May 1, 2014 in Events (live blogging), CIPD L&D Show 2014

#cipdLDshow – Investigating the barriers to effective leadership

Steve Nathan, Department for Work and Pensions – @HRforIT on Twitter

Hugh Hood, BT


Steve Nathan opened by talking about the barriers to leadership at DWP, saying that he hoped it didn’t sound like they had a simple plan which they executed and it all went really smoothly…. as that wasn’t the way it happened.


In November 2011, the DWP reviewed where they were up to with leadership and engagement and found that, despite high ambitions, they had a lot of disconnected leadership/engagement initiatives, lots of fragmented change initiatives, and a lack of trust in senior leaders (a common theme in lots of organisations!).


They identified a lot of barriers to leadership which included a lack of shared context (and clarity of purpose/direction), a lack of shared language for leadership, and a ‘rational permafrost’ (a survival mechanism to avoid trying too many new and shiny ideas) was hindering progress.


DWP worked to build a shared leadership context through telling the DWP Story; After constructing a ‘coherent narrative’. It consists of 12 statement about their purpose, their challenge, and some guiding organisational statements (e.g. we must be an extraordinary department. One DWP.)


A common language for leadership was developed (based around FED – Future, Engage, Deliver) and this was rolled out to all leaders.


They ran an initiative called ‘reconnecting the frontline’, twinning their senior leaders (Senior civil servants) with operational sites to make sure that senior leaders were truly connected to what it is the organisation does. (I think this ‘back to the shop-floor’ type of initiative can be really powerful)


Engagement scores have risen from 44% – 54%, with their department being the most improved large department. The impact has been wider than just engagement, with a rise in leadership and management effectiveness and improved productivity.


Their lessons learned; to rootleadership development in the real experience of what leadership actually means for the organisation, to help senior leaders bring their emotion into play, and to align all of HR around the leadership development.




Hugh Hood then talked about Leadership at BT, starting by talking about how the whole nature of work is changing and noting that only 30% of the companies in the FTSE100 are still in it 30 years later. BT are needing to become a very different organisation, changing in many ways (and even become a TV company).


BT’s fundamental leadership challenge was they needed a strategy for growth, but they actually had a culture of survival. They had a culture that worked well for a stable business but needed one that would help them compete in this new world. BT started by looking at both their organisational performance and their organisational health. They were influenced by Keller & Price (Beyond Performance: How great organisations build ultimate competitive advantage), and set off to improve their leadership capability.


They built on some US research looking at how few people take life-saving drugs despite knowing that they need them (and the answer is surprisingly low): To drive new leadership behaviours, they focused on role0modelling, fostering understanding and conviction, developing talent and skills, and reinforcing with a formal mechanism.


Hugh talked about the need to aim high (by creating big jobs and giving people the space to do them), to coach people (to help them succeed and develop), and to create energy (by delivering a pipeline providing opportunities for all). Their leadership programme is being rolled out to 12,000 managers and includes a large element of coaching to help leaders to learn.


Although the programme is only part-way through, BT are already starting to see encouraging signs. They recognise that their measures aren’t perfect but they’re seeing good signs of improving organisational health; Improvements are being seen in measures around innovation and learning, accountability, leadership, motivation etc. Changing the culture and leadership behaviours is not an overnight job; they are 2 years into the programme and it looks like it might be a 5-year programme overall.


Live-blogged from a session at CIPD L&D Show – 30th April 2014

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