Reaching for the stars

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 1 September 2012 in Interviews

In our series on L&D practitioners who scooped prizes at TJ’s 2011 Awards, Seun Robert-Edomi talks to Talarius, winner of the best change management programme of the year

The UK's largest slot gaming operator was acknowledged at last year's TJ Awards for engaging staff in an initiative that helped improve its financial results.

Talarius, which owns more than 200 QuickSilver gaming centres across the country, picked up the award for best change management programme of the year in November, beating the likes of Bupa International and Northampton Borough Council in the process.

The gaming operator received praise for its Elev8 scheme, which helped all members of staff to engage with, and fully understand, its mission and values and reduce labour turnover.

Debbie Carter, director of research at TJ and co-ordinator of the awards, said: "This was a well designed and delivered programme that tapped into expertise both inside and outside the organisation."

The story of the project first started in September 2010, when Talarius CEO Peter Harvey brought his leadership team together for the first time. They were convinced that engagement was essential for business success, especially as this was a time when the economy was particularly struggling.

An added pressure was the fact that some of the leadership team had been brought in from outside the company and had yet to prove they were excellent leaders who were deserving of the staff's engagement and respect.

The challenge for the company was to ensure employees were fully engaged with its values and this was done by implementing Elev8. Launched in October 2011, the programme comprised more than 25 different projects that aimed to increase engagement. At its heart was a workshop for all Talarius' managers, led by board members who volunteered to become Elev8 facilitators.

One of the main purposes of this approach was to demonstrate clear leadership from the senior team, as a recent employee opinion survey had shown that they were lacking in areas like communication and acknowledgment.

Talarius carried out research with various groups across the business to examine the vision, mission and values that the senior team created.

Harvey then decided that the whole board were to be involved in the project and the key objectives were:

  • to create the "best ever" workshop experience for delegates (many people had experienced engagement workshops before and some were sceptical)
  • to involve and engage all delegates by using auditory and visual elements in their design
  • to design the workshop to help reduce labour turnover.

The team had a strict budget of £200,000 for the whole programme and saved money by using an internal design team, who helped deliver Elev8.

As a result of the project, engagement scores have seen a large increase, while employees feel more able to talk to their bosses after seeing them lead the workshops. In addition, March 2011 saw the lowest labour turnover figures the company has ever experienced, largely attributed to increased motivation. Talarius now also has a robust business plan in place within its Australian parent company Tatts Group, which will now use Elev8 as an enabler for change and creativity.

Carter praised the scheme and the innovative approach that the company took.

"The L&D team understood the business need and were able to communicate the company vision clearly through the Elev8 programme," she said.

"The judges were very impressed with the commitment of senior managers to this initiative, which has clearly reaped benefits for the organisation in terms of employee engagement."

Harvey described it as "fantastic" to have won, and said it was a just reward for putting staff at the heart of everything that the company does.

"It was fabulous to have won. It's recognition for our venue teams and it's an endorsement that we are doing the right thing," he said.

"Everybody here and out in the field got a huge boost. Being the only overseas group to have won was a real boost for us, fantastic in fact! We think we are in the right space for what we're doing and we are making sure we are putting our staff at the heart of everything we do.

"I think, for me, the fact that the initiative was all inclusive really helped to make it a winner. We as a company stepped outside our comfort zone and made sure we empowered the employees. The benefits of this are clear for all to see and we're truly delighted with the results."

The way the programme was delivered helped to make it innovative, he said.

"The Elev8 workshop is different. Comments such as 'the best day at work I've ever had' and 'a great event, fantastically put together and delivered' were heard at every workshop. By using visual, auditory and kinaesthetic elements and a great deal of fun, we have created something of which we are very proud.

"It is a testament to the leadership group that they took the creativity, energy and vitality of the pilot workshop and made it even better for the rollout. Using the senior team was innovative, but so was encouraging them to take the material and add their own stories and examples to bring it to life.

"For our sector, taking staff away from work for a day to talk about business strategy, employee engagement and personal development is unique."

For organisations looking to do something similar, getting the board/senior team involved should be one of the main aims.

"It's important to create training that suits your business," Harvey said. "To give you an example of their down-to-earth style, our board rejected 'vision', 'mission' and 'values' as irrelevant terminology for QuickSilver and settled instead for 'jackpot' (the prize), 'the win line' (the mission plan) and the 'stake' (the values we hold dear).

"We allocated dedicated internal resources to make the rollout happen on time and to budget. And the whole senior team was also involved - if they believe in the change you want to see, they will make it happen."

For more information on this year's awards, visit


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