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Success Story | EX Insights

Driving change through employee feedback

How the Employee Experience Survey fuels SITA’s people and business strategy

Employee Insights|Future of Work|Talent|Total Rewards
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September 11, 2020

We speak with Astrid Warren, SITA’s Chief Human Resources Officer about how employee listening is at the center of SITA’s people and business strategy.

As the world's leading air transport IT and communications specialist, SITA provides the technology that enables smooth journeys for airlines and their passengers. To make this happen, SITA employs a diverse workforce of 4,700 people encompassing 140 nationalities. Since 2013, SITA has teamed up with Willis Towers Watson to gather employee feedback on a regular basis, which is effectively used to create value for the business and transform the employee experience. We speak with Astrid Warren, SITA’s Chief Human Resources Officer, and Maximilian Siessegger, Director Talent & Rewards at Willis Towers Watson, about how employee listening is at the center of SITA’s people and business strategy.


On a journey to make everyone feel part of a new employee experience


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Upon her appointment in 2016, CEO Barbara Dalibard initiated a business and culture transformation to make SITA more streamlined and collaborative with a focus on innovation and agility. From a people perspective, this transformation empowered employees to learn, take controlled risks, collaborate beyond functional silos and innovate. One of HR’s main objectives in the transformation was for everyone at SITA to feel part of the new employee experience this transformation would deliver. Not an easy challenge, as SITA employees are geographically dispersed over 360 locations in 126 countries, and many are based at customer locations, sometimes remote from their manager and colleagues.

SITA’s Employee Experience Survey has played a key role in measuring where the business is on their transformation journey and in informing the next steps. The Employee Experience Survey is a yearly online survey open to all SITA employees worldwide. Between 75% and 85% of employees have participated in the survey each year since 2015. SITA uses detailed employee demographic information, pre-coded through their HRIS, to enable detailed results analysis and targeted follow-up actions, whilst guaranteeing confidentiality throughout.

The survey content is carefully re-considered each year to ensure SITA measures what matters to drive change towards a positive employee experience. Three core survey topics are defined that are crucial to driving the strategy: whether employees feel included at SITA, whether they perceive SITA as an innovative company, and whether they feel enabled to learn.


Focus on a culture of innovation


Creating an innovative culture is a key pillar of SITA’s new strategy. As 7% of revenue is invested in R&D, it is imperative for SITA to understand whether their employees feel encouraged and enabled to come up with innovative solutions. Hence, an innovation index is one of the core measures of the Employee Experience Survey. By comparing their scores to the Willis Towers Watson Global High Technology industry benchmark, SITA is able to see how their employees’ perceptions compare to almost 150,000 employees working for other companies in the industry. The 2020 results show that SITA generally scores well above this benchmark, but that there is still some siloed thinking, with room to improve cooperation between departments.

87%
Are encouraged to come up with innovative solutions

Building an inclusive environment


One of the spearpoints of the new people strategy is to make everyone feel part of SITA. This is why a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) index was built into the Employee Experience Survey, allowing SITA to better understand whether employees, sometimes geographically isolated from their colleagues, feel included in the company. Indeed, the D&I index scores well above industry peers and is even at the level of Willis Towers Watson’s Global High Performance benchmark. The results even show that the employee experience does not differ significantly between employees who work remotely from their line manager and those who have a manager on site. “It doesn’t matter where you sit, which culture you live in, everyone feels like there is a place for them in the company and they are part of something that is inclusive. This is something that we feel really proud of,” says Warren.

It doesn’t matter where you sit, which culture you live in, everyone feels like there is a place for them in the company and they are part of something that is inclusive. This is something that we feel really proud of”

Astrid Warren | Chief Human Resources Officer, SITA

Inclusion and innovation go hand-in-hand


87%
Feel their manager encourages diverse perspectives

Interestingly, statistical analysis shows that employee perceptions on innovation and D&I have similar drivers, signifying that the two topics are closely intertwined. Employees who have confidence in SITA’s senior leaders, and who feel supported and encouraged by their line managers, perceive SITA’s culture as both more innovative and more inclusive. This shows the importance of senior leadership driving the new culture, and line managers bringing it to life in their team.


Continuous learning and development for all employees


To further promote an innovative culture, one of the aims of SITA’s new people strategy is to become a “learning organization”. SITA are invested in career development at all levels, encouraging employees to spend 40 hours on learning each year. Moreover, they invest in key talent such as development programs for graduates and for executives, soon to be rolled out to all management layers. The Employee Experience Survey asks how employees perceive their career development opportunities, enabling SITA to evaluate whether these efforts pay off. The 2020 results clearly show that this is the case: career development perceptions showed the strongest improvement of all survey topics. Moreover, career development was one of the key drivers of having a positive employee experience, signifying the importance of development opportunities to motivate and retain talent. In line with this, employees who participated in the graduate or executive development program are more positive throughout the survey, especially about leadership and about the employment deal: they are more appreciative of what they ‘get’ from SITA in terms of reward, recognition and development opportunities while they are also more favorable on what they ‘give’ in the form of engagement.


The follow-up process: engrained in the business


Underpinning SITA’s progress on their key survey metrics is a highly structured follow-up process that is engrained in the daily business. It starts each year with a presentation of the global results to the Executive Team by Willis Towers Watson. “There is a lot of engagement in the Executive Team around the survey and it is regularly discussed with the team. It is very valuable for us to have a first presentation by Willis Towers Watson. They give us an unbiased external perspective on the results,” says Warren.

There is a lot of engagement in the Executive Team around the survey and it is regularly discussed with the team. It is very valuable for us to have a first presentation by Willis Towers Watson. They give us an unbiased external perspective on the results”

Astrid Warren,
Chief Human Resources Officer, SITA

Each year, the Executive Team decides on two or three follow-up actions that they will focus on globally. Next, the survey team organizes workshops for location leaders to design actions for their geography, while function leaders set actions for their function. This matrix structure ensures that actions are taken where they matter most, and that all managers are accountable for the follow-up process. The follow-up actions are on the agenda of global staff and management calls, encouraging managers to always keep looking for the next action they can take.

A key ingredient of any action planning process is to communicate follow-up actions back to employees. Here, it is important to strike the right tone. “We tell employees what we do with their feedback, but at the same time emphasize individual ownership by encouraging them to participate in results workshops and team meetings. This way, we make employees responsible for driving change in their teams too,” says Warren.


An agile listening strategy


Many companies are currently moving away from the annual holistic census survey to a more agile listening strategy consisting of short, topical ad hoc surveys and other feedback channels. SITA has retained the annual survey as a cornerstone of their listening strategy, while also engaging in broader listening activities.

The annual rhythm allows SITA to gain momentum across the business, encouraging high participation rates and strong management involvement in the follow-up process. Moreover, the census provides the rich data throughout the whole organization that SITA needs for their detailed results analysis. “For us, that once a year viewpoint gives us clear measures on the actions we need to take and the things we need to focus on, from a business perspective, but also from an employee perspective. An annual survey also gives us a baseline for yearly comparisons.”

There are various solutions available that you can use to integrate your listening data, but it is important to carefully consider the overarching conceptual framework first”

Maximilian Siessegger,
Director Talent & Rewards, Willis Towers Watson

SITA’s broader listening activities involve gathering data from exit surveys and employing short pulse surveys as needed, for example to monitor opinions in a department that is heavily affected by a transformation. In addition to surveying employees, SITA gathers data from other listening channels such as customer satisfaction surveys, meeting polls, social media, Glassdoor reviews and process evaluations. Going forward, it is SITA’s ambition to integrate data from these diverse sources with the Employee Experience Survey results, to get a complete picture how the employee experience drives business success. “There are various solutions available that you can use to integrate your listening data, but it is important to carefully consider the overarching conceptual framework first. You need to think about what kind of employee experience you want to create. You need to think about when, how and why you collect feedback, how you communicate to employees, and what you expect from employees and managers in terms of driving change. When you have a framework and strategy in place, this will inform the data format that you need,” says Siessegger.


The Willis Towers Watson difference


Working closely together over the past eight years meant that SITA and Willis Towers Watson have developed a strong partnership. Warren: “the partnership is very important, because when you trust the advice you’re getting, when you trust that you are equal partners at the table and WTW listens to the issues that SITA has rather than just telling, this drives the types of results that we have seen. It has been an incredible journey.”

Contacts

Astrid Warren
Senior Vice President, Human Resources, SITA

Maximilian Siessegger
Director Talent & Rewards

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