People and Organisational Development: A Virgin Perspective

Head to Head with Steve Morton, Head of People & Organisational Development at Virgin Money


Tell us a little more about yourself and your role

After over a decade at Coca-Cola where I was European Head of Learning & Talent and a few hugely enjoyable years working as a consultant, I somehow now find myself working in a bank. However at Virgin Money we are definitely a bank that is different. Part of my role is to shape our approach to “developing all of our colleagues to build a better kind of bank.”

That includes how we make the best start possible when people join through our Virgin Money Arrivals experience and how we develop people through role based development paths which build from Foundation through Core to Excellence in a safe way so people get the right development at the right time.

We also approach management development in a different way by focussing on the ‘experience’ created for the team member. So how can a manager at Virgin Money be brilliant at the basics, make the experience different in a good way and what would a manager need to be able to do to make the experience truly memorable.

We are currently working through what makes leadership at Virgin Money unique and I look forward to bringing that to life in the next few months. 

One aspect of our approach to people development that I think is very different is our view that no matter who they are, where they work or what job they do at Virgin Money, we look to inspire and enable all of our people to flourish. To be the best they can through our commitment to continuous personal as well as continuous professional development.

Through our new ‘Learning Lounge Online’ we provide access to a huge range of MOOCs and self lead learning. We even have a couple of people who are now studying ‘An Introduction to Particle Physics!’ I feel quite proud in that they may never have thought to pursue their interest in this without our approach to people development.
How is the L&D function within your company responding to the current aims and challenges of your business?

The P&OD team are focussed on “delivering today and building for a tomorrow where everyone’s better off;” we are at the heart of our business strategy. My view is that we are responsible for ensuring that all of our people are willing and able to do what we are asking them to do today whilst, at the same time, we need to be clear on where we are heading as an organisation and any subsequent changes that will entail with regard to the service our people need to deliver in order to play their part in our quest to make banking better.

As our business continues to grow we will need to continue to develop new specialist skills that must be supported through outstanding management and inspirational leadership capability. Having an organisation full of willing and able people rarely happens by accident.


How has the role of Head of L&D changed over the years?

I remember once washing my hands in a factory washroom and noticed a sticker on the mirror which read “you are looking at the person responsible for your Health & Safety.” I’ve always thought that success for me would be a similar sticker that read “you are looking at the person responsible for your development!” I believe it is my role to create the environment where that culture exists.

The traditional, almost catalogue based, approach to providing ‘training’ for an organisation is something from the past and is not the future. Whilst formal training solutions – such as classroom based programmes and even the latest e-learning solutions - have their part to play to play in how an organisation builds the capabilities it needs, there is so much more to it. People learn from others and learn by ‘doing.’


"There will always be the positive tension between learning and development and budget"


We even use social media to help our learning initiatives through ‘The Hub,’ our new social media platform. We recently launched our ‘Learning Lounge Online’ a new virtual home for personal and professional development at Virgin Money. It is vital to make it easy for those that want to develop to do so and to ensure that everyone has structured role based development that safely builds competence for their job.

An organisation can truly develop when it realises that someone’s development should be based on the job they do, a job they may be developing towards and their own personal development needs.


What do you see as the main challenge that the L&D function faces in the future?

There will always be the positive tension between learning and development and budget; too often it seems to be the first line that is squeezed in difficult times.

I think a less obvious, though hugely significant, challenge is keeping L&D relevant to the ‘learners’ in a workforce that is becoming increasingly, even proactively, more diverse.

A company’s diversity and inclusion agenda may actually exacerbate the challenge and I believe that the solution will lie in developing an ‘inclusive’ approach to L&D.

Providing a variety of flexible approaches balancing the needs of the business and the individual will be a requirement in retaining and developing a talented and diverse workforce in the future.


What key characteristics do you look for in L&D professionals when recruiting for your team?

They need to ‘get it;’ to demonstrate an understanding of the current and future challenges facing building capability across a business in the 21st century. They need to understand how Virgin Money is building a different kind of bank and the importance of having an approach to L&D that fits with the brand.

They need to understand the importance of developing technical ability and, equally, to understand the importance of developing behaviours in our people linked to their ability to deliver a customer experience that sets Virgin Money apart from the crowd and make our customers love us!

They need to be passionate, future focussed professionals with that special Virgin ‘magic’ who want to make a dent in the L&D universe!

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