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Learning and Development Case Study: Cable & Wireless - Keeping pace with fast change

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Senior managers needed specific skills training to maintain the momentum built up by C&W's period of fast growth. The result? A programme called Accelerate. Mary Carmichael explains.

THE CHALLENGE

"Cable & Wireless (C&W), Europe, Asia and US has been through a transformation in the past three years," says Caroline Burgess, the telecoms company's learning and development manager. (See HR, Interview, November, 2008). "Business has been growing fast and we want to keep building on this momentum." The company recognised that mid- to senior managers were crucial to this and wanted to make sure both new and existing managers developed the skills to manage teams through a period of change. It called in management training consultancy Inspirational Development Group (IDG) to help develop its Accelerate programme, a modular, part-residential course. IDG's partnership with the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and its ability to make use of the facilities there made it especially appropriate.

THE PROGRAMME

The programme consists of three two-day residential modules, each four to six weeks apart, which take place at Sandhurst. The 24 participants in each intake work together on some activities and on feedback sessions, but they are also divided into groups of eight. Theory and discussion is combined with problem-solving outdoor activities, all of which involve teamwork. The groups may have to work out how to negotiate an obstacle or be blindfolded and guided, for example.

The first module covers understanding the role of the manager and there is a strong personal awareness element: participants have to look closely at themselves in their role and work out where they need to improve. The second and third modules anchor and extend this learning by looking at methods, such as coaching and mentoring, that can be used to get the best from their team. A fourth module designed to be done after a three to six-month gap may be added to the course in the future.

The course is applicable to around 650 of C&W's 6,000 workers who are spread across Europe, Asia and the US. So far, 150 have completed the programme or are in the middle of it.

THE RESULTS

It is hard to get statistics measuring success but Burgess says the anecdotal evidence is excellent. "We use a 360-degree feedback tool, with input from the participant, their line manager and their team," she says. "And we visit the groups at Sandhurst and have dinner with them to get immediate responses. We also do coaching sessions and one-to-ones. It's not a static programme either; it is constantly evolving; it hasn't been identical for any two groups because so much is driven by their input."

THE HR DIRECTOR'S VIEW

Caroline Burgess is learning and development manager at Cable & Wireless. "We needed a practical, core management development programme to provoke different ways of thinking and to equip managers with skills they could apply immediately to their jobs," she explains. "IDG's military connections added value and the fact that the modules take place at such an impressive place as Sandhurst is a real plus point too." The 150 people who have taken part in the course are extremely enthusiastic about the programme, she says, and there is even a waiting list to go on it. It has proved to be a good way of getting to know people from other parts of the business. "Participants have come from all over the business and from other countries and they form close bonds. The connections can help in a practical sense too," she points out. "One told me he had had a problem that he expected would take him two or three weeks to resolve. However, he phoned someone he'd met on the programme and got it sorted in an hour."

THE EMPLOYEE'S VIEW

Marcus Houghton is commissions manager at Cable & Wireless. He was in the pilot group for the Accelerate programme and is a highly enthusiastic advocate. "The programme has been great and Sandhurst is such a motivational place," he enthuses. "You learn to assess what sort of a person and manager you are, and how to improve. The activities really break the ice and the feedback is useful for working out how to change whatever didn't work. The 'sheepdog' task particularly stood out." This is the part of the programme where all the team except one are blindfolded and spread out around a field. The one who can see has to guide everyone into a pen but is not allowed to speak. "My group had an awful first task," he recalls, "but we worked out a way of doing this one in record time. It's not about the right or wrong way though; it's about learning new ways and about the process. You build up a support network throughout the business with the other participants too, which makes hearing the - very honest - feedback easier."