Transforming conversations at Virgin Trains: part two

June 30, 2017

Discover how Virgin Trains improved their conversational Super-Skills™ and broke down the barriers to organisational dialogue.

Day two in the life of Virgin Trains

Changing the conversations that occur in workplaces requires a change in both mindset and behaviour. This can be seen as challenging or threatening the current culture. But it’s a crucial exercise for organisations to assess their current conversational habits before designing an approach to drive change.

Virgin Trains was borne out of the railways, which have traditionally had an engineering-led culture of problem-solving and pragmatism. Rules, regulations and the hierarchical structure have guided a lot of communication, so conversations were often characterised by command and control.

Managers often assumed that employees were ‘in the know’, which led to things often being left unsaid. Leaders weren’t always open with bad news and face-to-face conversations were often avoided. Any intervention had to take into account the macro issues and challenges that affected Virgin Trains, exploring the barriers that prevented improving conversations.

Ready to see how Virgin Trains designed the right programme for its leaders?

Part two: designing a programme to improve conversational Super-Skills™
A conversational leadership programme was designed, in collaboration with The Right Conversation, to improve the quality of organisational dialogue. It focused on the 5 Super-Skills™ that underpin all conversations:

  1. Voicing – The need for more adult-to-adult conversations between leaders and employees was particularly important. Leaders needed to move away from ‘command and control’, where many conversations were very often still Parent-Child, to something more open and collaborative.
  2. De-coding – Managers were much better at talking at employees than they were at listening to them. They often assumed messages put out to employees were being received as intended, rather than checking there were no misunderstandings.
  3. Presence – In the fast-moving world of business, managers typically ‘grabbed’ conversations with employees where they could. Often, leaders failed to be fully ‘present’ or engaged. Many conversations were cursory and unproductive.
  4. Flow Control – Another challenge for managers was to better control the flow of the conversations they had. Each discussion needed a clear purpose, leading to mutually agreed next steps.
  5. Hyper Awareness – Finally, managers and leaders needed to become more aware of their own drivers, triggers and emotions. They needed to reflect on how these impacted the different conversations they had. Managers needed to realise that individuals in the same team having different personalities was okay, that they needed to embrace this as part of their conversations.

These Super-Skills™ form the bedrock of all successful and meaningful organisational dialogue. Leaders at all levels needed to be equipped with these skills to ensure that conversations would happen in the right way, that employees would feel listened to, and that difficult issues could be raised and spoken honestly about.

A metaphor that worked well for Virgin Trains was to think of a conversation as a dance. Success is only possible if both partners are aware of and using all 5 Super-Skills™ – being present, tuning  into themselves, being sensitive to the other person, voicing what needs to be said and managing the flow of the conversation.

Getting executive-level buy-in

To embed these skills into the organisation, the executive board needed to buy into what the People team and The Right Conversation were trying to achieve. Getting the executive team’s support for the programme proved to be a relatively straightforward sell. Want to find out more?

Look out for part three to discover how a day-long session was delivered and what it looked like.


Transforming conversations at Virgin Trains

  • Share this article

    • the state of organisational dialogue in 2017

      The state of organisational dialogue in 2017

      Your business’s success relies on meaningful conversations between your leaders and their teams. If you don’t change your current state, your business won’t perform well in the future.

      Download now

    • The HR professional's guide to conversational leadership

      The HR professional’s guide to conversational leadership

      Give your leaders the right skills and knowledge they need to transform conversations. After all, great conversational leadership can improve your business’s overall performance.

      Download now

    • Transforming conversations at Virgin Trains

      Transforming conversations at Virgin Trains

      Even the world’s biggest brands can improve how their employees talk and interact. Discover how Virgin Trains transformed the quality of its conversations.

      Download now

    So, what are they all saying?

    At t-three, we help you improve performance through your people. We work hard to inspire individuals, teams, and organisations to change, grow and succeed.

    We are a committed, passionate bunch who love what we do. But don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what they’re saying about us…

    • “Clearly the best development programme I have ever attended. I am convinced as an individual and as a leadership population we have progressed massively in the last two years.”

      Toyota GB programme participant

    • “Working with the t-three group helped in understanding what the Leadership programme should focus on – and it has been a key part of the transformation at London Underground.”

      London Underground

    • “Feels like a very user friendly way of completing a 360 appraisal. A definite improvement on the last system.”

      BBC 360 Degree Feedback participant

    Organisational dialogue audit

    The world in which business leaders and managers operate has changed. The need for authentic, open dialogue within organisations has never been greater. How great is your organisational dialogue? Complete this audit to find out.

    Complete the audit