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A coincidental meeting between our operations director Tony Flannigan and Etsko Schuitema of Schuitema Associates in 2002 started a long-term working relationship that has transformed leadership within Johnson Matthey Catalysts (JMC).
At the time, Schuitema was a guest lecturer for Cambridge University’s MBA in manufacturing and Flannigan, then head of manufacturing at the Company’s Clitheroe site in Lancashire, was an MBA student. Flannigan was keen to explore leadership development models with a view to trialling them at Clitheroe. As soon as he heard about the care and growth model he knew it was the right programme for the business.
Flannigan set about persuading the company to take a look at “care and growth”, which is when HR became involved. Chris Walker, then Clitheroe site’s HR manager, and I met Schuitema. I was a little sceptical at first because the model was, and still is, quite different from other leadership development initiatives. But after meeting Schuitema, we decided to pilot it at Clitheroe in early 2003, starting with two-day introductory workshops with all line managers on site.
One of the fundamental elements of the model is that it gets managers to switch their attention away from “using” their people to achieve results to focusing on the growth of their people as their primary purpose. That sounds soft and fluffy but it is nothing of the sort. While there is a focus on the ability of direct reports to do their jobs, it is the role of the manager to hold them directly accountable and to both censure them if their tasks are not completed satisfactorily – and recognise when a good job is done.
This aspect was the biggest challenge we had and still have. Managers were reluctant to hold people appropriately accountable and were allowing poor performance to go unchallenged. However, this is apparently not uncommon.
A further critical element of the model was discovered by Schuitema in his initial research in the gold mines of South Africa: the best performing mines were those with line managers who communicated directly with team members. Where HR takes away some of that responsibility, for example on issues of pay or performance review, this undermines the role of the line manager.
This was one of the key changes the business made during the Clitheroe pilot. It cut back on direct HR communications to the site and sought to reinforce the role of the line manager by encouraging direct communications down the line.
The initial pilot was a success and in 2005 we started rolling the model out across the business. Today it is used by more than 170 line managers at 12 sites.
Alongside this, we have redesigned the performance management process, switching to a 90-day system for line managers to formally review their employees. It is during this discussion that means, ability and accountability issues are highlighted and action plans developed. Measurement of line managers’ progress against the leadership model has also been introduced via a leadership audit, which provides one-on-one feedback and helps us to plan learning and development.
As a result of introducing the model, we now have better managers then we did – but most are the same people. As Flannigan says: “Previously, people were rewarded because they had an objective, which someone else effectively delivered. Now, we pay much more attention to what someone actually contributes and respond accordingly.”
Lessons learnt- Reduce direct HR communications to employees because they undermine the role of line managers.- Be courageous – holding people accountable is tough but essential.- Review your HR systems to support your leadership model, including performance review, appraisal, and even reward policies.- Focus on actual contribution and not results. People can sometimes get the credit for things they did not contribute to.