Keeping the Transport for London HR conference fresh and engaging

by Lance

The challenge

After a series of six-monthly Human Resource (HR) conferences at Transport for London (TfL), Tricia Riley, the HR Director, set herself a new challenge. Being a master of continuous improvement and buoyed by the success of all the previous events, she posed the question, “What can we do to keep our conference format fresh and engaging?”

Rambutan answered her question with another question, “Well how daring do we want to be?” “Very!” was the reply.

The solution

With a clear objective of keeping the conference format fresh and engaging, our starting point was to take a look at the feedback from previous events. This revealed the opportunity to be daring: ‘frontline involvement’ were the key words.

We ran the first set-up meeting in January at St. James’s Park tube station in a very cold and snowy London. We set the scene, got expectations aired, listened to concerns and got a team charter agreed. We explained the different roles and how they fitted together: logistics, facilitation, content design, presenting, and linchpin. Our volunteers then chose which role they wanted to do, shared contact details and developed a project plan.The meeting closed with a combination of nervous energy, excitement and anticipation, especially when everyone realised that it was exactly three months to the first live conference delivery date.

The result

The four conferences were a huge success. The HR Director loved them, the conference team had a great time delivering them and the attendees… Well here’s some of their feedback:

• “Very polished, all presenters and facilitators did a fantastic job.”

• “Very well done. I’m so proud of all the volunteers.”

• “Great job. Had a different feel to this one, much more personal.”

As for the quantitative data: 81% of attendees said the conference exceeded their expectations.Designing and delivering a conference in this way has had so many benefits for the HR department:

• the conference was delivered in the language of the audience sessions; the logistics team made sure the event ran to time, the collateral was displayed correctly and that each table facilitator had everything they would need for each conference. On this day, everyone saw it come to life for the first time and realised how all the pieces of a conference jigsaw fit together.

• Tricia’s 100% trust in the conference team role-modelled the type of empowering behaviour that will drive the HR function forward

• the success has created an appetite for others to get involved next time

• great relationships have been built amongst the volunteers, which has broken down silos: this collaborative way of working will benefit the department long-term

• 20 people now have new skills that the organisation had never been able to give them before

• the organisation sees HR as leading- edge in employee conference design; their approach has aroused much curiosity!

Want to know more?

Past conferences had been designed and delivered by senior managers; now the rest of the HR team wanted to be involved.

Is it really daring, involving some of the team at the conference design stage? Not really! What would be daring would be for the leadership team to hand over the entire design and delivery to their frontline colleagues and not see the results until they attended the conference as delegates! With that, Tricia sent out an invitation to the whole HR team asking for volunteers. Twenty-four team members replied and said they wanted to get involved, so we invited them to a set-up meeting.

This is where the real challenge began. How do you design and deliver a knock-out conference for nearly 400 staff with 24 volunteers who’ve never done anything like this before? That’s when the Rambutan bunch really got to work.

Splitting the volunteers into the sub-teams ensured that costs were kept under control because specific, focused meetings were arranged for each team. After all, presenters didn’t need to attend logistics meetings, and so on: the role of linchpin was to bring it all together, keep everyone informed and make sure there was no duplication of work.

There were many challenges over the course of their three-month journey, such as:

keeping the sub-teams involved, engaged and informed

doing some things by committee, yet sometimes having to trust others to make the right decision

creating four short film clips from scratch

keeping all volunteers unified, focused and delivering on time

During February and March, we held meetings, had discussions in one-to-ones and gave people coaching when they needed it. Four volunteers reluctantly dropped out due to increased work commitments, yet the remaining 20 seamlessly took on the extra workload.

As April approached, the presenters took advantage of extra coaching and by dress-rehearsal day, everything was in place and ready to go.

Rehearsal day was a time to truly put the icing on the cake. The presenters and facilitators practised their sessions; the logistics team made sure the event ran to time, the collateral was displayed correctly and that each table facilitator had everything they would need for each conference.

On this day, everyone saw it come to life for the first time and realised how all the pieces of a conference jigsaw fit together.

What Tricia said…

“Pushing the boundaries is something I have aspired to do with my team. The HR conferences had always been successful but I wanted a fresh approach, hence handing it over to a number of volunteers from my HR team. I was blown away by their energy, passion and commitment.”

“On Rehearsal Day I have to confess to being a little emotional at seeing the outputs of their hard work as I was so proud! It didn’t stop there as the team delivered four great conferences and every time they improved a little more.

I spent two great days with the team and was inspired to think about how we raise the bar again.

I am sure the next set of volunteers will show just how we can!”

Tricia Riley, HR Director

If you’d like to know more about how we helped The Royal Automobile Club, give either Lance or David a shout because they’d love to chat about this project.