MTA 2019 - 0018

Michael Conroy, CEO of sponsor Palletforce, presenting the trophy to Arrow XL director of people services Zoe Sinclair, with comedian Omid Djalili (far left) and MT editor Steve Hobson (far right)

You have to be a special kind of business to turn a disastrous fire into an opportunity to develop an award-winning training programme. But that’s exactly what home delivery specialist ArrowXL did.

You can’t beat learning on the job, unless you are delivering furniture or fitting white goods in customers’ homes where it has to be right first time. But two-person home delivery and installation specialist ArrowXL has developed the next best thing – the ArrowXL Training Academy.

Based at its Wigan facility, the Academy features a mock-up of an apartment with a fully furnished bedroom, kitchen and living room, to give staff the opportunity to learn the skills needed for seamless in-home deliveries before they go out on the road.

The Academy is a central element in ArrowXL’s wider training programme, which won it the coveted Training Award at the Motor Transport Awards 2019.

The programme was born out of a major fire at the firm’s Worcester warehouse in April 2017 that destroyed the entire facility, including most of the company’s paper-based training records, and saw the company lose 45% of its capacity in just one hour.

MD Charlie Shiels recalls: “The fire disrupted everything and it is no exaggeration to say that we were fighting for our survival, but once we got on a stable footing we said we cannot sit and dwell on the fire. We had to focus on moving the business forward and recognised that training was a very important part of that strategy.

“We’d had training going on in temporary buildings with training groups, but we recognised it wasn’t good enough and that the training had to mirror and replicate what these guys go into every day – interfacing with the great British public.

“As a hard-nosed executive you can look at the cost of training and question where the return on income is – but in our business it is a no-brainer,” he adds.

“We come into your house and deliver a service for you so it is important that we do an amazing job because if we can keep the consumers happy, then the clients who pay our bills are happy.”

And so £50,000 was committed to set up a training facility to replicate the everyday situations the firm’s two- person delivery teams face (see 'An academy in the making', below).

But if the Academy was to work it also had to be underpinned by a well organised and centralised training programme. This was no easy task. In the aftermath of the fire, the company found that, aside from losing training documents, many other training records were scattered across different systems, making them difficult to find.

Taking a fresh look

Then, in early 2018, Zoe Sinclair, director of people services at ArrowXL, became involved.

“I realised that the existing system lacked co-ordination, traceability, consistency and had no clear overall link between training and business goals,” she recalls. This left significant blind spots in the way staff were being trained, not least as the team was unaware of how many training days had been delivered in previous years and struggled to collate training information from the firm’s different areas.

The company’s response was to take a completely new approach to its training strategy, putting Sinclair in charge of a new centralised in-house training programme and creating a new training team consisting of four operational trainers, an administrator, a manager and a soft skills trainer.

The newly-formed department set about organising and standardising all training, with full audits completed, improved governance put in place, and scheduled monthly standardisation meetings implemented as well as trainer observations.

“This quickly identified room for improvement in all operational activity areas, including our approach to health and safety,” Sinclair explains.

All company-wide training programmes now sit within the Academy, including those relating to health and safety, leadership and management development, as well as compliance.

The company also recognised that key to the success of any training programme is employee engagement. To this end it launched a management and leadership programme dubbed ‘Squad’, which helps develop the skills of first line managers such as supervisors. It also launched Squad Plus for more senior team members and Squad Lite, which is aimed at potential managers.

Shiels explains: “We made a point of talking and mainly listening to our first-line management team, our shift manager and supervisors, and realised we needed to invest more time in them and their leadership capability.

“We wanted to show them how to better motivate people and more importantly how to avoid demotivating people. Let’s face it, most people come into work wanting to do a good job and the trick is not to demotivate them – treat them well and allow them to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.”

All Squad sessions also involve the ‘Brave Conversation’, which, Shiels says, has helped improve communication throughout the company.

“During these sessions the staff can ask me or my team anything. Nothing is off-limits.

“One thing that did become clear in these conversations was that historically this industry has been a bit shouty. We now make clear that is not the way we treat people. We are a company with integrity and we say to our managers, if you want to treat staff in that way you are in the wrong company because we cannot deliver a great service with unhappy, demotivated employees. It is that simple,” he says firmly.

Nor are any of the training sessions delivered by third-party providers, says Shiels: “There is no better person standing in front of a driver than a manager talking about what we are about, what we believe in, our values, our integrity and why it is important to do a good job.

“You can have a third-party provider saying it, but it does not have the power or resonance of me or one of my managers saying it, because we are all colleagues and we are all in it together,” he explains.

Bearing fruit

The results of the programme speak for themselves with the firm achieving 70% or more on service level scores each month, a TrustPilot score of 9.3 and a 10% fall in staff turnover levels.

Employee engagement rates have also shot up, says Shiels, since the training programme was launched.

“Last month we had 60 nominations for employee of the month and those nominations come from other employees. That is amazing engagement,” he states.

“I spend a lot of time writing congratulations cards which is a lovely job, and often employees write back to me saying how much they appreciated the card. It is not rocket science. People want to be appreciated and their contribution recognised.

He adds: “Our aim is to be a really, really great company. That means we have to recognise that we have great colleagues at the coal face who do the heavy lifting for us every day, and we need to make sure that everything we do is about them, and that we make everything they do as easy as possible.

“Our people are not moving mobile phones all day. Try moving an American fridge-freezer into an apartment block where the lift has broken.

“This is hard work and in these days when drivers are hard to find, we have to make sure people want to work here. Its all about treating them well and valuing them.”

An academy in the making

Launched in May 2018, ArrowXL Training Academy boasts a purpose-built apartment with a working kitchen, child’s bedroom and a living-room kitted out with furnishings donated by clients such as Feather & Black, which supplied bedroom furniture, and Smeg UK, which contributed a range of white goods.

Training centre

The academy also houses two classroom-style teaching areas and the back of an HGV body equipped with a tail-lift so staff can practice loading and unloading, product restraint, safe use of the tail-lift as well as vehicle ingress and egress techniques. All new staff have a tailored induction at the Academy, including delivery crew members who receive a two-day core programme, as well as a two-day assembly induction for those delivering the firm’s white glove high skill set delivery and installation in-home Platinum service.

So far the Academy has delivered more than 1,200 training sessions including Driver CPC, induction, materials handling equipment, Institution of Occupational Safety & Health, first aid, and customer service modules, as well as its Squad programmes.

The company plans to open a second ArrowXL Academy at its new facility in Worcester, which was built to replace the depot destroyed in the 2017 fire and was scheduled to open in September.