A real eye-opener

The business

T-Mobile is the second largest mobile operator worldwide. One of the big four operators in this country, its UK market share is approximately 25 per cent. It took over One 2 One in April 2002, following One 2 One’s purchase of Pocket Phones in 2000. T-Mobile, which has 6,500 employees, has a chain of UK retail stores, called T-Mobile Retail (T-MR). Barbara Cook became the managing director of T-MR in September 2002, and is currently responsible for 600 staff in 121 UK stores. The company plans to open another 60 stores in 2004.

The challenge

When Cook took over T-MR, there were serious problems with staff morale and motivation. There was a lack of corporate identity, direction and teamworking.

“It was a mixture of three companies that had been slung together without any understanding of value, mission and who we wanted to be,” she explains. “We had a very broken retail business, and the people were broken too. They didn’t know what was expected of them and what their job roles were for. Nobody knew where we were headed.”

Cook embarked on a change management programme and wanted to stage an interactive event, but she was dissatisfied with suggestions from event organisers.

“I wanted to recognise where my employees had been and to show them symbolically where we are now going,” says Cook. “So I took them on a symbolic journey.”

This journey entailed the 100 T-MR store managers travelling to secret locations. Some were flown to France, others to Luxembourg and The Netherlands. Operating in small groups, the managers had to dump their luggage and complete a series of tasks using T-Mobile systems and services, with no idea where they were heading, or why. “Just what they were used to,” says Cook.

Along the way, regional managers dressed in disguise – including as tramps and concierges – to give them clues. Eventually, they were all reunited in the main square in Brussels, where Cook led them to their hotel “as one team”.

Their luggage was returned to them with labels attached which read: “Thanks to you, we’ve dumped our baggage”. And a presentation and video footage of the day’s events then followed.

“As the video progressed, people could see what the intent of the day was,” says Cook. Some employees even burst into tears, and the event broke down all kinds of barriers.

The away-day was followed up by a presentation for all T-MR staff at head office, again showing the company’s position, and where it is heading.

The outcome

The number of profit-making stores has increased by 400 per cent. T-MR is 30 per cent more operationally efficient, and staff turnover and absence levels have been reduced.

A Gallup employee opinion survey had a 273 per cent rise in the number of participants compared with a similar survey conducted six months earlier. “Gallup rang me up and said they hadn’t ever seen that level of swing in an organisation in such a short space of time,” says Cook.

She says 12 key business indicators all showed improvement, including the acquisition and retention of customers, margin performance, support costs, training and recruitment. And T-MR won every other mystery shopper award in 2003. “Before, we were always last – if we were mentioned at all,” says Cook.

She adds morale and teamworking have dramatically improved. And store managers now ring her up with ideas and communicate with each other in a way that didn’t happen previously.

The employee perspective

Despite three years with the company, Ian Munzberger, manager of a Chester store, never felt like he belonged there.

“All I was interested in was my store and my staff,” he says. “I wanted to be a good manager, but I didn’t care beyond that – about how the company was doing or how other stores were doing.”

Munzberger was offered two internal promotions, but turned them both down. He says he’d been biding his time at T-Mobile while deciding where he really wanted to work. He remained sceptical throughout the mystery event until he saw the video, and what Cook was trying to do.

“That was the turning point in my career,” he says. “The magnitude of what they had done to get us there and all the care and planning bowled me over.”

Munzberger has now moved to a bigger flagship store, and after six weeks in his new role, has already doubled business. He is much happier, and for the first time is proud to admit where he works.

“I don’t feel like just another number anymore,” he says. “The conference opened my eyes about who I was working for. Barbara Cook flipped everything on its head, and brought in the opinion that we are all working together.”

Learning points for HR

  • Know your internal customer. Don’t make assumptions about what people feel and think

  • One hit at anything will never do the job you want to do. It has to be consistent and it has to be reinforced

  • Be realistic about what you can actually achieve

  • Surround yourself with people with the same attitude.

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