RWE npower

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How do you design an integrated series of management development programmes for over
1,200 managers and and deliver a financial ROI of over £4.2m in less than three years?
Russell Harvey, People Development manager at RWE npower, shares the story…

Key learning points

1. Programmes need to address specific survey feedback

2. Embed a continuous improvement mindset

3. Use questionnaires to determine state of knowledge and skills

4. Ensure programmes provide an improved career path

We are one of the largest retailers supplying energy products, services and solutions to the residential, business and corporate markets. We have over 12,000 employees at 60 sites across the UK. For our customers, we have remained competitive by introducing innovative services and products. For our people, we needed to restructure to meet our objectives. In 2007, this meant we needed development programmes put in place and embedded for senior line managers and leaders, as well-being was aligned throughout the company.

There were several challenges to doing this effectively. We needed to ensure our population of first and second line managers (about 1,200 people) across a diverse business (sales and marketing, operations, commercial, finance and energy services) had access to development programmes that consistently underlined the common knowledge, skills and behaviours required of them. The programmes also needed to be flexible enough to underpin the inevitably numerous and localised management development activities that were part of their everyday lives.

The content of the programmes needed to address specific feedback from our employee survey of 2007/8, which had shown that improvement was needed in our performance management (66 per cent), line manager relationship (64 per cent) and empowerment (69 per cent). Another challenge was that our managers had traditionally been promoted for their ability to successfully complete tasks rather than their people management skills. We also needed to embed a continuous improvement (CI) mindset in our people, but realised we did not have the consistent internal capacity and capability to deliver this kind of management development programme. We also wanted to support our L&D people to be not only programme deliverers, but also provide them with an improved career path. Last, but definitely not least, it was essential to demonstrate a clear ROI. Previously, there had been a duplication of development activity and inconsistency of message and delivery, resulting in variations in the evaluation and ROI.

Initiate and integrate
With the help of our Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) accredited training partner DPG (Development Processes Group plc) and their licensed system Management Assessment of Proficiency (MAP) our ‘Initiate’ and ‘Integrate’ programmes were developed. The MAP tool provided an objective assessment of our situation, identifying gaps and development needs.

As a result, ‘Initiate the npower vision’ (an ILM Level 3 Certificate) was created for our first line managers and ‘Integrate the npower vision’ (ILM Level 5 Certificate) was created for our second line managers. As people development manager, I managed the retail-wide project team with work streams set up for its design, delivery, communication, evaluation and administration.

The Initiate and Integrate project sought to:

  • Provide two retail-wide development programmes that replaced all others, delivering economies of scale and supporting a ‘one business’ approach
  • Provide an internal capability and capacity to deliver and administer these programmes after three years in-house
  • Improve the scores from our employee surveys on leadership, performance management and cross-functional working
  • Embed a continuous improvement mindset within our people. This meant not only guiding them to develop new initiatives, but equipping them with the tools and techniques to do so. This would, in turn, demonstrate that L&D can provide tangible ROI and deliver benefit back to the business.

Design and delivery
Our team undertook questionnaires with all of these managers across the retail business on the current state of knowledge, skills and behaviours and compared them with those needed to meet future challenges. We asked our people managers to tell us the challenges that faced them in their roles and their view of what good development activities looked like from their point of view.

This research was then amalgamated into 126 ‘awareness statements’ and this formed the core curriculum and content of the programmes. We also created a development matrix which was used for individual training needs analysis (TNA) in the nomination process. To ensure the right people were on the right programme, the development matrix was used to measure trainee knowledge and behaviours against the awareness statements, both before and after the programme, with MAP used to benchmark 12 management competencies against 110,000 managers worldwide.

The npower awareness statements formed the framework for the detailed content and were clearly aligned to ILM requirements for Level 3 and 5 Certificates.

The format suited all learning styles and consisted of:

  • Five to six two-day workshops over seven to 10 months
  • Open learning material/workbooks (up to 150 hours self-directed learning)
  • In-between workshop one-to-one coaching
  • Assignments detailing practical application
  • Continuous improvement business activity

The average group size was 10 trainees. A senior business leader opened and closed the programme and there was support by mentoring throughout.

Learner achievements and business benefits
Ninety-nine per cent of reported learner feedback on the Initiate and Integrate programmes has been positive regarding content and delivery. The admiration for the learners is mutual, with all trainees having provided business benefits from their training, with each delegate required to undertake a continuous improvement project and present this back to the business. The presentations have been so impressive that we can report our learners now see the personal and business benefits of continuously striving for improvements in their business area, and encourage and support their people to do the same.

This shift has had a dramatic knock-on impact for our business. Resulting business activities have identified £4.2m of financially tangible business benefits against an original spend of £350,000. Every CI business project undertaken by every learner needed to have a demonstrable financial return clarified as part of their activity. These projects are supported by the CI colleagues across the business and are centrally tracked as part of the evaluation methodology of the Initiate and Integrate project. The programme has therefore paid for itself 12 times over, with business ideas ranging from ways to improve our service to customers, manage debt better and improve our reporting.

Many of the ideas are now being followed through and have delighted senior leaders in the process.

“The enthusiasm, creativity and real engagement with material business issues was tremendous… it is rare, in my experience, that development programmes achieve the difficult balance of academic knowledge and practical experience that links directly to measurable business results.” – Phil Scholes, our Customer Services director (Business)

To date, 90 per cent of the trainees have taken the ILM qualifications and we are on track to have 100 per cent pass rates on assignments. All trainees who have done the post-programme MAP re-assessment have met the overall 50 per cent improvement required across all competencies. All trainees taking the post-programme functional knowledge test have improved their scores in all areas to the levels required. Ten trainees have changed role (promotion/sideways) and have cited their programme as giving them the confidence to apply and be successful at interview.

Our employee survey score on the areas identified all show on increase from between five to 15 percentage points. Even with further company-wide cost challenges for 2010, a further 15 programmes started and learners who have already completed the process are part of a ‘buddying’ support system for these new learners.

In spite of these financial challenges, the team has continued to deliver a tailored programme that provides consistent, clear information for our trainees and helps them better understand their people management role and how it aligns to our business objectives. We, therefore, now have Initiate and Integrate the npower Vision embedded across the business, with these programmes seen as central to the L&D framework and supporting our succession planning and talent management approach.

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