Gone Sailing…

At the end of placement three, the six grads all got together for another useful week of Learning and Development; some challenging sessions nonetheless led to some useful discussions (I still think we should have bought an island as our new product in the Product Development workshop) and time for reflection on the previous months. While some of the sessions were emotionally and mentally tough, everyone would agree that the highlight was probably the sailing session at Port Solent which rounded off the week – thanks to the new grads for coming down to join us! Here are a few photos for your general entertainment…

Categories: Ali, Ben Ireland, Guy, Janet, Jonathon, Pete | 1 Comment

Time flies when you’re having fun…

Hi everyone, Ali here – I’ll be taking over the editing of the blog for April –  it’s looking excellent so far, hopefully you are finding it informative, insightful and interesting. As you will read, all 6 of us are doing very different placements and with that comes a variety of experiences. If any readers are about to enter into the assessment centres or interviews then hopefully our blogs will give you further enthusiasm for the scheme and perhaps answer some of your thoughts/questions! That’s all from a snow filled day in Montreal (I was sure spring had arrived and then it snows again!)

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The lives of others: A customer’s journey

Pete brings us up to date with a visit to Barcelona to watch Arsenal in the Champions League whilst he soaks up the atmosphere from a packed Nou Camp.  If that wasn’t enough, he then goes onto to Dublin to watch the final game of the RBS Six Nations, all in the name of work? Surely not? 
Working within the office environment has its distinct advantages.  Firstly, there’s office banter, office gossip, small communities and the odd, always-uneventful office party.  There are however, certain downsides to working within this ‘world’ within our world particularly when, as an organisation, you produce once in a life time experiences.  That downside is…detachment
Since I had never done anything like this before, I was given the freedom to approach this how I wanted.  To a creative type such as myself, it provided me the sort of environment I crave, autonomy.  With guidance from my line manager, I set off to experience everything Thomson Sport had to offer, which naturally involved the aforementioned Champions League QF tie between Barcelona and Arsenal.                                                                                      
Now, since mapping our customer’s journey is more art than a defined science, I had to come up with a model that would be able to visualise my findings.  The image shown (bottom of the page) is a top-level view of my work.  The model documents, what we perceive are the vital stages of a customer’s journey through our brands.  Each area has predefined terms, language, gates that qualify the customer through to the next stage and internally, we have each individual event mapped that happens along the way.
What I have gone on to create with this model, is a blueprint, a framework, for battling that detachment many organisations feel when they forget to press pause and really view their products through the eyes of their customers.  What our customers go through on their journey, from initial awareness of a brand or product, to the phone conversations they have with booking staff, through to the way they are treated after they have experienced what our organisation has to offer.

Whats important to note here, is that a customer’s journey doesn’t simply end when they return home and this is a perspective many organisations forget.  Here, in this state, when a customer is between cycles, between holidays or products, they have the potential to become brand advocates and it is our responsibility as a progressive, forward thinking organisation to interact accordingly.  To best capture our customers memories and to ensure they never forget the once in a lifetime experience they had whilst travelling with a TUI brand.

Arsenal warming up just before kickoff

As a final note, I also spent last weekend in ‘working’ in Dublin, watching Ireland smash England in a packed Aviva Stadium for final game of the 2011 Six Nations thanks to Gullivers Sports Travel.  In case you’re confused, I’m Irish and thoroughly enjoyed the Irish victory.

Customer Journey Model

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All change – and onto placement two!

My apologies as Editor for the slight pause in posts – everyone worked hard to achieve all their deadlines for the end of placement one on Jan 21st, and then we all went to Crawley for a fabulous week of learning and development.  The six of us spent five packed days building on our skills and also had the opportunity to discuss our placements, and present our experiences to the Sector Board. Thanks to Jen, Ed and Steph and all our session leaders for a great week!  On Jan 31st we all joined our new offices: Ali goes to Jumpstreet in Montreal (Education Division), Ben to work in Finance/M & A for the Sector, Janet to Quark Expeditions in  Toronto (North American Specialist), Jon to Marketing for the Sector, Pete to TUI Sport in Manchester and Guy has flown back across the world in the other direction, to Adventure Tours Australia in Adelaide.  More information to follow!

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Our blog: one month old

Today marks the day of the first handover of the blog.  I think we’ve done fairly well so far to keep the entries coming – so I’d like to thank my fellow grads for making the first month such a success.  It’s going to be a really good way of keeping a public record of some of the key events of the graduate scheme, as well as letting the rest of you know how we’re finding it.  Feel free to interact with the blog – comment on anything you find interesting, agree/disagree with, or just fancy writing something down. 

So, without further ado, I’d like to hand over to Peter Buckley, who will be editing the blog for the month of December. I look forward to editing it again in May, when I’m sure it’ll be both full of extra features and a lot thicker with entries.


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I’m… just not that into you!

Peter Buckley acts as relationship counsellor… p.s. Relate, you can’t have him yet!

Girls.  When a guy doesn’t call you back after a first date, it probably means the date sucked.  Or, as one very successful American author put it…he’s just not that into you.  Now, I’m not one to argue with the intricacies of the single, dating world with it’s debatable protocols of calling, not calling, txting, not txting, must-leave-it-one-day but three-days-is-too-long subtleties found in this one-halfed club but one cannot argue with the validity of such protocols.  So where does that leave our damsel? Well, one cannot come to any other conclusion that after a week or so, the date didn’t go too well and yes, by being not into you, he’d rather be alone!

Clearly, not everybody is meant for every other body, fine, no problem there.  I do however, have a problem with Hollywood’s depiction of love and dating which, distances itself from these protocols and is utterly idealistic at worst, so whilst telling a complete stranger all your idiosyncratic neuroticisms within the first instance of communication may look quirky, cute and all lovey-dovey-rom-commie on the big screen, it is actually, in the real world, a weird and borderline crazy type of behaviour that usually prompts one of those uncomfortably long silences which, I might add, probably inhibits the man’s ability to decipher whether or not he wanted to have sex with you. Of course, not all guys are thinking about sex on the first date (they are really, I was just being PC) but still, it was probably more Girl Interrupted than Notting Hill, never a good thing. The point I’m attempting to make here is simple; the do’s and don’ts of the dating world are not too dissimilar from that of the business world.

Firstly, I feel the need to set some context before your imagination runs wild.  If you’re reading this thinking that I’m about to weirdly and creepily, yet wonderfully compare the art of business to the art of seducing a member of the opposite sex, you’d be wrong, and I’d be slightly worried what sort of blog you think this is.  Shame on you!  Besides, if you’re looking for that sort of craft, you’d need a certain high flying Educational Sector MD for that…!  Instead, what I’m talking about is relationships. Managing relationships and the expectations.

I began by describing a situation wherein one stakeholder expected something from a relationship, the other, something different, and in between these expectations; communication.  It is this communication that is fundamental for competent project management.  In fact, if project management was a wise and old elder, perched high atop the tallest of tall hills, found in the furthest of the furthest lands (which these mythical people always seem to be) to which they could impart just one, vital, piece of wisdom to the lucky, chosen few, it would be exactly this principal: Your relationships are fountains of knowledge and communication controls the flow.

So what exactly does this crypto-mumbo-jumbo mean? Well, it’s a paradigm that can’t really be defined, at least, not with any real conviction. It’s more of an empirical understanding than a scientific one.  It’s like…it’s like…Mojo.  You’ve either got it or you haven’t.  Fortunately, just like Mojo, it is something that can be learnt.  Which is why this week, I’ve mainly been learning about my Mojo!

As a project manager, naturally, I have many responsibilities that require my attention and in order to coordinate these harmoniously, effective and unambiguous communication is paramount.  The small relationship I build with a supplier is a fundamental piece to the project as a whole even if that relationship is just one small piece.  This is because this relationship provides me with a base of knowledge I need in order to determine where the rest of the connecting pieces fit, which will ultimately enable me to complete the larger, grander puzzle.  What makes project management so tricky is many relationships are built upon or reliant upon another.  Think of it this way, when you lose one piece of a real, physical puzzle, you lose that one piece.  When I lose one of my relationships, I lose much more than just that one relationship.  I lose everything that was connected to it.

To understand this better let me try and give you some perspective.  Whilst one, from an outside perspective, might see an entire organisation buy, refurbish and operate an old, historic, Elizabethan manor, what actually happens is completely different.  It is much simpler, it is me, an individual, interacting with another individual who works for a different, separate, organisation and from this small but vital interaction, a web of interconnecting relationships are built with immense emphasis placed upon the founding relationships.  It is this perspective I am trying to describe and it is imperative that you understand this as project management is all about the minute intricacies rather than the grand ideals – the dating protocols rather than Hollywood.

What’s more so, is that this week I have found that within this web of relationships, you will find some individuals who will never meet each other, yet they are unequivocally linked, one totally dependent upon the other with each, completely unaware the other exists.  So if one relationship fails, you have to save another relationship from failing and another and another and it is this precarious situation I find myself in with all my relationships, be it internally within JCA or externally with my suppliers, relying on my one relationship with BT and frankly, I find myself in unfamiliar territory where I can’t help but think… BT, is just not that into me!

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Fear. It isn’t all creepy crawlies and broken hearts. It’s bright lights and magic shows.

Pete Buckley shares with us a week which for him, may have been life changing.

What is the scariest thing in the world? Heights? No. Spiders and creepy crawly thingies? Definitely not. A broken heart? Maybe. Death? It’s up there. It is undeniable that these are all scary propositions but the scariest? Not even close. That’s because there is a commonality between them all, irrationality. Or simply, the fear of the unknown. Accepting this, it is easy to see that we generally fear death, for example, because we don’t know for sure what happens after the magic show of life ends and we, as a result, fear this because the magic show is full of bright lights, pretty colours and its fun, in it’s moments. Nothing ground breaking there. However, maybe things would be different if we had some knowledge about the…other place. If this were true would that fear suddenly vanish? I think so. Now, I’m not here to discuss a particular faith or the belief in a particular deity but I believe we wouldn’t need to if we had this little piece of knowledge, that is, if we knew for sure, that life on the underside was all rosy, cosy and utopian like the dusty books might want us to believe.

The same can be said for all things tall, crawly and fragile. Once we face our fear of the dangly, little cretins we gain the knowledge that they are, of course, more scared of us then we are of them and the irrational, becomes rational. Once we listen to enough Damien Rice or David Gray or Dr Hook we begin to understand that life isn’t over and the heart does, with time (and significant amounts of booze, birds/blokes and blowouts), mend, to be wiser, smarter, and more intuitive than before. Reborn, like a phoenix rising from the once obliterated remains, new, knowing that if faced with a similar trauma, it would cope, it would survive. So, if none of the above qualifies as the scariest thing in the world, what does? The answer is simple…a dream.

You must be aware, I’m not talking about any old dream here, not the daily, drifting, daydream or the deep, sleepful, peaceful dream but a dream with more substance, a dream with more meaning, more personal significance, this dream, is a dream you want to achieve in life. This dream is your magic show and it’s real. It isn’t irrational, it isn’t unknown because you know it, you feel it, you live it every second of every moment your mind wonders from one distraction to another, from productivity to reverie. It wouldn’t even become easier if you knew it would materialise. Once a dream like this forms, it’s immovable, immutable…unstoppable. It transcends the metaphysical and becomes as physical… as reality. It becomes synonymous with…you, who you are, what you believe in, what you stand here, centre stage, for. It is the realisation that this type of dream will become real that is scarier than creepy crawlies and broken hearts for it is our light, not our darkness that scares us most. We are powerful beyond measure and it scares us ****less. Who would blame us? Just think for a minute, what if you actually achieved your dream.  What if, whatever you wanted most in life was suddenly real. The success, the glamour, the wealth, the eyes, watching you, following you, inspired by you, envious of you, waiting on you, ready to watch you fall. The duty to those who believe in you, the responsibility of those who trust you. It is all this, the light that has the power to turn the most courageous, inward. It has the power to turn arrogance into insecurity, knowledge into uncertainty and it makes your stomach churn and turn worse than a Pad Thai from a dodgy Thai street vendor.

Experiencing fear like this is rare. I mean, how often do people actually live their dreams? Quite a few, maybe, but how often is it that you find somebody who encourages you to live your dream? A handful at most. What about somebody who believes in your ability to fulfil your dream? Sadly, not enough. Rarer still, how often is it that you find somebody who not only encourages you and believes in you but will help you, even facilitate your ascent towards master magician? Almost never. Which is why, this week, I have spent most of my time curled up in the foetal position scarred ****less!! As I have found exactly that.

I am, for those of you who haven’t met me; blindly self-confident, Muhammad Ali would look like a choir boy in my presence. I truly believe I have the abilities to one day, rule the world. Literally, rule the world! My dream, is surprisingly simpler than this, humble in comparison; I want to be successful, influential even. I want to inspire people, to lead them, in business, in life, in accomplishing their dreams and this week, I have edged significantly closer to that dream.

This week I attended the TUI Educational Senior Management Meeting and I spent the few days surrounded by some of the most successful MDs and entrepreneurs that the TUI Travel PLC has to offer and my god, even my ‘Mourinho‘ like self-belief wasn’t adequate preparation for this. The sheer wealth of experience was dwarfing, between them, they control businesses posting tens of millions of pounds profit a year and most of them, either started these businesses from scratch or took on a failing business turning it profitable faster then the entire cast of Dragon’s Den could say return on investment!

In the few days I spent in Normandy, I learned more about the true inner workings of business, strategy, joint ventures and myself than five years, yes, five years spent in Higher Education acquiring a First Class Honours Degree and a year slumming it around the world with nothing but a backpack and an open mind. For once in my life, I am, completely out of my depth and I am… scared and it’s… exhilarating because here I have found a place and a mentor that will push me towards my dream, that will push me, centre stage…

…bright ligths and pretty colours at the ready, its time for my magic show to begin.

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Kids. They get up to all sorts!

Kids, don’t want them, yet. Don’t want the responsibly for them, yet. I simply haven’t got the time, yet, if ever! But you have to admit; they make all sorts look awfully fun!  That’s pretty much what JCA is all about, making education fun for kids.  Making what we would, as adults, perceive as crap, into functional educational activities that engage a child’s mentality whilst simultaneously teaching them unconsciously (see picture below).  My first placement down here in Port Solent is centered on JCA’s first fixed residential activity centre for children ranging between 10 and 16.  Before I dive into my project like a like a sugar fuelled kid entering one of JCA’s ‘blind trail’ activities I’ll start with my first week.

My first week focused on understanding JCA and how the business operates.  For the first few days, it was like being back at school, learning, questioning and trying to understand how and why the business operates the way that it does. An invaluable grounding.  In-between my ‘lessons’ I was of course, richly rewarded for being the best pupil around! My prize; none other than a trip to the farm! Now, I am a city boy.  City born, city made.  To me, a farm is a place where my steak is made, where my leather sofa is cultivated, where my milk is created and a farmer, is a mythical oddity who almost speaks my English, but you know, not quite.  To us city people, there’s a reason country life is quiet and uneventful, it’s full of weirdos who have nothing better to do then to try and off each other in the most elaborate ways. I am, of course, basing this judgment on the town of Midsomer, naturally.

The farm, unsurprisingly, was also one of the sites JCA uses for their activity programs.  The site was idyllic, no barriers, razor wire or battery style cages.  Just a field, small wooden fences no higher than waist height, kids running free and animal noises ranging from the odd to the disturbing.  I was assured though, the noises were of pure animal ecstasy and I wouldn’t question them.  A giant, fat bellied piece of Christmas gammon (or a pig to those who have emotional sentiment) was running around in a pen a gangsta rapper on MTV Cribs would be proud of, back yard pool blood? Bore off, this pig had acreage!

This wasn’t uncommon either, there was a Baphomet (apparently there called goats?) who had climbing structures with little minions running around, there was also sheep, smaller sheep (lambs?), tiny sheep (baby lambs?) and rabbits too, all living in larger accommodation than myself.  Quite simply, the site was the perfect place for an activity week.  A place where the kids can get away from the limitations a city upbringing, similar to that of mine brings i.e. learning animals by their names, not by their by-products.

Having seen the product, I was converted. Not into some farm loving, hippy, occultist, but into a believer that the products JCA produce are fundamental to a child’s development.  All of which, brings me nicely onto my first project as a TUI Graduate.

Condover Hall is an ambitious move from JCA, who are intent on challenging their rivals with the intention to cement their place within the market.  I have been tasked with project managing the installation of the IT & Communication systems within the Condover facility.  Initially, I was skeptical at how much responsibility I would be given on such an important and high profile project.  I thought I would, quite naturally, be the lackey, the go-getter, the platitude tea boy.  How wrong I was. In the past few days I am beginning to become more and more active as quite suddenly, my name, brilliantly imitating the craft of a stealth bomber, stealthily explodes itself via the ‘Cc’ attacking maneuver into emails dating back months.  Swamped in multifarious conversations, I’m forced to find my feet quickly as the next few weeks will be pivotal in the sites redevelopment.

Bringing you guys up to date I’ve got an important meeting tomorrow where we will begin to move on the direction in which we’ll take this project, all very, very exciting.

Letter from Lydia, who, could teach me a thing or two about neat handwriting

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More pictures from Lake Garda!

I’m getting a little bit addicted to this blogging business (this is Guy again).  I thought it would be much harder and more stressful – but it doesn’t seem to be so far.  Plus, I must publically thank one of my fellow grads who has made the site look more sexy last night.  Above is a clearer photo of all of us plus a lovely one of the sunset over Lake Garda (below).  Credits go to Janet!

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So, here we all are

Janet has just sent me through some photos she took during the induction week in Lake Garda.  I think this photo was taken just before our ‘gala’ dinner.  Everyone is looking very smart – and I know I’m the odd one out with a tie, but that was only to attempt to hide the fact that my suit was quite creased. 

So from left we are: Janet Galbraith, Guy Bromley, Alistair Randall, Pete Buckley, Jennifer Johnson (Graduate Coordinator), Ben Ireland, Jonathon Curtis and Stephanie Davison (Head of Resourcing for Sector).

Categories: Ali, Ben Ireland, Guy, Janet, Jonathon, Pete | 2 Comments

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