May 13, 2015 in Events (live blogging), CIPD L&D Show 2015

Professionalising Leadership to create a high-performance culture

A session at the CIPD L&D Show 2015 by Alan Nobbs (NHS Leadership Academy), Paul Morgan (Caffe Nero), chaired by Dr. Richard Holti (The Open University).

Richard introduced the session, nothing that this as much about developing leaders as leadership and that both Alan and Richard have backgrounds in ‘real work’ (nursing and accounting) before joining the exciting world of L&D!

Alan Nobbs – @alannobbs – (NHS Leadership Academy) talked about how he was inspired by a executive nursing director who asked about future aspirations, which sparked something in Alan and led to the evolution of his career. Alan also talked about the challenges of his first non-clinical role, which highlighted all of the challenges of moving into leadership and management. The NGS Leadership Academy was established in 2012, is system-wide and inclusive, and works with 10 regional partners (the local academies) across England. Their purpose is to develop outstanding leadership in health, in order to improve people’s health and experiences of the NHS. Alan talked about the distinction between leadership (that exists at many levels) and leaders (those with formal accountability for leadership). The Academy focuses on professionalising leadership, developing leaders who are more innovative, broadening and changing the range of leadership behaviours, and working in partnership to make leadership more inclusive and representative of the communities they serve. Alan talked about how professionalising leadership also includes making sure that everything they do is evidence-based, something that is very natural for clinicians. This evidence base includes the impact of leadership skills on organisational performance (Bassi & McMurrer), the impact of better people management on productivity (Institute of Work), the impact of good leadership and HR practice and patient outcomes (Professor West). The Leadership Academy offers a range of programmes to meet different needs:

“Every interaction by every leader at every level shapes the emerging culture of an organisation” (Michael West) so if you know what culture you want your organisation to have, then you need to make sure that every leader at every level is equipped for their role as a leader.


Paul Morgan (Caffe Nero) talked about their experiences of professionalising leadership in an organisation with 600 UK stores, 5000 employees, and opening 40-50 UK stores each year. They have a policy to develop home-grown talent, and this shows in the fact that 540 of the 600 store managers have ‘come through the ranks’, many starting their career as baristas. Caffe Nero has always had a warm, informal, family style of culture which has been good at winning hearts but hasn’t been as good at winning minds. That informality led to some challenges in the past, and there was too much variability in management (some weren’t well-equipped, over-suprevised, and some would stifle development and initiative). Professionalising leadership has involved maintaining their culture and strengths whilst developing area managers. Their values aren’t written down on posters anywhere, but there is a real feeling that everybody ‘gets’ them anyway. Nero decided to focus their leadership development on area managers, recognising that an impact here would have an impact on store managers. In common with many organisations, Caffe Nero were focusing on developing leaders at the same time as driving structural change (something that can be unsettling for people).

Paul talked about how maintaining organisational culture was was when Caffe Nero had few outlets, but it is a much harder challenge when you have 600 stores. The Area managers play a massive role as ‘Trustees of the Culture’ alongside needing to be brand ambassadors, great at developing people, and having a commercial focus. They used the leadership trust to roll out one consistent programme for all, with a real focus on experiential learning, and based around their competency model (developed for this programme). The programme comprised presentations, seminars, and bespoke experiential learning activities. They defined leadership as ‘the use of personal power to win the hearts and minds of those around us to help achieve a common goal’, something that places a massive emphasis on influencing. Caffe Nero used a number of well-known models which are powerful, and were new to most of the course participants and the programme included task achievement, the learning curve, knowing ourselves and others, team development, self development, and effective communication. Area managers attended 2 modules (one on personal leadership, one on business leadership) of 3 days each and they’ve seen a very positive impact. Feedback from area managers is that ‘Caffe Nero has grown up’, area managers feel better-equipped to do their jobs, and the programme has developed managers’ self-confidence in their ability to drive performance. Nero feel that they’ve uncovered a lot of latent potential in their area managers and equipped area managers to develop high-potential store managers into future area managers. Paul closed by saying that Caffe Nero is no longer a coffee business serving people, they are now a people business serving coffee.

(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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