· Features

Three CEO on developing bold leaders

In order to change the industry, leaders at mobile network Three needed to be developed in a different way. It developed a programme to transform the top 50 leaders into bold and creative individuals, CEO Dave Dyson explains.

When my company, Three UK found itself competing on price, we saw a broader opportunity to change the mobile phone industry for the better. We recognised the need to develop our leaders to start reinventing the rules of mobile.

But to do this 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.

Making the transition from being price-led to brand-led was a huge strategic shift. We couldn’t just flick a switch, so we appointed leadership and engagement experts Cirrus to help us create a leadership development programme that would drive the change for our top 50 leaders, including the board and myself, the CEO.

To establish the right behaviours going forward, we worked to create a set of competencies to use as the basis for a leadership development programme we call Inspiring Leaders. The team at Cirrus helped us to clarify our vision and explore the pockets of excellence that were already in place when we saw great customer-centricity in action. We worked in partnership to create three two-day learning modules. However, taking senior leaders out for six full days represented a significant commitment from the business.

The significant investment was a tough decision because there are always many important activities that need to be done, but they had to be deprioritised. We needed to take a bolder and more decisive step about development in order to break the routine that we were in.

The eight board directors were the first to go through the programme. At times the experience made us feel physically uncomfortable, it was so impactful. Unlike reading a book, the use of actors and real-life business scenarios forced us out of our comfort zones onto a steep learning curve. Everyone took away something different. For some, it was speed of decision-making, for others it was their impact on people. For me personally, it was a brilliant reminder of diversity and how important it is to recognise and work with that to make the most out of any situation.

The programme has had a lasting impact. People in the business are more confident they’re focusing on the right things. We’re looking out for speed of decision-making and working 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 contact to improve collaborative working and communication across the business.

Best of all, we’re back to changing the rules of mobile. Our financial performance is solid and we were the first mobile operator to allow customers to use their phones abroad as if they were at home. We continue to offer a differentiated range of benefits to improve customer experience, such as free 0800 numbers.

The investment we made in brand-led leadership development is helping to make our customers love us. We’re now rolling the programme out to our next 200 leaders. And we have gone from being the UK’s most complained about mobile operator to the least complained about.

Dave Dyson is CEO of mobile network operator Three