Reaching for the stars

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 1 January 2014 in Interviews
Interviews

In our series on the winners of TJ's 2012 Awards, Seun Robert-Edomi talks to the first organisation to win three prizes, Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club

A programme that helped to bring about a change in culture and improve customer service scored a hat-trick of prizes at last year's TJ Awards.

Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club scooped the top prize in all three categories it was nominated for at the November 2012 awards, starting with the best learning partnership and completing the hat-trick with the best change management and best leadership programmes.

The club's partnership with business strategy engagement specialists 360 Degree Vision received praise from category judges for helping to improve the capability of staff as they moved to their new stadium, the Amex.

Larry Reynolds, founder of 21st Century Leader and category judge, said: "We felt that the programme stood out because it was so strongly rooted in an analysis of a clear business need - to open this football stadium with a top class customer service offer that matched the quality of the new venue."

The main challenge for the learning department at the club was to support and enable a move from a small, cramped stadium to a new, modern sports ground that would deliver excellent service. Leaders and staff at Brighton had spent 11 years working in Portakabins at the Withdean stadium, which had very limited facilities and resources. To successfully move to a new ground, higher levels of leadership and management skills were need. Staff headcount on match day would rise and an improvement was needed in the hospitality culture, with strong embedded values that would have an impact on the bottom line.

The club partnered with 360 Degree Vision and carried out research with fan groups, staff executives and management to find out what was important and what the new stadium should incorporate.

Their findings revealed that, while fans were generally content with the level of service at the previous stadium, more would need to be done to match high expectations at the new stadium. The research also identified areas of key development in the leadership team and staff that would need to be addressed. Staff had to be briefed about what was needed from them so a new HR team was formed and a training and development strategy was put in place to help meet these challenges.

The programme 'Team Brighton' was then formed to show leaders and staff the standard of service they would aspire to deliver and how performance could then be measured month by month.

A range of engagement methods were deployed throughout the delivery of the scheme. This included actors relaying real customer observations in theatre performances, playing bad customer service examples, role plays and learning events to cater for a variety of different staff groups. All levels of staff were actively involved in defining the core values. This was followed up with one-to-one coaching for key managers to reinforce the adoption of these values. In total, nearly 1,200 people went through the programme.

After completion, the programme was evaluated for effectiveness of learning and 97 per cent of participants said that it was either 'very good' or 'excellent'. The Brighton team also saw off competition from Premiership clubs by winning the football business award for Venue Team of the Year, which recognises the leadership of the match day experience. In addition, the club has achieved industry-leading increases in attendances over the past three years.

Sarah Cook, managing director of The Stairway Consultancy and category judge, said: "The judges in this category were impressed with this major transition project that was undertaken in a short timescale and in a radical, but co-ordinated and participative, way. Proof was in its growth from 200 staff housed in poor conditions to more than 1,000 staff in a multi-purpose stadium."

The view was backed by Rose Read, head of HR at Brighton & Hove Albion FC.

"We were absolutely delighted to have the Team Brighton programme recognised by three separate judging panels. Brighton & Hove Albion has been through a momentous change during the past three years and a great deal of hard work from all of our staff has made the transition to the Amex stadium such a huge success," she said.

"The Team Brighton programme was pivotal in ensuring we were able to meet the high expectations of our supporters and corporate customers."

Nicholas Brice, MD of 360 Degree Vision, paid tribute to the work that had been done: "We created a winning sports and hospitality culture, so to be rewarded [for that] is fantastic.

"I think it was so successful because we were absolutely crystal clear on what the organisation was trying to achieve and engaged people so they wanted to deliver it. The programme was aligned with the board's objectives and the vision was met.

"The programme was also consistent in its tone and authenticity and I think the judges could see this. Sometimes, if there are too many mixed messages, you can alienate people within the organisation and we did well to avoid it."

The innovative delivery methods were also a factor in making the scheme award-winning, according to Brice.

"There was a high level of involvement of all staff in helping to shape the ideal customer experience and developing the values.

"Board members, directors, managers and staff were all involved in designing and delivering parts of the programme and this helped to communicate the vision and improve performance."

Gaining executive buy-in from the top is something critical for organisations looking to do something similar, he added. "Without the support and the backing of key figures, this would never have happened.

"I would advise anyone looking to do something similar to get together the key people who can make or break the programme and make a decision collectively," he concluded.

For more on this year's awards, visit www.trainingjournal.com/awards/

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