By Ed Mayo

Pilotlight Team

For the last five years, we have run an annual staff survey that is independently evaluated. We have shared the results with the staff and the trustees of Pilotlight and the survey has been invaluable in steering how we operate as a charity. 

Of course, an annual survey is not the only way in which our team have a voice. Over the pandemic, for example, we have been running fortnightly pulse surveys, a short check-in on how people are feeling, together with ideas on what could be improved. 

There is no off-the-peg template for charity staff surveys that is widely accepted. Sadly, there are only a few benchmarks specific to the sector that can be used for comparison of the results. You can always form your own data pools with others to compare – we have done so with others on a voluntary basis through the charity leadership network ACEVO, but it’s not straightforward. Hopefully, in an age of data, this is something that can improve in the years to come.

One reason perhaps is the cost to charities of using independent evaluation. It’s tempting to simply do this in-house. However, the evidence suggests that there is always a difference to the results, if you can’t offer an assurance to staff that what they say is anonymous and can be said without constraint or fear of consequences. 

Without easy benchmarks, the most useful comparison is data collected over time. The benefit of data from the last five years is that it has allowed us to map and track staff responses, so we can see how the period of change and growth has affected our team, including of course the great disruption of work over the pandemic.

How does it work at Pilotlight?

The evaluation is completed by Cornish + Grey, our evaluation partners, using a structured survey. The results are reported to the Board through its People and Culture Committee. The committee then considers results.

When the committee considered the 2022 results, a series of actions were identified, building on the positives and addressing areas of weakness. We have a lot to be happy about too. The Chair of the committee, a very experienced HR Director and Pilotlighter, commented that “I would die for this level of results in the companies that I work with.”

All 24 staff completed Pilotlight’s 2022 annual staff survey.  All 24 agreed that ‘I am proud to work for Pilotlight’.

Responses to the question: What would you say is Pilotlight’s biggest strength? focused on ‘its people’ and shared purpose.  Almost all staff agreed ‘The people I work with treat each other with fairness and respect’, ‘I understand what Pilotlight wants to achieve as an organisation’, ‘I have confidence in the leadership team’, ‘I feel appreciated’, and ‘I am treated with fairness and respect’.  

92% of staff (22 of 24) would recommend Pilotlight as an employer.

Average scores for the statements around organisation presented a varied picture.  While the statements ‘I understand what Pilotlight wants to achieve as an organisation’, ‘I have confidence in the leadership team’ and ‘The leadership team contributes to a positive work culture’ all had high average ratings (4.5 and above, out of 5), the average ratings for ‘Communication between different teams is effective’ and ‘Morale at Pilotlight is high’ had dropped to under 3.5.  The mixed ratings and the written comments suggested that the external context is significant here. 

“I think coming out of the pandemic and moving into hybrid working has created logistical issues, and actually made it harder for teams to communicate. In essence, another channel has been added that created more work and uncertainty.”

Responses to the health, wellbeing and diversity statements were good.  Almost all staff (23/24) agreed with ‘I am motivated by what Pilotlight wants to achieve as an organisation’, ‘I feel appreciated’ and ‘I am treated with fairness and respect’ – indeed, two thirds of staff (16/24) strongly agreed with the latter statement.  22 out of 24 staff agree that ‘Pilotlight values diversity’ and ‘Pilotlight is open to new ideas’. One person commented that “the positive work culture is something I value most about Pilotlight”.  

One of the most effective questions is around ‘what three words would you use to describe Pilotlight’, which generates a word cloud on our culture for each year.

In 2022, the top two words used to describe the culture at Pilotlight were ambitious and supportive.   Other common words were friendly, inclusive, welcoming and hard working. It is good to see kindness too make an appearance.

Vaules

To make more of the results, we have been able to develop an interpretive framework which links the survey to our organisational values and culture. Pilotlight has three values – we bring people together, we believe in potential, and we expect the best – and through these we work with six linked behaviours. By designing and clustering questions around these behaviours, we are able to generate a unique dashboard on our organisational culture.

Six behaviours

Pilotlight has a special culture. Of all the places I have worked, this is the most impressive level of sheer positivity and generosity towards colleagues, with the motivation to make a difference for the charities and people we work with.

So often, organisations make claims for their culture, or make assumptions for their culture, but in truth they are flying blind. With charities, organisational values and workplace culture is an essential ingredient for success, so data such as through a rigorous staff survey can be a very practical help.

This way of leading a staff survey may not work for every organisation and questions of interest will also vary, but if more and more charities strive to put in place some measurements, in a few years’ time we can hope for a sector-wide framework.