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The Power of Purpose: Using the Potentuel Framework to Improve Employee Engagement in UK Rail

In today's rapidly evolving work landscape, purpose has emerged as a key driver of employee engagement and organisational success. This holds particularly true for the rail industry, where a sense of purpose is invaluable for both employees and the customers they serve. By understanding the significance of purpose and leveraging its potential, rail industry professionals can bring about transformative changes in their approach to work.

At Potentuel, we firmly believe that the individuals who are closest to the experiences and processes, day in and day out, are best placed to transform them. This belief is rooted in the understanding that frontline employees have a wealth of passenger and freight customer experiences. This helps us gain valuable insights, first-hand knowledge, and a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the UK rail industry by tapping into this experience.

The timing of this article is significant, as we reflect on the five-year anniversary of the tumultuous timetable chaos that plagued the rail industry, the two-year anniversary of the publication of the Williams-Shapps Rail Plan, and the fourth train operator finds itself under government control. It is evident that, few tangible solutions have been implemented to address the underlying issues. It is time for a fresh approach that breaks the negative cycle and puts the passenger first.

One aspect that warrants attention is the toxic relationship between management and employees. The number of strike days in the last 18-months serves as a stark reminder of the lack of engagement and shared outcomes. This ongoing confrontation not only hinders progress but also negatively impacts the customer experience. As we watch from the side-lines, it becomes apparent that the GB railway is in a sorry state, and urgent action is required.

The Potentuel solution is a crucial part of the remedy. By embracing the Potentuel framework, the rail industry can break free from the repetitive debates and confrontations and work towards a shared Universally Successful Destination (USD). This shift in focus, putting the passenger first and fostering collaboration, can pave the way for a positive transformation.

However, it is important to acknowledge that addressing the toxic relationship between management and employees requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. This personal view might challenge some, but it is vital to recognise the need for open dialogue, trust-building, and a willingness to listen and understand diverse perspectives.

The goal is clear: to create a collaborative and inclusive environment where employees are empowered to contribute their ideas, opinions, and expertise. By doing so, we can harness the collective intelligence of the industry and work towards a brighter future.

The Significance of Purpose-Driven Work

Purpose-driven work goes beyond task completion; it involves a deep connection to the broader mission and impact of the rail industry, which serves as a vital enabler for the UK economy. By recognising that rail plays a pivotal role in supporting employment and education, among other economic benefits, employees can find greater meaning in their work and understand how their contributions contribute to the overall well-being and advancement of the nation.

When employees find meaning in their roles and understand how their contributions contribute to the greater good, they become more engaged, motivated, and fulfilled. This engagement translates into tangible benefits for rail companies, such as increased productivity, improved performance, and higher retention rates.

Reflecting on Progress and Embracing Great British Railways (GBR)

This thought piece takes us on a reflective journey within the rail industry, assessing our progress since the tumultuous timetable chaos of 2018. Two years after the publication of the Williams-Shapps Rail Plan, we find ourselves at a critical juncture, examining employee engagement levels and exploring the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead as we embrace the vision and mission of Great British Railways.

Figure 1: Timeline of Rail Reform: From Setbacks to Stagnation

Drawing on Research and Insights

To gain a deeper understanding of purpose in the rail industry, we turn to our own research, including insights from the comprehensive Potentuel Railway Survey conducted between March and May 2023. These findings shed light on the profound significance of purpose-driven work, highlighting its potential to drive higher levels of engagement, productivity, and retention.

Challenges Identified in the Survey

The Potentuel Railway Survey reveals several challenges faced by the UK rail industry:

Limited Familiarity with GBR:

Only 15% of respondents demonstrated familiarity with the mission and structure of Great British Railways, indicating a need for improved awareness and understanding among employees.

Confusion about Implementation:

Employees express confusion surrounding the implementation plan of GBR, emphasising the importance of clear communication and guidance.

Management-Frontline Disconnect:

A disconnect between management and frontline employees hampers effective communication, alignment, and progress towards shared goals.

Poor Employee Engagement:

The survey findings indicate a lack of engagement within the rail industry, suggesting that employees may not feel connected to their work or motivated to contribute their full potential.

Lack of Leadership Communication and Clarity:

Employees express a need for clearer guidance and direction from leadership, as the current lack of effective communication impedes engagement and productivity.

Legacy Challenges:

Negative experiences, including job losses and adverse changes to working conditions, have created scepticism and resistance among employees, eroding trust, and engagement.

Lack of Trust and Empowerment:

Employees perceive a lack of trust and empowerment, feeling that leadership is not effectively enabling their contributions to GBR's success or supporting their individual growth.

Figure 2: In your opinion, what do you believe are the top leadership challenges faced by the UK Rail Industry?

These survey findings underscore the urgent need for proactive measures within the rail industry. By prioritising clear communication, providing leadership support, and actively involving employees in the GBR implementation process, the industry can build trust, enhance engagement, and empower employees to realise their full potential.

Applying the Potentuel Framework to the UK Rail Industry

Our approach focuses on finding solutions and driving cultural change within the organisation. Here's how we tackle the challenges:

Defining a Universally Successful Destination (USD):

We recognise the importance of establishing a clear and inspiring USD that goes beyond a simple vision. This USD acts as a guiding star, setting the direction and goals for GBR. It is crucial to get buy-in from all stakeholders, ensuring alignment and a shared sense of purpose.

Engaging the Entire Organisation:

We believe that involving everyone in the process is essential for success. We start by conducting the digital Potentuel People Survey, designed to be engaging and gamified. Through this survey, we share the USD and the Potentuel plan, explaining the purpose and desired outcomes. We encourage participation and gather valuable insights from employees at all levels.

Empowering People through Workstreams:

The Potentuel framework organises the work into different streams, each focused on a specific aspect. The People Engagement workstream selects representatives who are nominated by their colleagues to participate in a workshop. Their expertise and perspectives help shape engagement strategies and ensure that employees feel empowered and involved.

Cultivating a Service Culture:

We understand the importance of fostering a customer-centric service culture within GBR. The Service Culture workstream brings together nominated individuals who possess the necessary skills and knowledge. Through workshops and collaboration, we develop strategies and initiatives that prioritise exceptional service delivery.

Nurturing Customer Leadership:

The Customer Leadership workstream aims to enhance GBR's customer experience by developing effective leadership strategies. We engage with nominated participants who have demonstrated strong customer-focused leadership qualities. Through workshops, we harness their expertise to drive positive change and create an exceptional customer journey.

Figure 3: A simple 3 phase framework focused on people, customers, and service. Implementation and action orientated with the GBR mission serving as the north star and USD

Benefits and Outcomes

By embracing Potentuel, rail can cultivate better employee relations, enhance productivity, and drive positive organisational outcomes:

Improved Employee Engagement:

The Potentuel framework prioritises employee engagement as a key driver of success. By involving employees in decision-making processes and providing opportunities for active participation, rail companies can foster a sense of ownership and empowerment. This leads to higher levels of engagement, motivation, and job satisfaction among employees, resulting in improved productivity and overall performance. Research studies consistently show a positive correlation between employee engagement and organisational success, with higher engagement levels linked to increased productivity, reduced turnover rates, and improved customer satisfaction within the rail industry.

Enhanced Collaboration and Communication:

Potentuel emphasises the importance of collaboration and effective communication channels throughout the organisation. By breaking down silos and promoting cross-functional teamwork, rail companies can foster a culture of open dialogue, knowledge sharing, and innovation.

This collaborative approach enables efficient problem-solving, better decision-making, and the implementation of impactful changes. Studies have demonstrated that organisations with a strong culture of collaboration and communication experience higher levels of innovation, employee satisfaction, and customer loyalty. Improved communication channels also contribute to smoother operations, reduced errors, and increased overall efficiency.

Organisational Agility and Adaptability:

The Potentuel framework encourages continuous improvement and adaptability to changing circumstances. By regularly reviewing and optimising the Universally Successful Destination (USD) and implementation plans, rail companies can stay responsive to industry dynamics, customer needs, and emerging technologies. This agile approach enables proactive decision-making, the ability to seize new opportunities, and the mitigation of potential risks.

Research has shown that organisations that embrace agility and adaptability have a competitive advantage in rapidly evolving industries. They are better equipped to navigate disruptions, capitalise on emerging trends, and maintain long-term sustainability.

Positive Workplace Culture and Employee Well-being:

Potentuel focuses on creating a positive workplace culture that promotes employee well-being, satisfaction, and work-life balance. By prioritising employee needs, providing development opportunities, and recognising achievements, rail companies can foster a supportive and inclusive environment. This, in turn, contributes to higher employee morale, reduced stress levels, and increased loyalty and retention. Numerous studies have demonstrated the correlation between a positive workplace culture, employee well-being, and organisational performance. Companies that prioritise employee well-being experience lower absenteeism, higher levels of employee satisfaction, and greater talent attraction and retention.

By embracing the Potentuel framework, the rail industry can create a culture of collaboration, innovation, and engagement. This approach allows tapping into the collective intelligence and expertise of the workforce. By overcoming the obstacles identified in the Potentuel Survey, rail companies can pave the way for a successful implementation of GBR. The evidence supports the notion that investing in employee engagement, collaboration, organisational agility, and workplace culture leads to improved outcomes, creating a stronger, more successful rail industry for the future.


Purpose-driven work is essential for employee engagement and organisational success in the UK rail industry. When employees connect to a broader mission and understand the impact of their work, they become more engaged, motivated, and fulfilled.

The Potentuel framework recognises that those closest to the experiences and processes in the rail industry are best positioned to transform them. By involving employees in decision-making and actively engaging them in the implementation of Great British Railways (GBR), the industry can break the cycle of negative relationships and put the passenger first.

The Potentuel Railway Survey highlights several challenges faced by the rail industry, including limited familiarity with GBR, confusion about its implementation, a management-frontline disconnect, poor employee engagement, lack of leadership communication and clarity, legacy challenges, and a lack of trust and empowerment.

Moving forward, proactive measures are needed to address these challenges and improve employee engagement. Clear communication, leadership support, and employee involvement in the GBR implementation process are crucial for building trust, enhancing engagement, and empowering employees.

The application of the Potentuel framework in the rail industry can bring about significant benefits and outcomes. It improves employee engagement, enhances collaboration and communication, fosters organisational agility and adaptability, and promotes a positive workplace culture and employee well-being.

Are you ready to be a catalyst for change in the UK rail industry?

Join us on this transformative journey as we embrace the Power of Purpose and shape the future of Great British Railways.

We invite you to share your ideas, insights, and expertise. Let's collaborate and co-create solutions that will drive employee engagement, improve customer experiences, and elevate the entire industry. Together, we can build a rail system that we can all be proud of.

Join the movement and be a part of the positive change. Are you up for the challenge?

References and Research

· Blanchard, K. (2019). Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Discusses the principles of servant leadership, which emphasises listening, empathy, and empowerment, and how it can be applied in organisations to improve leadership and employee engagement.

· Kotter, J.P. (2012). Leading Change. Harvard Business Review Press. Outlines a framework for leading successful organisational change, including the importance of engaging employees and creating a culture of openness and collaboration.

· Edmondson, A.C. (2012). Teaming: How Organisations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. Jossey-Bass. Explores the concept of teaming in organisations, which involves creating a culture of psychological safety, trust, and continuous learning, and how it can enhance leadership and employee engagement.

· CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development). (2020). Employee Voice: Trends, Insights and Practice. This research report by CIPD provides insights on the importance of employee voice and engagement in organisations, including how it can impact performance, innovation, and customer satisfaction.

· Deloitte. (2021). Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2021: The social enterprise in a world disrupted. This annual report by Deloitte discusses the current trends and challenges in the world of work, including the need for leadership that listens, engages, and empowers employees to drive organisational success.

· Great British Railways. (2021). Shaping the Future of Rail: A White Paper on the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail. Government white paper outlines the GBR initiative, its objectives, and plans for transforming the UK rail industry, providing context for the article's focus on progress with GBR.

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