Network Rail develops leaders to drive change

by | Mar 1, 2015 | Articles

“80% of the senior leaders that took part said the development from Cirrus improved their ability to effectively manage people’s performance across different functions.” 

Paul Bedwell, Leadership Development Manager, Network Rail
The challenge

When Network Rail, the organisation responsible for operating Britain’s rail infrastructure, set about creating a better railway for a better Britain, it needed to develop senior leaders to meet the ever increasing demands being placed upon the rail network…

Paul Bedwell, Leadership Development Manager for senior leaders at Network Rail explains, “When we took over responsibility for running the railway network following the Hatfield disaster in 2002, we inherited an infrastructure that had been starved of investment.  Despite successfully improving the network to safely introduce a million more trains a year, the challenge is far from over.” He adds, “Demand for rail travel in the UK is increasing exponentially. Over the next 30 years, it’s anticipated that annual passenger demand will more than double to over 2.6 billion train journeys. There isn’t enough space to safely introduce more trains on the busiest part of the network during peak times, and we’re also severely limited by a Victorian infrastructure created over 150 years ago. ‘Quick fixes’, possible in other countries, like high-speed tilting or double-decker trains, aren’t options for us because many tunnels and bridges can’t accommodate them.”

The complexity of the challenges faced have become much more systemic: “Options like another carriage onto an existing train have a knock on effect such as requiring us to extend platforms and adjust train timetables” explains Paul. “So while everyone was working on their part of the problem, we needed to breakdown the silos and get our 35,000 people to  innovate and problem-solve in a much more collective way across functions. To make that happen, we wanted our senior leaders to create a new culture of collaborative working.”

“We wanted to create a culture of collaborative working.” 

The approach

“After an extensive tender process, we selected Cirrus, the leadership development experts, to better connect our senior leaders with the overall mission for the organisation,” says Paul. He adds, “The brief was to develop senior leaders to get them to problem-solve together and become more commercial about how we were using public money, so we could get to the right solutions faster. We partnered with Cirrus because they really understood the challenges we faced and their approach reflected our behaviours: collaborative, accountable, challenging and customer-focused.”

The solution

Network Rail and Cirrus worked together to design a bespoke programme, branded ‘Tomorrow’s Leaders’, consisting of the following four two-day modules:

1. Tomorrow’s People: To increase self-awareness using emotional intelligence and 360 feedback

2. Tomorrow’s Relationships: To build quality relationships that create high-performance teams

3. Tomorrow’s Organisation: To innovate, problem solve and collaborate to address future challenges

4. Tomorrow’s Change: To deliver change and the bigger picture with leadership development plans. In total, 116 senior leaders, including department heads, completed the programme in cohorts of 12.

“The best thing about Tomorrow’s Leaders was that, unlike the academic business school programme we previously had in place, it required leaders to work pragmatically on very real business challenges,” says Paul. “The way Cirrus used actors to create live business simulations produced a fantastic learning experience.” As well as supporting each leader with 1:1 coaching from the lead facilitator after each module, Cirrus also developed a Leadership App for Network Rail. “We use technology so much throughout the business, with everything from journey planners to digital information boards, so we really needed to exploit it more in our leadership development.  The Leadership App really pushed the boundaries of how we could bring technology into our development offering,” says Paul. “Our leaders really appreciated being able to access all the learning from the course via their smart phone in their pocket.”

The results

“Cirrus consistently delivered on everything we asked them to do,” says Paul. “80% of the senior leaders that took part said the development from Cirrus improved their ability to effectively manage people’s performance across different functions.” He adds, “Our leadership capability was tested when funding reductions meant we had to reduce our management headcount through a restructuring programme.  Those leaders who had been through the Cirrus programme said it greatly helped them to deliver and deal with that change.” He concludes, “Thanks to Cirrus, there are now some great examples of senior leaders working much more collaboratively on problems that couldn’t be solved in isolation. That’s helping us to improve the network to provide more frequent and reliable train journeys, to make Britain an even better place to do business.”

“Cirrus consistently delivered on everything we asked them to do and more.” 

• 80% of participants ‘strongly agree’ they have improved their ability to manage people’s performance effectively across different functions

• 80% of participants ‘strongly agree’ they have improved communications skills, self-awareness and emotional intelligence

• 20% quantifiable improvement in leadership effectiveness

“Tomorrow’s Leaders will make a real difference to our culture and performance.”

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