Learning & Development Asia 2024
Winning Secrets: How Rentokil Initial's 'People First' strategy kept staff retention and engagement high during a crisis

Winning Secrets: How Rentokil Initial's 'People First' strategy kept staff retention and engagement high during a crisis

Paul Cochrane, Regional Managing Director, Asia, Rentokil Initial Asia Pacific Management, chose a proactive approach to employee communication during this crisis, and the transparency was certainly appreciated.

With Rentokil Initial a finalist for Excellence in Crisis Management and Recovery at HR Excellence Awards 2020, Singapore, Paul Cochrane, Regional Managing Director, Asia, Rentokil Initial Asia Pacific Management, reiterates the company’s 'People First' strategy, highlighting ROI measurement of its crisis and recovery plan, staff retention and engagement scores.

Q How would you describe your organisation’s overall HR strategy, and what are some milestones you’ve accomplished thus far?

2020 was a year of great challenge but immense growth for Rentokil Initial. This time of crisis, which has been unlike any that we have experienced before, has crystallised our game plan on dealing with uncertainty, and defined what really matters to our business.

Our HR strategy is fully aligned with our business strategy and vision: protecting people, enhancing lives. It is no small thing to say that our strategy is always 'People First'. We derive our success through the quality and strength of our people all over the world, and we deliver our mission only if our teams perform their work with continued excellence.

This 'People First' view of the business means that we do take tough decisions on securing the jobs of our people, even if it requires unpopular pay decisions, and hard stances on how we manage our costs during the pandemic.

The most important milestone of 2020, was that during the pandemic we delivered a high state of service (SOS = service delivered) to our customers even with severely limited manpower, fundamentally changed our productivity, and accelerated our digital adoption of our business technologies. COVID made digitalisation a priority.

Q What role has your leadership team played in helping to achieve the HR priorities?

In the past, functions may have tolerated “silo thinking” and sometimes did not communicate as well as they should have. The leadership team united like never before in 2020, and communicated much more effectively with each other.

HR priorities are business priorities, and each leader delivering their teams for excellence is what drives our success.

Q Unexpected roadblocks are part and parcel of executing any initiative. What were some of the barriers that you and your team experienced while rolling out your crisis management and recovery initiatives, and how did you successfully get past them?

The greatest challenge was convincing our people that pay waivers were necessary even in the early days of March. Facing up to the facts was not easy for all levels of our business, and many fail to appreciate the magnitude of the challenge posed by the pandemic. Business came to a standstill in the month of April 2020 across many locations worldwide, and we saw revenues dive.

In our estimate, we must have tripled our leadership comms during this time, and shared many of our worst case scenarios openly with our team. As a result, we have had to deal with the uncertainty and fall out from that. Engagement scores plummeted and feedback on mental stress increased. Reminding our people that we will get through this together, but we must work together as a team and must do it right now, was a common refrain. Many mindsets had to change, and it was difficult for many colleagues.

Q What was your gameplan for measuring ROI in your crisis management and recovery? What are some proud achievements you can share with us on this front?

On the HR front, staff retention and engagement scores remained key measurements in our crisis management & recovery plan.

Strong staff retention numbers

Focusing on employee retention numbers, our technicians' retention numbers are high at 87% year on year, sales staff retention is at 79%. Adding more detail to the picture, our new hire retention rates are (0-6m) 72%, and currently in Feb 20 (6-12m) 95%. These numbers speak of a stable workforce delivering uninterrupted service. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen the dedication and effort of our staff, to overcome the challenge of the moment, to deliver results for the business in hard times.

Positive WFH survey indicators

We chose a proactive approach to employee communication during this crisis. Over the course of the pandemic, we ran two runs of WFH surveys with our partner EngageRocket, and were thus able to provide insights and areas of improvement for our HR team at each of the locations. Our ability to respond to our people and their needs, we believe, is what drives our high engagement scores in our pulse surveys. Our WFH surveys engagement scores improved over the period of May to July, from 4.23/5 to 4.26/5 despite very trying business outlooks and uncertainty.

Positive frontline: Technician surveys

We chose to survey our frontliners, our technicians on the ground despite some initial reservations, and we were wowed by the response of our people.

Over 85% of our technicians reported positive sentiment (from OK to great), and an average of 75% of our employees agree that communication was sufficient during the crisis.

We are proud that our people have trusted us during this crisis and I am certain that we will emerge stronger from this crisis.

Q With crisis communication and engagement being a bridge between the management and staff, what are some lessons you’ve learnt in an eventful year of improving communication?

Regardless of the nature of the news, good or bad, clear communication is key. Leadership mettle was greatly tested in 2020, and in crisis, good leaders rise to the occasion, poor ones falter. 2020 refined our understanding of good leadership and it is this renewed compass that will help Rentokil Initial and all colleagues thrive in the years ahead.

Photos / Provided

Read more interviews on why organisations have won trophies for their HR practices - head over to our Winning Secrets' section! 

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