Inspiring leaders at Three UK

by | May 10, 2015 | Articles

Three UK’s CEO Dave Dyson says leadership development from Cirrus has had a “lasting impact”. The partnership between Three and Cirrus has helped to transform Three’s culture, speed up decision-making, increase customer focus, enhance reputation – and ultimately to improve performance.

The challenge

When Three, the UK’s fastest growing mobile operator, found itself competing on price, instead of its broader opportunity to challenge the mobile phone industry for the better, it recognised the need to develop leaders to start reinventing the rules of mobile once more…

Dave Dyson, CEO of Three explains, “Three only exists because a lack of competitiveness and innovation within the mobile industry led the government to allow the introduction of a new operator back in 2003. Although the company had been created to deliver on a clear purpose that didn’t translate into day-to-day activities, causing innovation and profitability to suffer.”

To achieve growth, Three had to price its services at a discount and quickly developed a reputation for being the cheapest in the market. ”The company simply didn’t have enough quality in its customer experience to justify charging a premium” says Dave. “It was performing at a loss and significantly undershooting expectations.”

Appointed CEO in 2011, Dave’s first priority was to reconnect the brand with its mission to make mobile better. “We had to get back to challenging the rules of mobile, such as the unspoken rule that if you go abroad, roaming rates are so high you have to turn your phone off. We wanted our customers to be able to enjoy using their phone overseas the same way they do at home. But to reinvent the rules of mobile and live up to our brand promise, we had to develop leaders to be creative and bold. It wasn’t enough to have great ideas, we also had to bring them to market first.”

In order to achieve its objectives, Three wanted to develop leaders across the entire organisation – the executive team, functional heads and all people managers. Dave Dyson and the senior leadership team were keen to become role models for a more collaborative, innovative, agile style of leadership.

The solution

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Three identified six competencies to drive agility – explore, collaborate, engage, customer-centred, business-savvy and deliver – to assess and develop leaders.

Making the transition from being price-led to brand-led was a huge strategic shift. Three introduced the Leadership Transformation Programme in partnership with Cirrus to drive change. Cirrus began by helping the board to clarify its vision.

The programme combines assessment with face-to-face learning, business simulation, project work, coaching, and a specially designed leadership app.

Be Three Skills

Following a series of workshops and stakeholder interviews, Cirrus and Three identified the skills and behaviours to help achieve strategic objectives. Be Three Skills are now widely used across the organisation in reward, performance management and recruitment. They are embedded throughout the Leadership Transformation programme. As the business transitions through mergers and acquisitions, the programme has the flexibility to accommodate these changes to ensure it is always meeting leaders’ development needs.

Inspiring Leaders at Three

Three two-day modules designed for Three’s top 50 leaders.  Each module focused on a specific set of personal and business outcomes for self-awareness, high performing teams and organisational savvy.  Individual coaching targets specific implementation issues.

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Building on Inspiring Leaders, this was developed for the next 300 senior leaders in the organisation.  There is absolute consistency in style and content. Group coaching ensures successful transfer of learning to the workplace.

Aspiring Leaders at Three

The third wave of leaders experienced three one-day modules which gave them an opportunity to acquire new leadership skills and practices, using real life business simulations and role play.

SMT Support

Throughout the Leadership Transformation programme, Cirrus worked with Three’s senior management team to conduct ongoing individual coaching sessions as well as team observation and team away days.

Strategic Leaders Masterclasses

A series of six one-day masterclasses, owned and delivered by the leaders themselves. The concept is ‘leaders learning from leaders’. Three leaders co-create the content with Cirrus and take all responsibility for delivering a masterclass to their peers.

The results

Inspiring Leaders at Three is widely regarded as the most powerful programme Three has ever run, even by the most cynical of leaders.

In 2014, Ofcom figures show that Three went from being the second most complained about mobile operator to the least complained about.

In 2015, Three was the highest-ranked mobile phone company in the Which ‘Best and worst brands for customer service’ list.

Faster decision making enabled Three to launch the UK’s first 4G mobile voice service ahead of competitors.

CEO Dave Dyson gained a 97% approval rate in Glassdoor’s survey of CEO approval rankings by employees – the highest-placed UK-based CEO on the list.

Total customer base has doubled from 5 million to 10 million since the programme was launched. A 6% increase last year took it to 10.29 million.

In 2015, profits rose by 52% to £314 million.

The leadership development programme has been recognised by the HR Excellence Awards and the HR Distinction Awards.

Evaluation data demonstrates:

  • Improved their scores across all Be Three Skills.
  • Leaders are becoming brilliant at storytelling and summarising complex information
  • Improvements in team engagement, communication and increased collaboration
  • Increased levels of self-awareness
  • Greater ability to challenge and address conflict.

“The leadership development from Cirrus has had a lasting impact and is helping to make our customers love us. People in the business are more confident they’re working on the right things. We’re looking out for speed of decision-making and performing better as an organisation. Everyone’s aligned to and excited by our core purpose, increasing the momentum of deliverables. A major benefit is the way leaders from each group have bonded and stayed in touch to improve collaborative working and communication across the business. Best of all, we’re back to changing the rules of mobile.”

Dave Dyson, CEO, Three

Watch Three talk about Inspiring Leaders at Three and connected leadership.

Read Dave Dyson’s personal account of the Inspiring Leaders programme in HR magazine.

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