Case Study: Virgin Trains East Coast Conference

Working in collaboration with the creative events agency INVOLVE, objectives were translated into a simple set of goals.

The Manager's Conference event brought together almost 400 managers over two days in November 2017 and focused on immersing them all in the business' 'Amazing Future' strategy.

Objectives

The objectives were translated into a simple set of Know, Feel and Do’s and it was agreed that as a result of the conference, managers would:

  • Know: The ‘Amazing Future’ strategy and how they can contribute and what they need to focus on to make it happen
  • Feel: It’s great to focus on the future, and the strategy is both exciting and achievable, and the need to raise their game, to make it real and want to do it
  • Do: Equipped to bring the ‘Amazing Future’ strategy to life for their teams and involve them after the event  

The 2016 conference, called Destination Amazing, began to involve managers and move away from the traditional "chalk and talk" death by PowerPoint approach, but the Internal Communications team recognised there was an opportunity to engage their managers in the ‘Virgin Way’.

VTEC felt that a well delivered, experiential event designed to galvanise their managers was a great way to gain some momentum towards delivering the strategy. It was also hoped that it would capitalise on other work designed to develop and coach their leadership teams. 

Solution

The event needed to be a working day focussed on increasing understanding of the business plan, help managers to come up with ideas to deliver it, gain the confidence to talk about it and importantly having plenty of fun along the way.

Working in close collaboration with the VTEC Communications team, INVOLVE designed a one-day event format that could be repeated over two days.

‘Strategy Stations’ were used to bring to life each of the four strategic priorities, with "short and sharp" MD talks throughout the day.

The ‘Strategy Stations’ were individually tailored and designed to be run by VTEC people. Also at hand were a large team of colleague Champions, who helped to lead and corral teams throughout the day and award ‘points’.

It ended with a high energy celebratory finale where teams passionately demonstrated and performed their commitment to making it all happen.

Activities for the ‘Strategy Stations’ included:

Reaching our Revenue – Managers had to build a physical representation of the commercial plan in a race against the clock, before engaging in a debate on the topic. 

Changing the Game for Good – Managers raced against each other to match up the new features of the next-generation Azuma train with associated customer and employee benefits. Following this, a high energy ‘myth busting’ activity removed the Azuma myths from the conversation, ensuring managers could leave the session confident and ready to ‘bust the myths’ with their teams.

Amazing Customer Experiences – Managers focused on the roles of six real VTEC employees who agreed to become cardboard cut-outs for the day!

Managers brainstormed actions and behaviours each employee could demonstrate to help create an irresistible customer experience. The session wrapped up with managers coming up with new ideas for a VTEC ‘Signature Move’.

We are Virgin – Managers spent time exploring belief building, focussing on the concept that our beliefs influence our behaviours and performance. The session culminated in building a large ‘belief wall’, consisting of bricks labelled with VTEC successes over the past three years and the skills and qualities that enabled these successes.

Operational Improvements – Using printed tablemats and cog segments, groups worked to assemble key messages into complete cogs relating to the five main operational improvement areas. Only once these cog segments were in place did an animation play on screen rotating the four strategic priority cogs and in turn delivering VTEC’s end goal.

Managers were given the opportunity to practice talking in a storytelling session in preparation to share the ‘Amazing Future’ strategy with their teams.

Managers learnt what a good story looked like, receiving coaching on Message, Audience and Delivery before being given time to finesse their own strategic story and practice delivering it to colleagues. 

The last part of day focussed on getting people to share all their knowledge and prepare for a celebration. Their brief: bring Destination Amazing to life by showcasing your passion and excitement for VTEC’s future journey, drawing on the key messaging you’ve learned throughout the day.

Teams exchanged the points they amassed during the day at an on-site shop where they bought materials to design their teams final performance.  In 30 minutes, teams had to prepare a creative way to convey their understanding of the future strategy, in time to a 30 second burst of music.

 

Verdict

Managers were asked before and after the conference how well they understood the Amazing Future strategy – they could score the answer anywhere from a 1 to 10.

The number of managers who scored the following statement between 8 – 10 "Do you understand our Amazing Future Strategy" doubled from 33% (pre) to 66%.

One of the managers said: "This conference was an amazing way to find out more about all aspects of the business and the challenges that some colleagues face. It helped me to see how we could make things easier for each of us and was a real reminder that behind the role there is a human with feelings."

Factfile:

Who: Virgin East Coast Trains
Event: Managers Conference
Delegates:  400 (200 per day)
Venue: Virgin Money HQ, Gosforth, Newcastle
Date: November 2017

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