to 20 points can be awarded to the team with the best ‘better’ question. In the tradition of Monopoly, a further ten points is awarded each time a team passes ‘Start’.

Poloni adds: ‘We do find in this environment, people are fairly competitive and they like points – so you have to have some point scoring in this. It gives pace.’ The game, which was created by Big Picture Learning, starts with a discussion about the key subject: Purpose. ‘It is setting the scene. It is about asking what is purpose and why it is important. We gave examples of ten organisations, such as Sky, Nestle, McDonald’s, Lloyds Banking Group, Unilever and Deloitte, and their purposes, and asked the players to rank them in terms of how much they felt they fulfilled their purpose,’ explains Poloni.

Smith adds: ‘We had some really interesting discussions. One young person put Facebook [with its purpose To make the world more open and connected] at the end, saying that they might think they are here to make us more open, but they cause bullying and they didn’t like them. Lego [with its purpose To inspire and develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future experiencing the endless human possibility] scored consistently high. We asked them to rank organisations. Where would you put EY?’

The game included a ranking of the world’s top 100 brands according to how they lived their purpose, compiled by Radley Yeldar, in which EY is placed at 40. Smith adds: ‘We were very conscious that we were not saying Here is the answer but we were giving them some sort of ranking to allow them to reflect on what they had come up with. There was some guidance in the facilitator’s guide as to what Radley Yeldar had considered in its rankings.’

The second discussion focused on what the phrase Better working world meant to the players. ‘We asked about our own purpose. What does it mean to you? How important is it to you? It was a simple discussion. What does our purpose mean for our business and what each of us do every day?’ adds Poloni. Anybody who lands on Purpose has to do a quiz, focused on six areas: political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental – known by the acronym PESTLE.

‘We got six different teams to come up with the questions,’ says Poloni. It was a way of collaborating with more people on the content of the game. Some are serious, but some are funny. Some are about our Code of Conduct. And in between you get Better questions. So these are scenarios, and you’ve got to think of a better question. Not a well crafted marketing question but just what you would ask in this scenario.’

One card had an example of sectors and clients that EY works with, and asked players if they contributed to a better working world or not. It was a trick question: the answer – on the back – explained they all were, or EY would not be working with them. Poloni adds: ‘The people who built the game asked us to think of examples of companies that did build a better world and those that didn’t. We couldn’t come up with any.’

‘In some discussions, people did say I decided not to work with X and there was a good debate to be had. There are some sectors we don’t work with, such as porn, but we do work with alcohol and tobacco companies,’ adds Smith. The game ended with a reflective discussion, asking players to share what they had learned and offer suggestions on making EY more purpose-led.

In just five weeks, 4,400 people played the game. Seven in ten felt inspired by their colleagues’ purpose stories while 87 per cent felt they understood what being purpose-led meant. The 2018 Global People Survey also produced positive reading. There was a seven percentage point uplift in those who felt EY’s purpose ‘was motivating’ to them: in service lines which played it more, the uplift was greater.

‘Our biggest service line is audits, and it is our youngest audience, because they are all training or getting trained up. They are also typically our least engaged audience. We made them all do it, and their score went up nine percentage points,’ says Poloni.

Smith concludes: ‘We discussed ranking the teams, but that didn’t really work because I might choose to give you 20 points for a great answer but somebody else might only decide it’s worth five. And, in truth, all the panel game shows we enjoy have scoring that is not that scientific. ‘At the heart of this is about having fun, rather than another serious presentation or client meeting, which a lot of people do day-to-day. It is about making people think Whether I may be an executive assistant or work in facilities, this still applies to me. I work here and I contribute.’