Thursday, 15 December 2011

Local University suports scheme to engage workers in improving business

Dr Michele Lawty-Jones, David MacLeod, Tim Viney and Barbara Davies

The University of Cumbria played host to a government Task Force in Ambleside this week, to showcase and discuss the success of an innovative leadership programme being delivered to leaders of small-to-medium businesses in the region.

The LEAD programme provides hands-on advice, expert coaching and practical support and concentrates not only on the business itself, but also on the development of the owner, encouraging them to engage with their staff to better the company and its success.

The new independent Employee Engagement Task Force was launched in March, with the am of ensuring that a range of practical opportunities are made available for organisations wanting to learn about engagement. It will share good practice, generate debate and offer support via a new website.

The Task Force is building on the report ‘Engaging for Success’ (PDF link), which David MacLeod and Nita Clarke produced in 2009 for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

David MacLeod, who works for consultancy Towers Perrin, and Nita Clarke, now deputy of thr Task Force, were commissioned to produce the ‘Engaging for Success’ report for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and featured the LEAD programme in the report as a best practice case study.

“Like most people, I didn’t use the term engagement to start with," said David of his interest in this area of business development, in an interview for the IPA when was working on the report in 2009. "The first period of my career was in managing a consumer brand, and consumer brands are critically dependent on their ability to innovate, and stay relevant.

"Trying to get innovation out of a bureaucracy is a big challenge, so the people aspects of innovation really struck me as central.

“Then I went to manage a business turnaround, and while all the analytics were right, it didn’t tell you what to do. And at heart, I think the organisation had lost confidence, and by losing confidence, it had lost engagement. So that was really fascinating.

"[Engagment] is not about work/life balance, although it might touch that," he explained. "It’s not about happiness, although it might touch that; it is about organisations performing, delivering better what they set out to deliver. The question is whether we are harnessing discretionary effort.

“It is not to be confused with HR – which is good stuff. Let’s have a good performance management system, let’s have a good recruitment process. But having a good marketing strategy is equally relevant to engagement. In fact, I’d say having a good, clear, strategy is as important as anything.”

"“People are at the heart of success for companies and organisations," argues vice chair Nita Clarke, "so whether or not the workforce is positively encouraged to perform at its best should be a key consideration for every leader and manager, and should be placed at the heart of business strategy. Where this happens the results are transformational. Spreading this message widely will be the key task of this new employer led task force.”

“This task force has my full support," commented Prime Minister David Cameron at its launch, "because I know that it will work to bring together two of my government's top priorities – delivering sustainable growth across the UK, and coming up with new approaches to help people improve their wellbeing.“

David MacLeod was keen to return to the region to see what progress had been made and the meeting at the university’s Ambleside site on Tuesday brought together representatives from the University of Cumbria, the Centre for Leadership Performance, Lancaster University Management School and LEAD delegates from around Cumbria.

LEAD graduate Barbara Davies, managing director of Gosforth Hall Inn explains:
“Having been in a managerial position for most of my adult life, with very little training, I was blinkered in my approach to staff, suppliers and customers.

“Now, through the various elements of the LEAD training programme, I have attained invaluable lessons on how to stop, stand back, think about and assess a situation, then address and monitor the outcome. More importantly I look forward to exciting challenges and don’t see them as problems.”

Another of the LEAD programme graduates, Tim Viney of Atlantic Geomatics, which is based in Penrith, feels the programme has enabled him to take a more holistic view of his business. “It has grown from employing 12 people to 16,” he says, “and I have achieved my objective of employing a dedicated business manager.”

“It has been great to raise the profile of Cumbria with the Government task force," added Dr Michele Lawty-Jones, Enterprise and Business Relations Manager at the University of Cumbria. "They were very interested to hear about the SME business base that is critical to our local economy and our local LEAD graduates who have benefited from working with the university.”

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