WCF – Our EO Story: How app is helping engage all employees

WCF Ltd is more than 110 years old and has been partly owned by its employees since 1988. We have over 350 employee owners working at almost 30 locations across the UK in a range of different environments – from oil distribution depots to campsites, retail stores, warehouses and offices.

WCF operates across a number of different sectors including bulk fuel oil distribution, clothing mail order home shopping, retail stores selling pet and equestrian products, camping and glamping sites, picking and packing of seed potatoes, and e-commerce order fulfilment of grass seed, fertiliser and weed-killer.

Our individual businesses are run autonomously thanks to our culture of devolved responsibility and accountability, but it is important as employee owners that all our team share a collective sense of pride and ownership in the company as a whole regardless of where they work.

Financially they share in an employee ownership dividend and receive free shares based on the success of the whole company. Almost 50% of our employees save their own money into one of our company share schemes, as well as participating in employee ownership indirectly as a member of our Employee Benefit Trust. This is amazing given we have a large proportion of employee owners whose basic salary is aligned with the real living wage.

Celebrating our successes is one of our key guiding principles and we wanted a platform for our teams to be able to share all the amazing things they had been up to. Collaboration is another and having a vibrant and energetic communication platform was crucial.

Due to their roles many of our employee owners are not desk based and don’t have a company email address. This made real-time communications really difficult. During Covid we resorted to using personal email addresses to communicate key messages quickly, but this was challenging for people who didn’t check their email regularly or shared an email with a family member. Many businesses resorted to WhatsApp groups.

Although very informative, our quarterly digital newsletter was time consuming to prepare and some articles were out of date before it even went to press. Communication also featured within the results of our colleague engagement surveys, highlighting where and how we could ‘be better’.

Ensuring everyone has the tools they need to participate

It became very clear that we needed something quicker and inclusive for all of our employee owners. Managing Director Jo Ritzema laid down a challenge to our Head of People and Culture Karen Kelso, saying: “I think we need something that is a cross between Facebook, WhatsApp and LinkedIn.” Karen likes a challenge and after a conversation with fellow employee-owned business Cambridge Weight Plan found the Actimo app powered by Kahoot.

Entirely configurable to our own branding and specification, the app is intuitive and simple to use on a smartphone and required little or no training for our teams to get started. We have provided phones free of charge to people who did not have their own to ensure that everyone had the tools they needed to participate and be part of WCF’s online community.

It took Karen, her HR colleague Danielle Casbon and our Head of Graphic Design John Coulthard less than three months to gather colleague feedback, design and launch the app at the start of April 2022 and we are all thrilled with what they have created. The care and attention to the build is evident. In the first month, 85% of employees have signed up to use the app, all of which are actively engaged either by posting directly or commenting on a post.

Our targets are 100% sign-up and over 80% of our employees regularly engaging with the app and its content. Each employee owner is part of a number of groups depending on what they do and where they work, as well as one which allows us all to communicate directly with everyone.

As well as news and business updates, including financial performance and news of acquisitions or new products, there are social walls where teams can recommend their colleagues for our Above and Beyond awards, recommend their friends for any of our job vacancies, make suggestions for business improvements, showcase any significant awards and business achievements, or simply share what they have been up to and what they do.

‘Creating a shared sense of success’

Our social walls are proving a huge success with over 100 posts, 2,000 likes and 350 comments shared by our employee owners in the first six weeks. The variety of posts has been astounding and it is wonderful to see employee owners who are unlikely to ever meet in person commenting and congratulating each other. Staff feedback was taken and incorporated into the app design with portals for buying and selling, a financial and mental well-being section and local recommendations included at our employee owners’ request.

The app will be a vital part of our on-boarding process, allowing new colleagues to experience our culture before they even start, be introduced to colleagues and access vital practical information about what it is like to be an employee owner in the WCF family.

The app is used as a training portal and also contains key employee information on our key employee benefits, employee share schemes, employee assistance programmes and employee handbooks. Our eNPS score in our most recent employee engagement survey was +56 which is already very good, and we have targeted to grow that to 75 by 2023.

Our target for voluntary turnover is less than 2% and we are currently sitting at around 1.1%. The app will be a very important tool in delivering all these targets and more importantly creating a shared sense of success, job satisfaction and engagement. We are so grateful to Karen, Danielle and John for delivering us this amazing tool.

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