Inchcape Australia, part of the largest global automotive retailer and distributor Inchcape Plc, has made the strategic decision to use an innovative, small group coaching solution to develop 44 frontline leaders.
Teresa Dewdney, Group learning and development manager at Inchcape, explains the reasoning behind the solution selection and shares the results.
Inchcape, better known in Australia via brands such as Subaru, Trivett and Autonexus, is a varied business. The sales and service operation runs its own new and used car dealerships and services many others. It imports Subaru vehicles to Australia, and via Autonexus it prepares brands for market. With this structure, many of its frontline leaders are running retail or service teams. Inchcape is a global company that is publicly listed in the UK.
We had already developed programs at the senior executive level and it was now time to look at frontline leader capability as they had not had any real support or development. The purpose was to lift performance across the whole cohort, not just target low performers or provide further development for high performers, and to be flexible enough to plug gaps as they were identified.
I don’t believe participants have a flip top head that you can pour 18 topics into over a one off workshop, then close the lid and suddenly turn your people into capable leaders. Learning doesn’t work like that.
I wanted something that gave participants a program, over time. The perfect design would give them a chance to take one capability, hold it, have a good look at it, practice it, and hopefully master it. Then they could progress to the next.
The design had to challenge every participant. I always worry that with larger groups in the classroom, you don’t get as much chance to have high quality conversations, and it’s too easy for quiet people to be missed.
From a business perspective, particularly as we’re in retail, taking people out of the workplace for an extended period wouldn’t fly. I needed something episodic, in short sharp bursts, that worked for both the participants and Inchcape.
The program also had to have practical application and deliver demonstrable change. I didn’t care about a Cert IV or qualifications because those programs tend to work on assessments and assignments for compliance, as opposed to getting a real behavioural change than impacts leadership and team performance.
Some programs break down learning into chunks, 2 days here 2 days there, but I found no existing programs that could combine all the things I described.
Fastlead is a curriculum-based small group coaching leadership development solution, specifically designed for frontline leaders. Participants choose from 13 topics, developed from extensive research into the learning needs of frontline managers. The groups, in Fastlead called ‘pods’, usually comprise a coach and three participants who meet monthly and discuss one topic per two hour session. The coach leads a best practice discussion about the topics, and then works with each individual while the others observe. It is highly collaborative learning, with participants helping each other and high skills transference. Participants complete each session ready to deploy new skills and approaches back in the workplace.
The usual duration of a pod is six sessions but we extended these to eight. It allowed me to choose extra topics, which we considered critical for foundational leadership. The extension also enabled participants to choose some topics and they loved that aspect. We added a one day set up workshop as well as two other face to face workshops for the whole group at the mid-point and end on key Inchcape topics.
Yes, we launched the program for 44 people, in 15 pods. We added pysch profiles at the beginning and used the Fastlead 360 to tease out development opportunities and assess progress at the end of the programme. I have to say that starting out with so many is something I wouldn’t do again, but we made it all work.
We wanted everyone to start with same information and understanding, and to build the case for them as to why they were going on the program. We used the event to clarify our expectations of them as frontline leaders at Inchcape and what leadership means to us and the importance of their role. It was vital they understood that the program was to support them in the challenging transition from individual contributor to frontline leader – not because there were performance concerns. This was very well received.
Fastlead contains a range of surveys for participants to complete at various stages. Having looked at the data, which was great, the highlight from the feedback was the difference the program had made to the frontline leaders’ reports.
The participants’ managers told us that they spoke differently, they exuded much more confidence, even how they stood and how they held themselves. A number of them have already been promoted, or moved into more challenging roles. One of our managers, who has very high standards and who had been a little concerned about the program design, told me Fastlead has very positively changed the way several of his team work. Indeed, he’s booked more of his people onto the next program. That’s the ultimate test.
We learned that if managers put people on the program to fix something they haven’t been able to deal with themselves – where they perhaps haven’t even had an honest conversation with the person - then the participant often opts out. They don’t understand why they’re on the program and consequently are not engaged. Often, their manager isn’t engaged either. So the first change we’ve made is to significantly improve the nomination process.
We’ve done more due diligence. HR Business Partners know more about the program, ask more questions and ensure participants are being nominated for the right reasons.
Balancing the people in the pods is also important as mixing experience levels is less effective. We now know to put novice managers together and group more experienced ones separately. We’ve also discovered that mixing between different areas of the company works really well – it helps build networks for these early managers, breaks down silos, and enables our managers to get a much wider view of the Inchcape business.
Another change is upping the level of manager briefing at the beginning - better explaining who it’s suited for, and particularly what their support role is in the program.
When a nomination has been received, we have a meeting with both the manager and the participant present to discuss objectives and develop the respondent list for their Fastlead 360 surveys. This ensures we get everyone to commit from the start.
My advice to other L&D Managers is to begin with small groups of say five pods at a time, as that’s much easier to handle.
The thing I really like about Fastlead is the layers of learning. Participants learn from the group session we facilitate at the beginning of the program. Then, when they’re in the pod, they take the content from the coach, and they like that the content is flexible: the coach can draw relevant information from other areas. And it continues and broadens as they learn from each other’s experiences; from watching the coach actually coach; from watching the coach talk to their managers. They learn from the back up material – the videos and so on from the Fastlead portal. And they learn from their efforts – successful or otherwise – in deploying these new skills in the workplace, between coaching sessions.
I also like the impact it has on the managers’ thinking. I hear them saying: “I understand why I’m doing this. I understand what my company expects of me, and what good leadership looks like.”
The coaching pod design gives participants a real chance to think and consciously decide who they are going to be as a leader. They quickly realise that they are not alone, that everyone has the same issues. They also realise it’s OK if they do things differently.
If you are interested in raising the bar of frontline leadership as a whole, while looking after the individuals in the cohort, then Fastlead is the right way to go.