October 2012

October 5th, 2012 by Robbie Swales

We first exhibited at the Human Resource Development (HRD) Exhibition in 1995. As drama based training as relatively novel, we were able to attract attention to ourselves. For the 1997 Exhibition the organisers instigated an “Activity Zone” and asked us to be one of the companies in this section. We readily agreed.

On day one we found that the people passing the stand were not very interested in our interactive scenarios until we offered to carry out bespoke situations that they gave us! Once we started doing this we managed to create more interest. Two ladies from a large ‘weight loss’ company asked us to recreate an encounter between one of their representatives and a client at the regular weekly meeting. At that time I was regularly attending this company’s weekly meetings, so I played a disgruntled client who was complaining about how to interpret their ‘weight loss points system’ as I hadn’t lost any weight. The two ladies loved what we did and they became an important client, even though one of them had actually written the ‘weight loss points system’ that I complained about in the scenario! Also at this HRD we won the Best Stand Award, as the judges had liked our ‘bespoke scenarios’.

It was the 1998 HRD exhibition which was the turning point for Steps. We provided ‘instant scenarios’ again on our stand, even though we were not in the Activity Zone. We gained three new large clients: customer service programmes for a supermarket and a hotel group and our first line managers programme for a manufacturer. The significant aspect of these training programmes was that we were asked to write entire programmes, not just provide one-to-one roleplayers to enhance an existing programme. In the six years of our existence thus far, we had gained sufficient experience to be able to facilitate an entire training session as well as improvise in interactive scenarios. We had created, although we didn’t know it at the time, what has become the Steps 'house style': integrated facilitation by the actors who also act, as opposed to facilitators who don’t act and actors who don’t facilitate.

Over the next few years this ‘house style’ enabled us to grow. Clients were happy with the programmes that we created. We became very busy, and in 2002 we were awarded the Inner City 100 Award for being one of the one hundred fastest growing businesses in the UK’s inner cities. In the five year period from 1997 – 2002 we increased or turnover by 580%. The award was sponsored by HM Treasury. We were now ten years old.

By 2002 drama based training was firmly established as a popular and successful method of learning in the workplace, and consequently there were many providers. To remain successful we realised that we needed to be constantly innovating and always providing the very best quality.
The most significant development over the last ten years has been driven by technology – we now work globally. With the ability to communicate instantly with people all over the world, we are able to run projects almost anywhere. We have also broadened the media through which we deliver our initiatives.  In our first fifteen years we tended not to market our ability to make training videos, but we did make them for our clients if they asked us to. We now actively market e-learning.

Our first significant global project was to deliver an Inclusive Leadership programme to the CEO’s and Senior Management Teams for a mobile phone company in twenty six countries. It has always been vitally important to Steps that the actors in our drama reflect the people and culture of the delegates; as we believe this is the only way to create maximum impact. For this large project we needed to employ local actors. So, in Ghana for example, we ran auditions there, selected actors, trained them for the programme and one of our London Lead Facilitators delivered the programme in Accra, with the Ghanaian team.

This large project also took us to Mumbai in India. We followed the same process and delivered the programme with Indian actors in March 2010. The experience in India was also significant, as we realised the potential of India as a market for drama based training: a vibrant and growing economy, a population of a billion people with 350 million working in organisations, English as the official business language, the Indians love theatre and there are many excellent actors all over India. We would be missing an opportunity not to attempt to develop drama based training in India.
We have now been working in India for two years. We are currently delivering a Values Programme for a mobile phone company (a different one!) all across India. We have so far delivered the programme in twenty one locations, another ten to go. I was in Kolkata in May this year to select and train actors. I observed them delivering the programme – largely in Bengali! We are also building a group of actors in the USA where we have a number of clients. Drama is universal, but the cultural nuances are myriad - and we love the challenge of remaining responsive!

If a fortune teller had told me twenty years ago exactly what has occurred with Steps since then, I would not have believed them. I wonder what we will be doing in 2032?  Any fortune tellers out there?


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