Integrated Leadership Development Programme for high-profile South African manufacturing business

Summary of our work with the top 70 leaders of a large, complex, culturally-diverse manufacturing site: supporting the site’s focus on measurable performance improvement through a multi-threaded programme of leadership learning.

Keywords: Consultants: Esther Cameron and Nick Mayhew | Keywords: Leadership Development; Performance Improvement; Culture Change; Middle Management Education; Ethnic Diversity; Manufacturing Sector; South Africa
Client: MD of large, complex, joint-venture manufacturing site.
Client issue: The business was experiencing a combination of continuing under-performance and growing competitive pressures externally. ‘Leadership’ headings in the annual staff survey had attracted relatively low scores over a number of years. The company decided that it needed to stimulate a step-change in contribution from its middle leaders – while realising that this would require development and support at a senior team level too.

The client wanted a provider that could simultaneously develop its leadership while also delivering tangible performance improvement within the business.

The site had a history of ‘top-down’ leadership that had left many mid-level leaders uncertain about their own authority levels and sense of agency and therefore retreating into the relative safety of silos. Many were operating as ‘technical managers’ rather than ‘people leaders’, and urgently needed to build their inter-personal skills and capacities.

The HR team, supported by the wider South African ‘transformation agenda’ and an internally-developed leadership development framework, were transforming their internal profile under new departmental leadership, but still struggling to work in partnership with senior leaders to deliver sustainable leadership improvements on the ground.

With a rich ethnic mix of Black African, Indian, Coloured, White South African and White European employees at all levels, a key challenge was to understand what leadership approaches would work best to engage this diversity and produce a step-change in performance across a wide-range of mission-critical disciplines and roles.

“The leadership programme was very intense for me and I learnt lots.
The consultants really listened, and then gave very detailed feedback.
There was no place to hide!”


Value Delivered

  • All 24 participants completed the leadership programme with 95%+ attendance rates and participant satisfaction rates consistently high, regarding all elements of the programme. This was unprecedented at middle leadership levels.

    “The engineers with high pressure roles would have had no qualms about saying they thought the programme was a waste of time if they thought so – and then just not turning up…”
    HR Manager

  • The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) was satisfied that 16 out of 24 participants had made ‘good’ to ‘very good’ progress as leaders via the programme, with 8 of these named as having made very significant improvements.
  • 70% of delegates reported progress of at least 60% achievement across the three leadership development objectives (LDOs) agreed with their Line Managers at the start of the programme, which were linked to specific work-place deliverables.
  • Clear, measurable progress was achieved against the ‘Leadership Improvement Agenda’ (LIA) – see below – following a diagnostic and engagement process, and buy-in by the site’s top 70 leaders
From To Av. score
Sept 2014
Av. score
Sept 2015
Going with the flow/waiting/reacting/fire-fighting – exacerbated by micro-management tendencies Being proactive, owning the problem, driving the solution, taking a strategic leadership stance… 31% 55%
Mellow performance management Setting clear goals; sustained and rigorous progress reviews; surfacing problems & struggles with courage and care; being accountable 41% 57%
Reliance on technical skill & ‘DIY’; shying away from complex people management Engaging our people, growing their skills & supporting innovation – with patience & resilience – maximising use of the latent capability/resource available. 33% 57%
Silo-thinking and behaviours ‘One Site’ thinking – connecting across teams/functions and enabling success for the whole 35% 55%
Being unaware of personal over-load and limitation, with reluctance to ask for help Self-awareness and openness to feedback and learning; moving beyond comfort-zone and reaching out for support 37% 56%
Limited cost/profit awareness and varying degrees of complacency Greater consideration of commercial drivers and global context, bringing urgency to delivery & improvement initiatives 34% 60%

Figure 1: Leadership Improvement Agenda – self-rated by top 70 leaders

  • The SLT started to show up more confidently and skillfully in the way they lead the site as a team, and as individuals.
  • The Extended Leadership Team (ELT) was increasingly seen by the top 70 leaders as a powerful forum for engagement and change, with more care being taken around agenda-setting, facilitation of discussions etc., building trust and alignment across this leadership group.

“The unique feature of Integral Change’s approach is that their leadership development programme is tailored to improve the capacity of each of the participants to deliver their and their teams’ business objectives – hence making a difference to the performance of the enterprise as well as growing individual leadership skills. Another key element is the way they have worked with, and coached, our senior leaders – putting structures in place to sustain individual and organisational improvements. Their tailored and intense approach across different layers of the organization has proven highly successful in the culturally-diverse setting of South Africa. We would love to continue working with them.”

Managing Director

At the time of writing, the MD and HR Team have invited us to a) repeat the programme for a further 32 mid-level leaders, b) continue coaching and upskilling the SLT in order to support this development agenda and deliver ongoing business performance improvement; c) help them to think through how to devise and launch a Front Line Leadership programme for supervisory leaders d) support both internal capacity-building and handover to an indigenous consultancy so the momentum of this work can be sustained.

The Work

The initial phase of work spanned 9 months, which we managed via a monthly rhythm of 5-10 days on-site then 10-15 days back in the UK doing desk-work and offering email/skype/telecom contact as appropriate.

Core elements were to:

  • Design and deliver a Leadership Programme for mid-level leaders (the level below the SLT)
  • Provide 1:1 coaching and team development support for the 10-strong Senior Leadership Team (SLT) – to enable them to lead their departments in a way that both developed their direct reports and improved their business performance.
  • Support the HR team to launch the programme and to engage the Top 70 leaders in a longer term Leadership Improvement Agenda (LIA)
  • Develop and facilitate the Top 70 Extended Leadership Team (ELT) forum – to grow alignment, mutual support and site-wide trust.

Our Approach

  • We designed a modular programme that could develop participants’ leadership from a wide range of starting points and respond to emergent business issues and related leadership dilemmas. This grew from the company’s existing leadership development framework, and was fleshed out and enlivened using our own Five Leadership Qualities framework (see Fig 2).
  • This design stemmed from some rapid diagnostic work, which in turn led to aligning the Senior Team around a site-wide ‘Leadership Improvement Agenda’ (LIA). This enabled the top-70 leadership population to agree on the purpose of the leadership programme, and facilitated regular self-assessment against clear criteria (see Fig 1.)
  • We supported the Senior Team to play their part as sponsors and coaches through focused 1:1 support and team sessions, working emergently to surface difficulties and concerns as ‘live’ issues arose.
  • We alighted on a tri-partite programme design, involving a) short, sharp teaching sessions for the whole group; b) coaching sets for smaller sub-groups and c) 1:1 coaching – including work-place visits and feedback. This rapidly built mutual respect and trust – and ensured our teaching was highly attuned and the participants learning was immediately relevant and applicable.
  • Each participant identified and codified their own three Leadership Development Objectives (LDOs) – to serve as a grounding focus and continuing thread through the programme, and to enable some measurement of individual progress. This progress was assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively via a 3-way review process involving ourselves, the participant and his/her line-manager.
  • Via regular monthly meetings with the HR Manager and the Head of Learning, plus confidential coaching support for the HR Manager, we built a robust, developmental partnership with the HR team that could withstand difficult feedback or unusual/exacting requests both ways. This also enabled this HR team to ‘own’ the Programme and its successes.
  • The above was balanced with light-touch, transparent contact with the MD, to advise and guide relevant developments at LT and ELT levels.
  • Stories and opinions were collected from the Extended Leadership Team via our on-line change-tracking and facilitation tool, ChangeWeaver. This valuable data – available to us in real-time when we were off-site – illuminated signs of improvement, while also pointing to our blind-spots and where/how engagement levels were varying across site.
  • As consultants/trainers, we worked in particularly ‘joined-up way’ – utilising our male/female and skill differences to offer a uniquely ‘whole-system-aware’ and wide-ranging form of intervention and learning.

“It’s made such a difference to my leadership to have the space to reflect and to get help. There’s no other forum where I can really do that openly.”

HR Manager

Appendix: Leadership Programme Elements

  1. Six ‘Skilling Session’ modules were delivered via monthly, 2.5 hour whole-group teaching sessions. The programme was based on the company’s own framework, fleshed out and enlivened by our Five Leadership Qualities (see Fig 2)
    Figure 2: Module Content (Click to enlarge image)

  3. Two days after each Skilling Session, we ran Coaching Sets for sub-groups of six leaders, to support application of the teaching, work through ‘live’ leadership issues and to grow a coaching culture of ‘high challenge, high support’.
  4. Each participant attended 3 x 1:1 intensive coaching sessions with one of us, focusing on progress against agreed Leadership Development Objectives (LDOs). These were informed by a bespoke 360 leadership assessment tool.
  5. Each participant was also observed at work e.g. running a meeting, convening a small discussion, carrying out a 1:1 etc. This was set-up by the participant and followed by feedback, attuned to their objectives. This also enabled us to pick up on wider leadership dynamics which enhanced the quality and acuity of our interactions with the senior team.

In addition

Each member of the Senior Leadership Team also completed the 360 feedback process, agreed their own set of LDOs, and received at least 3 coaching sessions from one of the consulting team. Some also went on to set-up workplace observations and to ask for team facilitation support.

Share this: