Red on the inside

Brook Calverley , Feb 15,2018

Last year we worked with Virgin Atlantic on their EVP and People Strategy – helping them make the business as ‘red on the inside’ as it is on the outside. We got a fascinating insight into a brilliant brand facing massive change and the challenge of re-engaging colleagues around what that brand means.

At our last breakfast club we caught up with Matt Stewart, VP Corporate Communications, and talked to him about the path they’ve been on and what he’s learnt along the way.

You can listen to a podcast from the event here in our series of People-Made Talks on Soundcloud and below are ten key insights (there were many more!) that we captured from our conversation with Matt.

1. Reconnecting the internal and external brand experience
What CEO Craig Kreeger found when he joined was that the employee experience had become disconnected from the customer experience. This matters because flying with Virgin Atlantic feels very different to flying with any other airline – and that feeling is delivered by amazing people and the experience they create. Virgin Atlantic is now on a journey to align the employee experience with the customer experience so that we’re as red on the inside as on the outside.

2. We started to decode the essence that is the Virgin Atlantic brand
A lot of it goes back to the heart of what we stand for, our purpose, the things we value and what we expect of our people (behaviour and attitude) from the Senior Leadership Team right through to our employees on the frontline.

3. Leadership is really about humanity and conversation
We are looking at how we unlock what we think great leadership at Virgin Atlantic is and how we instil that in our leaders so they have a clear framework. But equally there needs to be sufficient latitude for them to bring themselves to work; leadership is about leading people and no two people have the same needs, desires or wants. Leaders can use conversation as a tool to unlock expectations, strengths and vulnerabilities of their people. It’s about creating an open form of communication and a proper two-way dialogue.

4. We’ve developed helpful toolkits to show what ‘Leading the Virgin Atlantic Way’ looks like
We listened to what our people told us and used our findings to shape the core attributes of engagement at Virgin Atlantic – for example, ensuring we’ve got mechanisms in place to enable employees to have a voice and contribute. We packaged it up into a toolkit and rolled this out to out leaders with examples of useful exercises, tools and games they can use and adapt to suit their needs, whether that’s working together with groups or guiding them in the art of conversation or the art of listening.

5. Measuring engagement by scores isn’t always the best way of gauging its success
We’re trying to get away from a score, which measures a response at a single moment in time: it drives a certain behaviour because people think ‘I just need to do what I need to do to hit a score or just surpass it’. Instead we’re actually focusing more on wanting amazing people who are highly engaged and want to do the right thing because we know they will deliver an amazing customer experience and therefore create an environment in which customers want to come back for more.


6. Employee experience drives the customer experience and closes the loop to the brand
You’ve got to be clear on how the culture inside the business drives a really great customer experience. The thing that unites those is the brand but it’s got to start with whether employees are genuinely feeling a sense of connection and commitment to the brand and greater purpose.

7. People need to feel deeply cared for and listened to
We have a lot of long-term servers in the business and they need to feel just as looked after, understood, cared for and listened to as people who are joining the company now. We need to ensure that our employee experiences feel synonymous with the shiny, sexy, red Virgin brand that we are asking them to deliver to our customers… that the sense of excitement and attraction to the Virgin brand matches the experience of walking into the building.

8. Find the right practical initiatives, channels, platform or techniques for connecting people
Investing in Workplace has encouraged a much deeper and all-encompassing sense of change in our business than I expected. There was some fear around opening the floodgates by allowing open conversations but actually it has led to genuine authentic two-way communication from top to bottom – whether that’s the ‘ask Craig’ forum or enabling people to much more quickly connect and collaborate with each other. In many respects it has changed the game in how we communicate with our people.

9. Listen closely and learn early
I joined as one of those employees that was wowed by the Virgin brand and I was so excited by the positives of the company. In hindsight I wish I’d spent more time earlier on really getting up close and personal with different people across the business to understand how they felt. I think I was blinded by the red and thought everyone must be as excited and engaged and passionate as I was. But now that we’ve spent some time really listening it has been very powerful in making sure the way we lead and communicate has real impact.

10. And what’s next?
Our challenge now is to ensure we have really happy people delivering amazing experiences and flying really happy customers to more and more places around the world. My team’s role in this is to create an environment where people get what they are here for, feel part of an amazing successful story and can share their views and shape that story.