Talent Retention Solutions at Virgin Mobile

The final instalment in our series of HR interviews we talk to Virgin Mobile about their talent retention solutions. Find out more about the challenges they face.

Talent Retention Solutions at Virgin Mobile

As head of shared services for Virgin Mobile, Richard Roberts leads a team responsible for all matters relating to policy and procedure across the company. This includes recruitment, rewards and employee programmes.

Virgin Mobile employs around 750 people in its customer centre based in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. The location itself presents a unique set of problems.

The lack of resource is compounded by shift work which is a necessary part of the job. This lessens the attraction as the rest of a potential employee’s family will most likely work normal hours.

“You can’t just simply say we’ll change x and stop 20% of our people leaving.”

Talent Retention is a Complex Issue

Although Virgin Mobile takes a proactive approach to staff retention by putting resources behind it, Richard understands why other companies don’t.

“Why people leave a company is such a complex issue,” says Richard. “I’ve been in HR for around 16 years, predominantly in customer services. I’ve done a lot of research and reading which shows that reasons for leaving are very individual. This makes it difficult to boil down.

“You can’t just simply say we’ll change x and stop 20% of our people leaving. On the budget side, there is the lack of predictability – it’s quite intangible.”

Read: Why HR Doesn’t Understand the Real Reasons Employees Leave.

Reasons Employees Leave and Retention Strategies

Virgin Mobile has three distinct areas: customer care, retail staff and business support which comprises everyone else. Each of these three areas will have different reasons for people staying or leaving. Yet, too often, generalisations are made to explain the reasons for attrition.

Richard said, “You have to look at the factors aligned to each particular sector. Take our customer centre for example: it has a very young age profile.

“Around Sept time our attrition figures rise because many of the staff go off to college. The same happens in May because they go off travelling. We tackled this by introducing a sabbatical programme.”

Read: Gen-Y Employees and Staff Engagement Strategy.

He added, “In our call centre, the shift patterns are a big factor. We’ve done a lot of work to try to improve this. However, by doing this, we might have upset another group of people who were happy with the original patterns!

“Also, 99% of staff have never worked in a customer centre before because of where we are located. This means there is a tendency towards high attrition in the first 12 months.

“Once people get through this period the attrition rates are very good. Ten percent of the people who joined us at our launch six years ago are still here. That’s around 80 or 90 people out of a population of 700.”

Virgin Media believe it is necessary to analyse why employees leave. They, however, believe that more time should be devoted to why people stay with an organisation.

“At the moment we are trying to increase the average age of our customer centre staff because of the attrition problems we get in this area,” Richard explains.

“We are talking to older staff to find out why they have stayed with us two or three years. What are good things? What are bad? We have used this information in our campaigns to try to attract more mature people.”

Read: Staff Retention Strategies and Demographic Groups.

Virgin Mobile faces significant recruiting pressures, without constant monitoring and the development of retention strategies. Therefore, attrition could have a particularly big impact on the company’s ability to perform.

“Attrition has a major impact on every business, although it does depend on who is leaving,” says Richard. “If high flyers are leaving then we have more of a problem. It affects a lot of areas: resource, cost, morale as well as the ability to get things achieved.

“The recruitment market is really tough at the moment. Getting the right people with the right skills into the right role is crucial. We like to think we have a rigorous recruitment process but there is always an element of risk.”

“The manager has such a big influence: their style can make or break someone’s career. We all remember people who have managed us well and equally those who have been complete nightmare.”

The Right People for the Right Roles

There is, however, one overriding factor that affects employee retention: the manager. Virgin Mobile tackles this potential hazard head-on.

They have measures that ensure managers are well trained, understand how to manage and, importantly, develop their staff. Unfortunately, in most companies, the relationship between HR and line mangers could be improved.

Richard said, “The manager has such a big influence: their style can make or break someone’s career. We all remember people who have managed us well and equally those who have been complete nightmare.

“It is essential to get recruitment right with the line manager and it is HR’s job to make sure we have the right managers in place.

“For me, the main job of HR is putting the right people in the right role. The biggest cause of dissatisfaction is when people are wrongly promoted or don’t have the necessary skills their job demands.”

“One of problems we face is that people have wild ideas of what it will be like to work for Virgin.”

An Integral Approach to Retaining Staff

Virgin Mobile runs a variety of programmes geared towards retaining staff, for example, succession planning and career development. There is also a very big recognition programme via which anyone in the company can nominate someone they think has done a good job.

“We have an approach to staff retention rather than a strategy,” says Richard. “We have looked at the employee lifecycle from day one: from seeing the advertisement through to recruitment, induction, career development and finally, to leaving the organisation.

“We then asked, ‘Does what we do at each of these stages reflect our brand?’ This is an on-going project.

“At interview, for example, we ask, ‘What does the candidate experience? What are they saying about us as they walk away? Are we managing people’s expectations?’

“One of problems we face is that people have wild ideas of what it will be like to work for Virgin,” he continues. “Yes, it’s a great, fun place to be but we still have our day to day job to do.

“This is particularly true for the customer service department. The hard reality is that their job is to take calls from customers.”

Virgin Mobile looked closely at its reward package and made sure the basics were at right level and that the bonus scheme was good. The company offers a lot of the little things which very often make the difference. As well as the staff recognition scheme these include a discount card and a sabbatical leave policy.

There is also education support for people who want to do a college course. Whilst, the employee assistance programme offers practical and emotional advice is available.

“It’s hard to know how much of the truth you actually get in a face to face situation.”

Listening to Staff

A staff survey is conducted every six months to gauge employee opinions on a variety of issues. What is referred to as a ‘six months’ MOT’, is held at the customer service advisor level.

“The first 12 months are really critical at that level,” Richard explains. “We sit down with people and ask how things are going. We want to know the good and the bad.”

Virgin Mobile currently conducts face-to-face exit interviews but is about to use great{with}talent’s online questionnaire as well.

Exit interview data gives a picture of people’s reasons for leaving, enabling them to be addressed. Though, reasons can fluctuate in the period between taking the decision and the interview.

Richard said, “Looking back at my own experience there were five or six reasons why I wanted to leave my last job and one trigger moment when I said ‘right I’m going to start looking for another job.’

“It then took me around 12 months to find my next position. By this time my original reasons for wanting to leave had probably changed.”

The company will continue face-to-face exit interviews though they acknowledge that a lengthy exit interview is necessary to get any depth. This also needs to be followed by considerable time for analysis afterwards. That is why they looked for a more automated method.

Richard said, “The face-to-face interview will be less in-depth and will concentrate on the main reasons for leaving. It’s also hard to know how much of the truth you actually get in a face-to-face situation.

“We will direct leavers to the online questionnaire as well. The really great thing is that great{with}talent will do the analysis for us. Apart from anything else, it will be good to have to have third party to do this.”

Contact great{with}talent and find out more about their TalentEngage staff engagement surveys.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvAF23qiSE8](Main image from WCTD)

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