Leadership & Talent Liberation - Leadership Development in Energy Metering Business
- Major gas and electricity utility company
- Leadership Development
Business, Background and Objectives
Graham Jefferies, head of npower’s MeterPlus, identified 2007 as a “golden year”, a unique opportunity for managers in particular to focus on the challenges of the future in all their certainty and uncertainty, especially surrounding the Smart Metering agenda which would provide intelligent meters in homes and businesses. He determined to use this time to develop new ways of working appropriate to the forthcoming decade during which the shape of metering and doorstep services would change beyond recognition. He affirmed that managers needed to feel confident about the direction of their business including aspects which were clear and those which were not. They needed to know how to respond to emerging challenges, certain and uncertain, in a positive way.
MeterPlus had been working with Primeast since 2004 on key strategic change initiatives and for 2007, the focus of transformation had to be “applied learning”. Alongside learning from other workstreams such as npower’s leadership and management development programmes (LDP & MDP), managers worked on progressive concepts (such as playing to strengths) relevant to the changes ahead. Importantly, they then worked with Primeast coaches in 1-1 sessions and action learning sets to put their learning into practice and met regularly as a team to share progress. They were acutely aware that nothing in business changed until managers and their people did things differently. Graham was encouraged by positive feedback from all the Primeast programmes, including the benefits of coaching and was clear that his business needed to re-double its efforts to put individual and group solutions into practice.
The managers at MeterPlus began to do things differently. In 2007 business performance showed significant bottom-line benefit to the tune of £5m. To quantify the source of such improvement is always difficult but Graham estimated that about 20% was the product of the transformation programme linked to process change. Even conservative estimates such as this represented a four-fold return on investment in learning during the year of transformation alone and these benefits have since proved to be cumulative year-on-year alongside subsequent gains.
Graham’s other significant insights at this stage of transformation were important. Whilst every manager had the opportunity to learn and change, he recognised that making behavioural change was really difficult. It took time and attention which was scarce with so much going on. At MeterPlus, his belief was that 80% of the performance benefit was probably due to 20% of managers making significant changes and the remainder being poised to do the same. He perceived no lack of willingness just a lack of opportunity caused by the pace of life. He considered that there was a need to challenge the blockages that prevented managers from doing more. For example, how efficient was everyone in the team at managing time and delegating effectively?
MeterPlus continues to roll out its strengths philosophy to first-line managers and uses the successes of the senior team to motivate them by proven successes. According to Graham, if the wider team is to change there is a need to demonstrate how it has worked for individual managers. For this reason, planned follow-up includes the following questions for the managers who participated in 2007:
- What is the most important thing I have learned during this period of transformation?
- How have I applied this in my work?
- What quantifiable performance gain has resulted?
- What did I feel as a result of this experience?
Graham is convinced that feedback at a personal level is vital.
“The big picture gain is evidence of our collective performance. I want to know what individual gains have served as building blocks so we can celebrate these and use them as examples for more of the same. The coming years can be seen as daunting and unsettling. The truth is they represent opportunity - opportunity to learn and grow as individuals and as a business. Our meter-readers and other customer-facing staff have the opportunity to take on new challenges here or outside the business and our managers will support them in a positive way through the changes that lie ahead. But we all need to be ready and managers in particular need to know what it feels like to change so they can support others. We need to celebrate our collective performance gains and some of the individual gains along the way. We will use these to motivate more of the same from senior managers and a growing flow of gains from first line managers. Coaching and action learning will help us take stock and do more. We need to lead an enthusiastic roll-out of playing to strengths for all our staff. In short, I want everyone in the business to know what it means to recognise, value, develop and use the unique talents of our people in the delivery of our business objectives.”