People and Leadership
A bus company should arguably be the perfect example of a people-centric business. Both the people who drive them, and the community of human beings who travel together on them each day.
In 2022 though, First Bus found itself at a crossroads. One of the UK’s largest bus operators, employing more than 13,500 people across 53 depots, it had seen its customer numbers collapse during COVID lockdown – and a significant number of them still hadn’t come back.
Meanwhile the company’s attrition rates for the lifeblood of the business – its drivers – were far too high. By January 2022, 25% of new drivers had resigned within their first 6 months. Meanwhile the cost to recruit, induct and train new drivers was costing the business £20 million a year.
First Bus knew it had to transform its business to survive and protect its future, and it understood that a key element would be its ability to attract and retain the right people.
We helped First Bus put those people back at the heart of its business. From January to July 2022, we worked with four pilot depots to build a solution that began with the drivers themselves, using a test-and-learn approach that we called the People Centricity programme.
It was our blueprint for a new culture at First Bus. One that recognised that its drivers were each the human face of the business. By giving them what they needed to do a great job for their customers, we could also make a difference for everyone catching the bus each day.
We began with discovery sessions with drivers, managers, and stakeholders at the depots. The sessions flagged up issues around the drivers’ environment, their appearance, and the way they were perceived by the communities they worked in.
To stay agile, the solutions suggested were piloted as experiments, so we could adjust and optimise as we went along. Eventually the outputs of these experiments led to us creating the People Centricity Toolkit as part of a companywide change programme.
The toolkit centred on seven connected areas, from how to improve the drivers’ working environment with social clubs and activities, to boosting self-image by introducing new uniforms.
We built the toolkit around the input from drivers, front line managers and key stakeholders across the four pilot depots. It fostered a greater sense of ownership amongst the drivers, who could recognise their own feedback and issues being addressed.
The programme has been a great success, exceeding client expectations:
- reduced rates of staff attrition and absence
- increased driver engagement scores
- re-focused frontline management on what really adds value
- £600k ahead of the original savings target after just the first regional rollout
By reframing the role of the First Bus drivers, the programme has given them their pride and purpose back, which in turn has meant happier customers, and the company has been left with the legacy of a change management programme powered by their own people.
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