Issue: Team dynamics are critical to productivity and performance. Today’s teams are perhaps more diverse than at any other time and this can cause tension and sub-optimal work. I worked with an organisation where the office was informally divided by gender and age, unwittingly affecting outcomes.
Approach: My approach was to ‘burst the bubbles’ and enable people to see beyond stereotypes attached to age and gender. I chose popular culture as a way to illustrate this. Training also looked at self-limiting beliefs rooted in stereotypes. Real projects were allocated to newly self-organised project teams, enabling people to work first hand with others who they did not usually work with.
Outcome: The training sessions gave an opportunity for people to connect and debate the status quo. Participants got to understand the similarities between them and how to use differences in a positive way. Hearing that some colleagues felt stereotyped gave others an opportunity to rethink what they believed about people of a different gender or age. The project challenges led in time to more diverse self-selected project groups and more effective work results.
Leadership Coaching—Legal services
Issue: A senior staff member in a small firm wanted a style of coaching that went beyond focusing on goals. Ideally they wanted some time with someone that was enjoyable, challenged their preconceptions and led to real personal development that improved different aspects of their lives: at work and generally. At the same time, they needed to be appreciated for their hard work and were against ‘wasting time’.
Approach: Working in a very tailored way I crafted a coaching plan for the member of senior staff. Using a combination of work focused discussion and life activities (including physical challenges and adventures) I enabled the coachee to become more self-aware, confident and resilient. As a critical friend, I supported them to take new approaches, for example to trust others to deliver to high standards. The client understood the value of taking time to reflect, rather than seeing this as a liability.
Outcome: The coachee reported a transformative effect on their work and outlook. Having learned practical skills to deal with times when they had previously felt isolated and not in control, they felt they were more genuinely ‘a good manager’. The firm incorporated some aspects of the coaching into the way that the company operated, for example personalised challenges.
Workplace wellbeing—Financial services
Issue: A local financial services firm approached me wishing to reinvigorate its workforce. The firm’s director was conscious of the health impact of the sedentary and fairly stressful work of staff. The ‘mood’ in the office had become negative, with an unwillingness to ‘go the extra mile’, colleagues blaming each other for mistakes and generally poor teamwork.
Approach: Initially interested in an awayday to refresh staff, it was decided that a longer-term, sustainable approach would be more meaningful and result in greater returns in terms of staff performance and cultural change. Starting with an assessment and away-day, I then introduced the team to several key wellbeing improvements including physical exercise, mental health and improving work dynamics and routines. This was followed by embedding the improvements into the business on an ongoing basis. Key people took on an ambassador role and enthusiastically kept the programme going.
Impact: Qualitative research showed the high appreciation for the programme. People throughout the company felt invigorated, valued and able to perform better. This was backed up by improved performance figures, less absence and better interpersonal dynamics.
The issue: A warehousing and delivery service experienced a large surge in demand at key points in the year. The service was stretched at these times and suffered a number of inefficiences including staffing pressures, poor productivity and a high rate of process failures (breakages, incorrect dispatches and injuries).
Approach: Using a combination of process and workforce analysis I identified improvements to process that made adjustment to role easier for temporary workers and improved productivity throughout the year.
Specifically: Lean analysis and marginal gain analysis revealed inefficient workforce planning, equipment use and a lack of co-ordination and standardisation. There was also scope to increase automation and improve layout at the site. Embedded observation of the processes involved revealed the potential for tasks to be sabotaged by some workers.
Outcome: Improvements to recruitment and induction led to a more stable and motivated peak volume workforce. Process improvements improved productivity by 15%, whilst resulting in reduced costs and process failures. Greater confidence and improved outcomes has meant a 10% increase in new business and repeat business in a competitive market.
Issue: A heritage-focused national organisation faced accusations of being ‘old-fashioned’ and not relevant to a wide and diverse market. As a result it was missing out on revenue and patronage: a situation that could only get worse over time.
An assessment showed an organisation-wide need to modernise. Embedded research gave me an insight into a staff team of highly skilled, committed people who were in denial of the need to move forward and some in the leadership team seeing the issue as not important.
Solution: I coordinated an extensive programme of work throughout the organisation, approaching from different perspectives. The leadership team participated in strategic planning sessions and partnered with successful similar organisations internationally. The service offer was re-curated to appeal to a diverse audience and a major re-branding initiative undertaken. Relevance and the business-case became a key performance indicator. The structure of the body itself was refreshed to underline the importance of the cultural shift.
Outcome: From being ‘stuck in the past’ the organisation rose to the challenge of shifting its culture. By rolling out changed in a phased way people were prepared for change and actively welcomed new perspectives and responsibilities. Ongoing support made the new identity sustainable.
Issue: The West Midlands has traditionally been a proud UK centre of manufacturing. A small component maker was faced with declining orders and a lack of growth. The company was concerned about the impact of political developments, specifically Brexit.
Approach: I conducted an appraisal of the business in order to strategically improve the situation. This included looking at growth potential for product lines, new product lines, cost factors and markets. This revealed that the business had the capacity to extend and part-automate medium margin lines and explore higher margin lines, with some business leads in overseas markets. The image of the company was dated and sales very much depended upon repeat business.
Outcome: The plan gave scope for the components firm to take some major decisions. By automating some areas, it was able to deploy skilled staff in more high tech areas. By building a small product range with selected overseas customers and capitalising on exchange rates, the business gained a foothold as a quality supplier of high quality British components in emerging sectors. Furthermore, the business was able to re-brand itself and access financial and other support by moving into higher-tech, high-growth areas.