Building belonging in five steps

23 October 2023

It’s a strange world right now.  Conflicts in Ukraine and Middle East, inflation still high, the chill winds of recession threatening, and yet employment is still high and the number of vacancies in the UK is just shy of a million.   

In the midst of this turbulent environment, there seems to be a tendency for talent and organisations to take longer to make decisions about hiring and moving, and talent is often opting to stay put in what is perceived a risky economic environment. 

Just because someone aims to stay in the organisation, doesn’t necessarily mean they feel like they belong.  Gallup, the harbinger of bad engagement news, estimates that just a quarter of the workforce are actively engaged.   

So there’s almost this perfect storm of people not moving but not engaged; companies wanting to hire, but not able to offer the security or incentives to tempt them; and let’s not forget the ongoing tension around office, hybrid and remote working.  Which means that organisations need to work harder than ever to build belonging in their workforces. 

We look through the lens of a recent project to show how organisations can build belonging, whether it’s company-wide, focused on a particular site or team, or simply helping leadership reconnect with the workforce. 

Back in 2022, Bally’s bought the Gamesys business.  This created a business of 10,000 people in North America, Europe and Asia.  In some senses, this sounds like an easy transaction – one buying another, and therefore bringing the Gamesys into the Bally’s ecosystem?   

Actually the reality was a little more complex.  Bally’s had grown over a few years through a number of casino acquisitions – so it had not had the chance to create one culture; whereas Gamesys had spent many years building a strong and mature culture, even when going through a merger with another organisation just a couple of years before. 

But this brings us onto the first step. 



Taking on a cultural integration is a big deal; it takes months to get moving and years to complete.  Do you need to do this?  What is the purpose?  Will it be worth the effort?  Bally’s could easily have said that the online business has one culture; the casino business another.  But it wanted to have one organisation, and show a real sense of one firm serving a common purpose all around the world. 



Okay, so you’ve decided to take on this cultural integration.  Who needs to be involved?  And what level of representation do you need?  We found that with Bally’s, we had the ear of the Chief Executive as well as the HR Director and Marketing Director.  The CEO made time to join the regular stakeholder meetings, as well as popping into the workshops towards the end to hear the outputs and give a view.  The stakeholder meetings were regular events where we were able to give updates to up to 20 key stakeholders across the business – where we could provide progress updates, discuss findings and agree on next steps.  This really eased the way for the project; and was important to have a wide range of representative views from the new organisation. 



A key part of the how is understanding what is the gap between where the organisation is now and where it wants to be in the future – and how we get there.  The research for Bally’s showed a real sense of ambition for the business – an excitement about being part of this enlarged group and the investment that was coming.  But it was also clear that cultures were different in some operations and sites – due to previous ownership or leadership; and also some cultural differences regionally.  For example, part of the new Bally’s brand was a sense of being ‘unapologetic’ – a sentiment which the Asia team pushed back against.  It was this free-flow of opinions that really helped us to shape the DNA of the organisation – and people feeling safe to voice them.   



So we’ve done the research; we have the key themes (the everyday reality with a healthy mix of aspiration).  So what’s next?  What is the output?  What will bring people together under one common goal?  With the help of the stakeholder team and a smaller core project team, we were able to shape, design and test messaging for the purpose and DNA – testing and refining, to make sure that it resonated with the workforce, not just leadership.  For example, one of the DNA strands is ‘You make the difference’ which is very much about a new type of service culture where guest services in casinos can really make the difference about whether a customer has a good or great experience; but it also plays to our online and tech audience where they can make the difference to a customer experience online.   



The final step is to embed the purpose and DNA into the employee experience.  In many ways, these are the hardest yards.  Because once the excitement of a new purpose and DNA is over, it’s down to the team to ensure that it becomes part of everything from recruitment to onboarding to learning & development and performance management.   


NB: there was a great deal of emphasis for Bally’s to spend time on the identity of the DNA and purpose, to create something that was visually powerful and compelling – to create that emotive connection far beyond words or sentiments.

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