Using L&D to increase engagement and retention and access new talent

A session at the CIPD L&D Show 2015 by Paul Smith (LV), Jan Luxford & Ben Cork (Riverside), chaired by Jonny Gifford (CIPD)

Paul Smith (HR Director, LV) opened by talking about joining up L&D with business needs to develop new leaders (whilst boosting engagement), recognising that investing in developing managers has a big positive impact in engagement.

LV (formerly Liverpool Victoria) is a long-established mutual assurance society and is now the UK’s largest friendly society employing 6,000 people. Their business strategy has evolved significantly, and their people strategy has played a major role in enabling this change. Paul gave a potted history of their evolution:

  • 2007: aim to become top 5 car insurer > needed a performance culture
  • 2011: had reached number 3 in market and aimed to become best loved > needed a people culture
  • 2015: have a sustainable business model > need a leadership culture

LV time to put customers and people at the heart of their business, believing that this will drive everything else. They describe this as being sharp with a heart (linking hearts and minds to bottom line business delivery).

What makes LV tick:

  • People (feeling engaged, valued, and empowered to make a difference), leads to ..
  • Customers (easy to do business with, efficient calls, lower price, competitive), lead to….
  • Business (sales, loyalty)
  • all of which lead to…. reduces attrition, re-work, costs


this time is re-invested in coaching and supporting front-line staff

One of their drivers is ‘freedom within a framework’, empowering staff to do the right things for the customer. They have a strong belief that every LV employee deserves a good line manager, and have focused on developing management capability (knowledge, skills, and behaviours). They believe that good leadership capability is the key to sustainability (especially of the engagement), and that sustainable engagement is the best predictor of performance. Having satisfied employees is fine, but sustainability requires people who go beyond that and feel energised and empowered. This increase in engagement has led to 41% lower retention risk, fewer days lost, and increased operating profit. 51% of their people are fully engaged, and another 39% are engaged but have low energy or do not feel supported.

LV have a ‘role model leader’ initiative, aiming not just to develop good leaders but leaders who are great role models, and they’ve made strong connections to their commercial strategy. Now that the business is a reasonable size, they are working on their talent pipeline to move away from the ‘safe bets’ (solid, dependable, reliable) technical experts who are ready today… to…… spiky (more challenging) inspirational leaders from the future pipeline.

Paul mentioned the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world that we live in, and talked about the forthcoming shift in the workforce over the next 7 years (and cited Oxford University that 47% of jobs in the US are at risk of being automated in the next 20 years). How are LV coping with this? Paul gave us a different take on Einstein with: EMC: Engagement = Member +Customer (squared) and that they need to keep their emphasis on people, customers, and members.

Conclusion: it is very difficult to have sustainable people engagement without effectively focused leadership capability which is agile, commercial-centric, firmly rooted in driving a strong people, customer & shareholder orientated culture.



Jan Luxford (Head of L&D) & Ben Cork (L&D Business Partner) at Riverside then took us into a look at the housing sector. Riverside is one of the leading housing and care provider (with a range of services like social housing, hostels, and lots of care services) and they have 2,500 employees across the UK working across 160 local authorities. Riverside’s challenges include external (funding, expectations, service demand) and internal (engagement, inconsistent performance management, and financial security etc.).

Ben then started to look at recruiting talent from their customer base; a group of people who might not have lots of academic qualifications but have lots of empathy for the needs of their customers and provides Riverside with a real pool of talent where they can recruit for attitude. Riverside launch a 10-month traineeship called GROW (gaining real opportunities to work) where people have lots of support and mentoring. They also attend a goalsuk programme (a combination of CBT and NLP), helping people to develop their self-belief. Of the 48 trainees who have completed GROW, 66% still work with Riverside and the others have gone on to work elsewhere (which is still a good result for the community and Riverside living their values). Based on this success, Riverside are looking at rolling this out nationwide and they are working on Gatebuddies (for ex-offenders).

Jan talked us through Riverside’s management development programme, Cornerstone. It has 6 modules (leadership style, crucial conversations, engaging behaviours, 360 feedback, performance coaching, managing change) and it is a bespoke experiential programme which meets the exact needs of their managers. Coaching plays a huge part in the programme and they see this as a real differentiator. Jan talked about how many organisations say they aren’t ready for 360 feedback, but talked about how powerful they are for both individuals and teams. Riverside saw how poorly-managed change has a negative impact (including causing stress), and so they are training all managers in how to lead change (based on Lean principles). They have seen good results, attaining silver iiP and being in the top 100 best places to work.

Riverside also run a talent programme called rise2 which is a talent programme aimed at non-managers and specialist roles, recognising that is is really important to help people unlock their potential (and that talent management isn’t just all abut developing future leaders). rise2 is a 6-month programme and Jan talked about the joy of watching attendees present back at the end of the programme, and seeing the massive positive impact that it has on people, with a lot of people talking about how it has massively changed their lives). At the end of the programme, they didn’t want it to finish so they have created the RISE Network which gives a pool of talented people to lead initiatives, and the network has a strong connection to their mentoring programme, and has done a lot to break down silos and has improved staff retention and engagement.

Their latest programme is called Learning to Lead, which is about creating a bench strength of talent. This is a 6-month programme, putting a lot of emphasis on the delegate’s responsibility for their own learning. They use the good boss model, and use this as a framework for gathering feedback which people can act on throughout the programme. Delegates receive this feedback as part of a facilitated coaching session to help people make sense of their feedback (note: much as we do in the NHS for the Healthcare Leadership Model 360 feedback, which works really well!).

Top tips from Riverside: Brand your programmes to make them ‘a thing’ and give something a personality, and something that people can relate to. And celebrate and shout about the successes, encouraging people to share their success through writing blogs and using Yammer.

(This was live-blogged during a session at the CIPD L&D show 2015 – I’ve tried to capture a faithful summary of the highlights for me but my own bias, views – and the odd typo – might well creep in.)


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