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Warburtons started out as a family business 130 years ago and now employs 5,000 people in 14 bakeries and 15 depots, producing more than two million bakery products each day. It is run by the fifth generation of Warburtons, who are dedicated to maintaining the values and ethos that have served the company so well. As a business we are working in an increasingly competitive environment with difficult market conditions. To help us through these testing times, we wanted to achieve greater cross-functional working. We already had a five-year business strategy in place, so the challenge for me and my team was to support our senior leaders and managers to boost performance and sustain it. Any intervention, however, had to respect our past as well as equip our leaders to face an unpredictable future.Because of the scale of change we envisaged, we brought in external support from consultancy Pilkington Leadership. Their brief was to deliver a leadership programme, directly relevant to Warburtons, which would deliver tangible and sustainable results, and which linked to our existing talent management practices. The resulting programme, known as Leadership Excellence, was launched last year and by the end of the year three separate cohorts of 12 people, together with our operations board, had completed it.The programme began with individual three-and-a-half-hour coaching sessions to launch personalised “leadership journeys” and build self-awareness. Each participant was given feedback, including a plan to accelerate their leadership capability.Each cohort, selected from a different part of the business, then did a three-day workshop built around the behaviours needed to achieve our five-year plan, which we had identified with our operations board. Part of this involved a module on high-performing teams, which all participants have since used as a basis for improving their own teams. A team survey – repeated every six months – combined with team events, helped the groups to rapidly focus on elite capabilities and behaviours to raise their performance. A further strand to the programme now is offering external coaching to leaders. Through this the leaders develop their own coaching skills, so it is cost-effective and sustainable. At the end of the programme the cohorts were split into two groups, each of which was given a “foggy” leadership challenge – a real area of the business that needed to change, but with no defined objective or approach. These “foggy” challenges have varied from corporate responsibility to innovation and sales but the desired outcome of bottom-line improvement within six months has remained constant. The objectives were designed to provide participants with an opportunity to use their new leadership skills to shift business performance and each project was reviewed after 30 and 90 days.We estimate that the “foggy” challenges from the first two cohorts alone will generate savings to the company of more than six times the cost of the first year of the programme. Pilkington Leadership also trained our internal facilitators so the workshops can be run in-house in the future, which will generate further savings.Results from post-programme evaluation of the first year revealed that participants rated all aspects of the programme highly. Both their personal and team performance had also improved. Another five cohorts are going through the programme this year and next year. This will help to cascade the desired behaviours outlined in our five-year plan further into our organisation.
Lessons learnt- Creating self-awareness in the initial one-on-one coaching sessions ensured leaders were confident and motivated to participate in the programme.- Workshops focused on high-performing teams proved an excellent way to translate newly acquired leadership behaviours into day-to-day business results.- The “foggy” projects added a real sense of momentum and a low-pressure environment in which to experiment.- Tailoring the programme to individual needs ensured past achievements were respected, while making sure leaders received the support to update their behaviours.