Director of Evoke People Development, Joe Bell, emphasises the importance of developing people when an organisation grows and how his programme that employed the principles of lean was the most successful of his professional career.

“ …a sustainable, cost-effective and flexible first line leadership development programme that improvedperformance, bringing the workforce together and engaging workers and management at all levels”                                                          – EEF National Judging Panel

People build businesses and my professional life has been devoted to improving organisations through the development of its people. The most complete and effective leadership development programme I have delivered in the past 15 years was one that adhered to the principles of lean management. Awarded gold by EEF in the Skills and Training category in the 2012 Future of Manufacturing awards, I would like to share with you how this was achieved.

The challenge faced by SCA in 2007 was clear: a traditional multi-site manufacturing organisation had acquired a European business twice its size. Research tells us that most for mergers and acquisitions the main focus of attention tends to be on swallowing the entity, and as any anaconda with its salt will tell you, it’s not the swallowing it’s the digestion that can create the problems. SCA had acquired Proctor and Gamble’s European tissue business in 2007 and moved quickly to maximise its investment, applying its blue-print head-count.

As an organisation that had essentially grown from acquisition, UK sites had been left to run local processes according to their needs with little central direction. This worked until it became clear that there were varying operating practices with little harmonisation and a silo-mentality had been reinforced by the geographical spread of the business.

In 2007, different cultures were being integrated into a swirling whole. I was appointed head of learning and development in a new role, as the business had realised that simply increasing expectations without investing in the capability of the workforce was potentially catastrophic. Potential risks were pronounced. Many long-serving team-leaders – the manufacturing lynch-pins with the most direct and dramatic impact on quality, cost, safety, delivery and morale – were underdeveloped and now underachieving against the enhanced expectations.

The business faced four distinct realities:

  1. Do nothing, hope that the 150 plus team leaders improve as the pressure increases.
  2. Recruit new team leaders.
  3. Develop the team leader population.

It became clear that a bespoke development programme would benefit the company in many ways. As well as tools and methodologies for team leaders to lead more effectively and confidently, the programme could provide a cultural shift in how the business works together. Networks could be formed, silos undermined and a platform created to engage not only the team leaders but all layers of the workforce. This was our intention when we began to craft the First Line Leadership (FLL) Programme. I’d like to pass on the journey we embarked upon, the destination reached and lessons learnt that could apply to organisations anywhere.

“Although less prestigious than the TPS specialists, development of work team supervisors in Toyota is considered an equally, if not more important, topic merely because there are tens of thousands of these individuals. Specifically, it is these manufacturing leaders that are the main focus of training efforts in Toyota since they lead the daily work areas, and they directly and dramatically affect quality, cost, productivity, safety, and morale of the team environment.”                                                                                    – Wiki Toyota

The need to create a sustainable development programme for the team leader population had been something I noticed when being inducted into the business and in conversation with the manufacturing director.

Suspicion and mistrust characterised relationships between sites – created quite naturally by an absence of communication and rapid organisational change. I gathered a project group together, composing of personnel from all different sites at different levels: existing team leaders, operations managers, coaches, HR staff and online trainers. Meeting at neutral territory we worked on defining what a great team leader looked like, boiling it down to:

  • Managing people
  • Managing activities
  • Managing self

Having a set of essential competencies within these dimensions meant that it was then straightforward to craft modules that would satisfy these needs. Assertiveness, delegation, performance management, challenging conversations, self-awareness and so on.

Nothing unusual in the approach up to this point, however, this is where our story becomes different.

Liaising with large well-known training providers to create our development package we soon realised that large training providers, although helpful, were reluctant to create a sustainable programme unless you use them both now and into the future. Keen to entangle themselves with clients, providers prefer that you remain dependant. Also exorbitantly expensive, it became clear that if we wanted a programme that was not only aligned with our culture, values, language and was integrated with the CI methodology we would be better off building it ourselves. Which is what we decided to do.

Learning Point 1: Be clear about your goal and do not compromise.

The first step was to commission a local college to build a bank of material to a standard that could be approved by a premier management body. We chose the Institute of Leadership and Management as I had worked with them previously and knew they offered the most flexibility – prepared to view material from an organisational requirement – as well as an academic point of view. I ensured that the intellectual property of the material was owned by us. As it was created, module by module, the material was validated and checked by the company’s continuous improvement champion and then processed by the project group for relevance and practicality.

We soon had 16 standalone modules written with facilitator’s guides, materials and so on. We interviewed three independent leadership development specialists who would deliver parts of the material and inducted them into the business. The specialists were tasked with understanding our business and the CI methodology we employed and an understanding of what we were trying to achieve. It was made clear to the trainers that delegate’s feedback would determine their continued involvement with the programme, with aggregate workshop scores of eight plus (out of 10) being required. Internal capability was utilised effectively also – with the finance, HR and quality teams all delivering modules and sharing their specialist knowledge.

Learning Point 2: Immerse the delivery team into your business and vision.

At this point we decided to become an ILM centre, with the capability to offer an ILM qualification to internal delegates, should they successfully complete enough modules.

Internally-built marketing materials were built to promote the programme, using internal expertise to assist. Site Leadership teams were briefed with the option to approach the programme as they wished, focussing on mandatory modules to plug a specific skill-gap, or allowing TL’s to craft their own development path. The fluidity of the programme meant that sites felt connected to it in that they were able to tailor and use it as they saw fit. This wasn’t a central dictat or fait accompli – simply a cost-effective offering (as little as £40pp for a one-day module) that far outstripped anything they could hope to source externally in both cost and value. Nothing was forced upon sites in terms of approach: the success of the programme was in that we had built a Ferrari and it was up to the delegate if they wanted to drive it or not.

Learning Point 3: Programme credibility is essential; internal marketing is a must.

With a devoted intranet site created to support the programme, an online gap analysis for the TL to self-diagnose competencies against the essential skills (one – five) and then compare with their line manager’s perception, TL’s were empowered to arrange their own sessions via online booking. Each module had post-workshop work to do, with line manager sign-off required. Interactive workshops, sign-off sheets and support resources were made available to line managers with ideas on how to coach TL’s upon their return from the modules – overcoming resistance and embedding behaviours.

KnowledgePool’s paper on the requirement of TL’s to support learning transfer into the workplace helped reinforce this message (LM’s that support employee development means that transfer of learning is 94% more likely).

Each TL received a development folder, with a welcome letter from the Manufacturing Director. More than 50 TL’s successfully achieved the ILM qualification in the first 24 months – many of these long-serving who had been out of education for many years – with workshops regularly over-subscribed.

Learning Point 4: Inspire and connect Line Managers to ‘own’ the programme.

In conclusion, the programme set out to develop the capability of a leadership population within an enlarged and changing workplace. The moment of separation to an ILM endorsed, national award-winning programme emerged when we refused to compromise our vision for excellence: a programme that was sustainable, cost-effective and utilised internal capability. Providing a flexible solution to sites at different levels of maturity ensured buy-in was gained through free-will rather than forced attendance. Having full intellectual property rights meant the programme was scalable and utilised internal expertise also.