Technical innovations alone do not make a company a digital pioneer. Management has a particular role to play in the digital transformation. With the global training programme Digital Step, TUI is providing mid-tier managers with the tools they need for the working world of tomorrow and setting guidelines for strategy implementation.

The paper poster spread out across the floor of the meeting room at TUI’s Dutch headquarters in Rijswijk near The Hague is six metres long. The timeline for the learning programme is marked in black felt pen. It begins with the kick-off in Mallorca, takes in online modules, virtual coaching and interactive sessions in small groups and culminates in a final event. TUI managers from all over Europe cluster around the chart, each of them holding a lit candle. In their mind’s eye they are all visualising the point on this learning journey which meant the most to them personally. One by one they place their tea lights on that spot. The silent concentration in the room and the soft music in the background add an emotional finishing touch as they look back on the management programme.

Agility, globality and flexibility are our second nature

The Digital Strategy Execution Programme, a pilot project attended by 79 managers from right across the Group, had been launched four months earlier in the summer of 2019. Now it is being rolled out to a wider circle. The catalyst was a “blended learning” approach, which combines different training formats but with an emphasis on digital knowledge transfer. The process begins and ends with a live event to build the essential team spirit. Between these, participants progress on the basis of self-study, virtual coaching and discussion in pod groups of six to ten colleagues.

Embedded within the newWork@TUI philosophy, Digital Step does more than explain how to handle digital tools and processes with confidence; it cultivates an underlying attitude: agility, globality and flexibility are to be second nature in TUI’s corporate culture. “In the ever-faster changing world of employment, there is more demand than ever for strong managerial personalities,” observes Beat Calabretti, Director Global Talent, Resourcing and Leadership Development at TUI and one of the authors of Digital Step. “With the aid of global HR learning platforms we are empowering our management to break free from old methods. We are equipping them with guidelines to help them cast the Group strategy into clearly defined goals and breathe life and meaning into them for their teams.” The motivation to change and a sense of community are further fostered by the multinational, cross-departmental setting.

Breaking out of the comfort zone

Which moments on this learning journey meant the most to me personally? Participants used the live wrap-up event to swap impressions and reflect on what they had learned.

TUI sought support in designing this programme from the Swedish business school Hyper Island. These professional creatives combine digital know-how with ample experience of customised learning strategies. “We translate TUI’s requirements into a holistic learning experience, enabling the participants to break out of their comfort zone in a protected space,” explains Chief Learning Designer Hazel Swayne. In her experience, it is often the apparently small steps that have an enduring impact: “Nobody suddenly wakes up one morning as a better manager. The key to any learning success is whether people open up to the process and are willing to question themselves and their objectives and to reflect on these. It is an effort, especially to begin with, and that makes it all the more important to offer the right encouragement.”

To anchor a culture of lifelong learning, a company needs role models. At TUI, management programmes are accompanied by members of the senior leadership team – two of them are here in Rijswijk to talk first-hand about their experience. Alexander Huber, Managing Director of TUI in the Nordics, has travelled here from Sweden: “Customer expectations and behaviours are changing. Leaders often find themselves in the role of change-makers who need to be willing to test new ways of working. Without any question the readiness to adopt and change is a key to individual as well as the whole team’s success.” He is optimistic that the participants will find a way to impart the energy, interdisciplinary collaboration and speed of implementation from the programme to their working environments. Arjan Kers has set an example in his role as Managing Director of TUI Netherlands: “A while back we completely revamped the way we work together as a team: open offices, cross-departmental project teams. I emptied my appointments diary so that I could be available for my staff. It took some getting used to on both sides at first, but it quickly had an extremely positive impact on our corporate culture.”

»We completely revamped the way we work together as a team.«

Arjan Kers, Managing Director, TUI Netherlands

TUI approached the creative professionals at the business school Hyper Island for support in designing the learning programmes. They contribute digital knowhow to the design and help TUI’s lead team to anchor the concept of lifelong learning more deeply in the company.

Away from the well-beaten track

As the day draws to an end in Rijswijk, there is a discernible willingness among the participants to depart from the well-beaten track. “Digital Step may be about to end, but my personal learning process is not,” says Charlotte Decaesstecker, Head of Finance at TUI in Belgium. Andreas Markerud, who heads up Data, Analytics and Machine Learning for TUI Nordics, adds: “The programme has shown me yet again how enriching it is to look inwards a bit more often and take the time to think about my goals. And especially the value of different departments talking to each other.” Fabian Pulido, Head of Integration at TUI Destination Experiences, believes there is huge potential for virtual teams: “Our pod group of six people developed a real sense of belonging, even though we communicated almost entirely through digital media. Nowadays it doesn’t matter so much if a colleague is in Hannover, Luton or Palma like me.”

»For the pilots we selected 79 participants from all the departments that have a major influence on implementing strategy.«

Louise Howells, Global Head of Leadership Development, TUI Group

»With Digital Step we are supporting managers at TUI in leading the digital transformation and communicating the TUI strategy to their teams.«

Dr. Elke Eller, Member of the Executive Board, CHRO/Personnel Director