An Interview with Nationwide’s Elen Owens on their Successful Staff Suggestion Scheme


This is the first in a series of interviews where we will be questioning people who are involved with innovation and ideas programmes, how they have gone about setting them up and its benefits to their business, by creating increased profits, staff goodwill and enthusiasm. Our first interviewee is Elen Owens who is the scheme manager for Nationwide Building Society who have been members of ideasUK for over 10 years.

Who do you work for? Please tell us a little about them.

I work for Nationwide Building Society, based in Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. It’s in the financial sector with 19 administration, contact and technology centres, plus approximately 700 branches. Which means we have about 15,783 permanent employees and an ever changing number of temporary and contract workers.

What sort of staff suggestion scheme do you have?

We have a centralised scheme, with one full time administrator and one part time manager, all based within the Human Resources department.

What is the process for handling suggestions?

It’s a fully online, in house, PeopleSoft built system which handles submissions, evaluation and feedback to the suggestor.

What are the inputs and outputs of the system?

All data is inputed by the submitter and evaluator. For outputs we have minimal reports on the PeopleSoft system, but we are in the process of developing an Access database for a full suite of Management Information (MI) reports.

Who evaluates the suggestions?

We have a team of evaluators who are experts in their field.

How do you identify, train and recognise evaluators?

The evaluators are identified in various ways; by being nominated by line managers, they can inherit the position through their role or are volunteers who want to benefit the business.

There is an online training toolkit for evaluators. If the role is inherited then there is local training or a scheme manager/administrator can train them.

For recognition we have a monthly Evaluator of the Month. This is chosen by the Brainwaves team for a quality evaluation reply within the Service Level Agreement (SLA) of 28 days. The chosen evaluator will receive a £25 award.

What kind of non-financial awards do you give, when and how?

We have a recognition scheme called Simply Thank You, where we can award anything from flowers, champagne, wine, chocolates etc. There are also scheme branded gifts given as small awards and finally we have Scratch Cards, which allow people to receive the following awards:

  • £5 award
  • Leave 30 minutes early
  • 30 minutes extra lunch break
  • Bottle of wine
  • Box of chocolates
  • Tea/coffee and cake

What are the objectives for your scheme?

  • To provide a voice for all employees of the Nationwide Group (including temps and contractors) by providing a mechanism for them to put forward their ideas, issues or problems.
  • To provide cost savings and process efficiency for the Society, to actively encourage involvement, innovation and continuous improvement.
  • To provide a facility for implementing cross functional ideas and to demonstrate a commitment to involvement, collaboration and to drive up employee engagement.
  • To allow employees to raise business issues you have identified but where you may not know what the solution is. Encourages collaborative working to solve problems.

How do you market your scheme?

We use a variety of methods:

  • Intranet site with competitions and Brainteasers
  • In house magazine.
  • Groupwide intranet news site
  • Promotional stands
  • Printed material – leaflets, clutches, posters
  • Giveaways – branded gifts e.g. pens, highlighters, pass holder, patience puzzles.
  • Evaluator Newsletter
  • Local promotion by PRIDE Partners and Champions

“Every organisation needs its standard bearers, people who represent the very best of what that organisation has to offer. Nationwide is no exception. That is why we need PRIDE Champions and PRIDE Partners to help drive Nationwide forward, to keep reminding all of us what it is we are about.”

What kind of promotions and campaigns do you have?

We have Brainteasers and Quarterly Campaigns which are targeted on a current issue or topic to get ideas on the best way to resolve. For instance: Green week, we asked people to submit ideas on how we can be greener. Brainteasers is a quarterly focus on inspiration, which has two puzzles each quarter, one for teams and one for individuals. The puzzles are designed to get the brain cells working, test logic skills and to be fun. The winner receives a £20 Fruitful award and runners-up get a wooden puzzle bag, even if they don’t get the answer right, it’s a draw rather than a competition.

Do you have any restrictions on eligibility?

We do exclude certain ideas:

  • Ideas the suggestor could reasonably have been expected to put forward as part of his/her job: e.g. it could not have been implemented without reference to a line manager or technical department and the idea is not considered part of the suggestor’s duties or objectives.
  • Ideas that are submitted retrospectively: e.g. ideas that are already being worked on through group discussions or liaison with local managers e.g. through COP (Cost Optimisation Program), LEAN process or similar initiatives, SBE’s or already implemented within the area.
  • Duplicate ideas – if the idea has already been submitted.
  • Ideas already anticipated or researched by the Group, including planned projects/ideas which are not original.

If you give cash awards what problems have you found?

We are unable to give cash awards to temporary and contract workers due to tax implications.

What are your scheme rules and where are they located?

I have listed the rules below and they can be found on our Intranet site for all employees to have access to them.

1. Who can take part? Suggestions may be made by all current employees of the Nationwide Group, this includes temps and contractors. (Awards will not be paid to temps and contractors. However recognition may be given in other ways locally e.g PRIDE cards, verbal recognition at meetings etc.)

2. What makes a great Brainwave? Your idea must be original, clear and give as much detail and as many examples of the benefits as possible.

3. How are ideas submitted? Suggestions must be completed on the Brainwaves online submission form.

4. How are awards agreed? Awards will be made after an idea is implemented and the benefits have been demonstrated. Awards for ideas where the cost benefit is an estimated figure not an actual figure will be made at the discretion of the Brainwaves team.

  • If the same idea is submitted by more than one suggestor, then the first one received will be given an award if the idea is implemented.
  • The amount of the award will be determined by the Brainwaves team who will consider the cost/benefit of the idea to the Group.
  • Awards will be made only if the suggestor is still an employee of the Nationwide Group when the idea is implemented. Awards will not be paid to temps and contractors, due to HM Revenue & Custom’s guidelines. However recognition may be given in other ways e.g flowers, champagne, PRIDE cards, verbal recognition at meetings etc.
  • Intangible awards where financial benefits cannot be assessed e.g. clearer communication, better member service, employee morale, may receive an award up to £100.
  • A Review meeting is held on a monthly basis to look at all suggestions received to review which ideas are eligible for an award based on the evaluators comments.
  • Some ideas may receive a PRIDE ‘thank-you’ or £25-£100 on implemented ideas.

5. How long will suggestions be valid? The Group reserves the right to adopt suggestions up to two years from the date of the assessment. If this happens the person who made the suggestion may still be eligible for an award. At the end of the two-year period any right to an award will lapse, but the suggestor can resubmit the suggestion before the two years are up.

6. Who owns the suggestion? On submission the suggestion becomes the property of the Group and if a suggestion is patented, costs will be covered by the Group. However, the application will be made in the joint names of the Group and the suggestor, on the terms that the patent may be used by the Group without fee, and any fee payable by any external user in respect of the patented suggestion will be shared jointly.

7. What is the appeals process? If an employee wishes to appeal against a decision, the appeal should be made together with additional information and evidence and sent to Brainwaves via outlook to the Brainwaves mailbox. The additional information will be sent to the original evaluator(s) for evaluation. On receipt of the evaluators reply the suggestion will be reviewed by the Brainwaves team and the employee will be updated.

How does your executive team show commitment and enthusiasm for the scheme? The scheme was re-launched in May at the Leadership Conference. All senior managers and executive were present to get buy-in from all the leadership team. A new element to the scheme, ‘Share It,’ was launched to encourage collaboration within the Society. Issues or problems can be submitted and other employees can help solve these. One Director commented how innovative this was and will encourage collaboration and a working together culture within Nationwide.

Elen Owens joined Nationwide Anglia (as it was then) as a Graduate in 1989 and been there ever since – so has seen a lot of changes over the years. She has a degree in Medical Biochemistry which comes in handy working in finance! She has worked in Retail (branches) for a number of years in various roles. Elen joined the scheme as a part time administrator in 1996 and became the scheme manager in 1998 (as a job share – which is no longer in existence). She still works part-time as the scheme manager.

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3 thoughts on “An Interview with Nationwide’s Elen Owens on their Successful Staff Suggestion Scheme

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