NATS Case Study - How to get consistent high performance leadership across an entire organisation.

Date: 3rd Jul '14

Philip James the HR Director of NATS, the UK’s main air traffic control business, recalls his challenge in 2005.

In early 2005 we had launched a new vision for the business measured by 21 ambitious targets and consultants were training our Executive management team, as well as the most senior managers, in high performance leadership and team working.

However, with a highly sceptical and sometimes cynical workforce that included many middle managers, it was going to be essential to equip all our key leaders, a total of 180 individuals, if we were to have any chance of getting the consistency of approach and the momentum for change to achieve our vision.

I did not want to spend huge sums of money on consultants and I already had a model in mind.  The idea was to use the Senior Management Team (SMT), who had all been trained, to deliver leadership training to the 180, but to include modules that were tailored to the challenges in our particular industry.  This way, it would deeply embed the techniques in our SMT with the bonus that mentoring and coaching would occur naturally as part of the training.   Also, I wanted to ensure that those trained, immediately applied the learning to their everyday lives and that their behaviour was consistent with the senior management team.

But I was busy – really busy – as we all were in a time of huge change and challenge, so how to get something up and running fast.  That’s where Dawn Barron of Human Alchemy really made the difference. Dawn understood the content of the training we wanted to deliver and the strategic intent of our business but what really made the difference was how quickly she grasped the approach I was after.

We met regularly over a period of 2 months where Dawn asked me to articulate what I wanted and then turned it into practical workshops.  Her creativity and sense of what could be done was masterly, including really understanding how we would equip senior leaders to be able to deliver the training programme themselves.  Within weeks of those design sessions we were ready to run a programme that we piloted with HR Managers, tweaked, and then scheduled to run with our leadership group.

Over the next year our Senior Managers trained 100 key leaders in the business and then every year for the next five years we ran a programme for 15-20 leadership potentials.  The impact was huge as leaders and future leaders connected the bold aspirations we had for the business, with their own roles and responsibilities as leaders.  Many of those trained, were personally transformed and became the drivers for change, whilst others were powerful enablers.  We achieved profit and service results we could not have dreamt of, whilst reducing support costs by 30% during that same period.

I would say this programme was one of the key reasons for our business being voted in 2008 as "the most admired globally" by its peers in the industry and why our employees voted us one of the 25 Sunday Times ‘best big businesses to work for’ in 2007.

Dawn’s role in co-creating the programme was absolutely fundamental to our success.