Encouraging employee engagement to boost creativity

Eric Collins, managing director of Nampak Plastics, explains how his decision to concentrate on employee engagement has lead to greater innovation throughout the organisation, and why this has been instrumental in the company's successes.

The need to continuously evolve is key to our success at Nampak. In such a fast-moving industry, innovation in our product offering is only the very tip of the iceberg – to compete today we need to be pioneering in everything we do.

On becoming the managing director of Nampak Plastics, I wanted to lead and inspire a cultural change in the company and one of my biggest objectives was to increase our colleague engagement.

I believe that employee engagement is at the heart of a whole range of business benefits and has concrete outputs in terms of productivity, retention and innovation. For both employees and employers, high workforce engagement is undoubtedly a ‘win-win’.

‘Engage for Success’ is a campaign promoting workplace approaches that ensures employees are committed to their organisation’s goals, whilst also enhancing their own sense of wellbeing. Campaigners across Britain are calling for every leader to play their part in tackling the UK’s employee engagement deficit, which is estimated to be costing us all £26 billion in lost productivity each year.

With this in mind, I immediately introduced a new ethos to encourage engagement and ideas at all levels of the company. We brought in behavioural training to teach these crucial qualities to colleagues and empower them to make decisions.

Although it incorporates simple tactics, schemes such as employee of the month and annual Excellence Awards helped create a sense of collaboration and common purpose, as well as making employees feel like valued members of the Nampak team.

More on Best Business Decisions:

Our starting point was running a survey among our staff in 2007, which found that 80 per cent would not recommend Nampak as a great place to work to their family and friends.

However, the initiatives introduced have paid off in a very tangible sense. A survey among staff carried out in 2010, identical to the one three years earlier, found that 80 per cent of the company would recommend Nampak as a great place to work.

Better still, my conviction that greater employee engagement, and empowering staff at all levels, would bring dividends in terms of product innovation was proved correct. Nampak has recently achieved another world first by trialling, testing and supplying the world’s first four-pint milk bottle containing up to 30 per cent recycled high density polyethylene (rHDPE).

Going forward, combined with Nampak’s other energy saving measures – such as a move to gas-based (rather than oil-based) polymer – the company estimates that there has been a 50 per cent reduction in the carbon footprint of milk bottles produced at its British plants since 2008, saving some 113,000 tonnes of carbon overall.

These are significant achievements and the Infini bottle is a game-changer in its market. I don’t believe we would have been able to realise these goals if it weren’t for our fully engaged workforce, which was encouraged to speak up, be creative and most importantly to really care about the future of the company that they are employed by.

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.