National Express is the country’s only national scheduled coach operator and employs 1,700 people.
Delivering over 18 million customer journeys each year and covering a total of 84 million miles (2013), our core network operates on average 1,400 services each day serving nearly 1,000 locations.
National Express also operates in mainland Europe under the Eurolines UK brand, serving over 500 locations. Subsidiary business, The Kings Ferry, provides private hire and commuter services in the south of the UK and we are also a major supplier of contract-specific transport solutions with key customers including airports (Stansted City), airlines (Airlinks), hotels (Hotel Hoppa) and train operating companies. They also run a comprehensive network to events and festivals including Glastonbury and Wembley Stadium.
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First stage of the journey
We conducted our first internal assessment in June 2014. This was an honest appraisal of our business and where we were in terms of the EFQM Model. It was also the first time that we had ever shone a light on ourselves with such close scrutiny. We found the process very insightful and it really laid the foundations for the journey ahead and our next challenge – our external assessment.
The main principles of EFQM were included in our three-year strategic plan which began in 2013. In addition, all National Express businesses share the same Group-led values on key areas such as: safety, people, customer and community. In 2014 we created a fifth value – excellence – which has a natural fit with our own journey to excellence.
Getting the team on board
We made sure that our executive team was fully engaged and subscribed to the concepts of excellence. We also took advice and looked inwards. We looked at our Group colleagues to see how they did things and then benchmarked ourselves against National Express rail company C2C, who had just achieved 5 star Recognised for Excellence accreditation. We also worked with Teal Consultants who gave us excellent support, advice and insight into the what, how and when.
We set about recruiting a team of 12 business excellence champions – selected from across the business and representing key areas including operations, HR and customer service – who were instrumental in assessing our business, implementing the changes and acting as advocates for excellence as we moved forward.
Making our business better
We applied for Recognised for Excellence because we simply wanted to make our business better. This, in itself, would help us deliver our key goals and realise more profit. We also wanted things to happen incrementally and in a controlled way so we could better understand all the processes and systems we have across the business.
We believe that working as an excellent organisation delivers a wide range of benefits from greater operational and functional efficiencies to staff engagement and better credentials for winning new business. We also saw the process as a natural way of looking inwards to gain a really insightful view of our business processes and outputs.
Challenges and action
Compiling a summary report on everything we do was a huge challenge. In the end, the challenge was not about what to put in but about what we left out. Our first draft was 88 pages, not the 45 pages specified in the guidance notes!
Engaging a fast-paced, national business was also a potential challenge but our team of business excellence champions helped us overcome this. They were crucial in helping us prepare for and communicate the way the external assessment would work. As the champions had already coordinated our internal assessment, they were well-versed in the EFQM Excellence Model and were equally engaged with the journey we had embarked on.
Another challenge was preparing our executive team for the interviews they would have with the assessors. While they had already played a pivotal role in the preparation of the management document, we felt it was crucial that they were prepared for the next step – the interview. Planning and arranging a meeting with each of our 12 very busy executive members the few weeks before the assessment was no mean feat and you can’t underestimate that challenge!
A great result
We believe that our 4 star accreditation was a real achievement for us, particularly given the score we achieved from our own internal assessment. We are also very pleased with how the report validates some of the key processes we are using and the strategies we have. While it is good to know where we can improve, it’s also really good to know what we are doing right.
The benefits of excellence
We see five key benefits for being Recognised for Excellence:
- validation of our strengths and areas for improvement
- external recognition of what we do
- helps us win new business
- helps to create and endorse a culture of excellence
- a fantastic way for us to live our ‘excellence’ value