Real Journeys is one of New Zealand’s leading tourism operators, and they’ve been sharing the natural heritage and beauty of South Island and Stewart Island for more than 60 years. With humble beginnings as a family business they’re dedicated to the conservation of our unique environment, and sharing that with visitors from around the world. The culture of caring is demonstrated in the service they offer visitors and the support they give staff. It’s this commitment to enabling staff to be the best they can that was the starting point for their partnership with Otago Polytechnic’s Capable Training team.
“The learning options were relevant to employees in our business and offering learning outcomes that were going to make a difference to the operation,” says Kevin Sharpe, Director of People and Performance, when asked about their decision to work with Otago Polytechnic. “They were developing people’s thinking and learning styles. There’s been an element of unpacking and reflection in all the courses. Those reflective learning skills were never there before and they’re great preparation for when people potentially go on to do higher level learning later. I definitely had more comfort in the learning objectives being communicated.”
Historically Real Journeys had opted for a unit standards based certificate for developing leaders and future leaders in the business. The prescribed nature of that wasn’t working. Kevin described one incident when he “had a phone call from one of the leaders saying we’re having problems with an individual and communication. I said, ‘you went on the communication course last week and have been signed off for the unit standard. Did that help?’ ‘No because we discussed something else’. So the learning was quite insular. It didn’t carry weight.” The programme was also a big time commitment for leadership and management, wasn’t delivering learning outcomes and didn’t promote cross-company working.
So Kevin and the People & Performance team set about asking staff what would be a more effective way of developing the skills and learning they and the business needed to be successful. “They were the ones that told us what we needed to do to move forward. Out of that came the need to mix up the teams attending. They wanted a higher level of learning. A leadership understanding that could dovetail into a higher qualification. So talking about things like organisational change, that’s the sort of thing that could dovetail into a paper, such as the Bachelor of Applied Management, later on.”
Otago Polytechnic worked with Real Journeys to develop a series of workshops with topics such as Communication in Leadership & Management, Resilience & Conflict Management, and Business Transformation & Change. Now in the second year of the partnership Real Journeys sees the programme as a success. Kevin explains, “It’s been great. The participants want to return. It’s become an aspirational programme. They enjoy that external partner who comes in with enough knowledge to know your business but can ask the questions that we wouldn’t ask of ourselves. And that’s when some of the best discussion gets going. I personally think that they see it as an elevated learning experience.”
He also believes it’s making a real difference for Real Journeys’ day-to-day operations. “It’s helped our judgement and decision making in operations. It’s provided empathy for what others do and how departments interact. Ultimately it’s helped some managers to transition to becoming better leaders. That’s the biggest impact seeing how they handle change, new ideas; there’s a lot of growth around our industry at the moment so we need to be innovating. These are key leaders in the business and it is making a big difference. It is visual leadership that you can see, and it is evident.”