Transforming Thames Water through Leadership
In the 20 years since its privatisation Thames Water has experienced significant change, including acquisitions and international expansion. Following a return to focus on core UK water and wastewater services, the company wanted to review and develop its leadership population to ensure it would be fit for the future. The aims of this work were to create clear leadership expectations, a shift in leadership mind-sets and to drive a culture of engagement and performance.
The company made a commitment to transform its leadership in a way that could be felt positively throughout the organisation and filter through to its customers, with the vision being that, ‘if customers had a choice, they would choose Thames Water.’ In order to address this cultural shift, Thames Water wanted to choose a partner that would help transform leadership and management performance within the business, sharpening its commerciality and supporting a sustainable future.
Thames Water was very clear in that it wanted to appoint a partner rather than a supplier, so they could work cohesively to develop a training programme which would strongly support Thames Water’s business strategy. There was a huge commitment at board level, and Joolz Summers (Head of Talent at Thames Water) and her team worked closely with Dove Nest Group to create an on-going programme that would deliver sustainable business benefits.
The programme Dove Nest and Thames Water developed covers three levels of management:
- Foundation Leadership Programme (FLP) geared towards front-line people managers
- Advanced Learning Programme (ALP) aimed at middle management
- Strategic Leadership Programme (SLP) aimed at senior management
The FLP and ALP programmes are modular, each lasting 32 weeks, with an opportunity at 20 weeks to be granted a Licence to Lead. It’s important to note that only around 40% of participants gain their Licence to Lead at 20 weeks, with a further opportunity of gaining it at 32 weeks. Giving it to everyone at 20 weeks would make it worthless – there has to be a real value to it.
Each FLP and ALP programme begins with online testing, followed by a two-day workshop in Reading (Module 1) to clarify the roles of their management level and ensure they have the skills they need to be successful leaders. Participants, usually in cohorts of 9 – 12 from across the spectrum of the business, undergo a series of written exercises developed around Thames Water’s values, its business strategy, Leadership Success Factors and performance management to benchmark their ability. They also have to initiate a business challenge to be completed throughout the first 20 weeks of the programme.
Module two is a practical residential in Dove Nest’s venue aimed at building capability and confidence via a series of practical tasks and written assessments focused on leadership style and managing and leading change. Following this residential module, there are a further two half-day master classes, interspersed with telephone coaching from their facilitator and support from their Line Manager. The final module (Module 5), at 20 weeks, is a one day assessment and an opportunity to present the business challenge.
The programme culminates with a final graduation dinner, attended by the Thames Water CEO and Executive team members.
The Licence to Lead is awarded on a combination of results of assessments (benchmarked against the Leadership Success Factors), the participant’s personal development plan and the business challenge presentation. It’s by no means a foregone conclusion and a great deal of weight is placed on gaining your Licence within Thames Water.
750 managers completed the leadership programme.
“The Licence to Lead is a recognised and valuable benchmark in the Thames Water talent process. The graduation events are always really well attended and go down really well, and we’ve heard many personal journeys through the programmes resulting in significant change for the managers. Some of these stories include anecdotal evidence about positive impacts on their personal lives too.
The leadership programme has really changed the way our managers think about our business. Our CFO has quoted he can see and feel the change in his managers. We’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback from the managers who have completed the programme.
Obviously we are carrying out assessments at the start and completion of each cohort; we’re looking for an upward shift in overall competences and there’s definite 360 degree evidence of success. As well as that, there’s a huge amount of anecdotal evidence from participants, their colleagues and, of course, the views of the Chief Executive and senior stakeholders. We’ve also completed another evaluation 12 months on to regularly reflect on progress.”
Joolz Summers (Head of Talent, Thames Water)