Strategic Internal Communications interview with Virgin Trains: csuitepodcast show 35 pt1

russanddrew

with Virgin Trains’ Drew McMillan (left)

The first two parts of Show 35 of the csuitepodcast were recorded at PR Week’s Strategic Internal Communications event in London, which had a theme of creating a more agile, digital and customer focus culture in the business.

My first interview, with Drew McMillan, Head of Internal Communications and Innovation at Virgin Trains, followed his keynote address at the conference about how to create an amazing place to work by borrowing techniques more often used for customer insight.

Drew’s gut instinct was that whilst many consumer brands quite rightly spend millions understanding their customers, they spend way less than 10% of that amount understanding their people, yet so many business use the mantra of their people being their most valuable asset!

He explained that Virgin is a customer led brand that is big in the consumer space, and that the company invests accordingly in understanding its customers.  However, he felt that historically, the organisation hadn’t invested near as much effort and energy in understanding its people and that, like most employers, had previously thought that an annual survey (that often takes a long time to do anything about the responses), perhaps with some additional activities ‘around the edges’, was all that was required.

Drew believes that today’s employees expect to be listened to more often and their input to be acted upon much more quickly.  He therefore wanted to look at a fundamentally different way of applying customer insight to an internal audience and so adapted the company’s consumer facing tool, ‘The Awesometer’, to create an internal Pulse dashboard that has sub components looking at Trust, Empowerment and Engagement.  This dashboard shows an aggregated sense of how Virgin Trains’ people are feeling on a four weekly basis, i.e. how awesome the company is.

Drew’s Pulse dashboard works alongside other Internal Communications tools.  He explained that the company is in the middle of transferring to Office365, although had already implemented Yammer, which gives him rich analytics on sentiment within the business.  In fact, Virgin Trains has been independently audited as one of the most engaged Yammer users in Europe (with 2800 active users) and in the top 12 Yammer Networks worldwide, with a daily Yammer Engagement level of 68% Measure of Active Engagement (MAE), which Drew confirmed is very high.

Virgin also combines this with more traditional one-to-one research, working with Ipsos Loyalty to speak with colleagues in their homes in a very frank and private way about working at Virgin Trains and how the company can improve as a business.  Drew feels the importance of doing these interviews in the home is that people are in a completely different psychological place and will therefore talk differently to how they might do so in a typical open focus group environment.

All these various tools and research methods are part of Virgin’s ACE (Amazing Colleague Experience) program – born out of their ICE program (Incredible Customer Experience), which helped define the seven stages of their customers’ journey with them, from thinking of travelling, through to arriving at their destination. Therefore ACE takes the same methodology by breaking their people’s daily lives into a number of stages, from preparing to come to work in the morning through to getting home at night.

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