Financial Times

Our Challenge

Increased performance through learning partnership

Mise en scene: A Turn of Events

When we asked HR Director Audrey Stewart for her impression of the programme, her reply was so comprehensive that we have decided to let her tell the story. Along the way, we have included some of our own insight, but Audrey's words are her own.

What was different after the programme?

AS: The building recaptured the buzz it had in the early days. The business as a whole became slicker - ideas were quickly cascaded - people were keen to ask questions, to probe, to be curious - so projects were completed more quickly. Bad ideas were dropped faster and overall there was a marked change in pace.

There was suddenly a hunger to try things differently. There was a demand for senior managers to communicate more frequently and in different ways. It became impossible to find an empty meeting table - people were constantly joining people from other teams to discuss shared projects, people from opposite sides of the business worked together. Problems were overcome. Friendships sprung up with the unlikeliest of people.
In appraisals managers felt better equipped to handle the traumas of managing people, employees were more confident about talking - the learning needs identified by employees and managers were more specific and sensible.

The events are still talked about today.

Act I: The Beginning

There is a fast-moving culture at Buying and selling different companies, changing premises, constant reorganisation - the pace is, and always has been, relentless.

As part of dealing with an increasingly competitive environment, and to meet its aggressive targets, identified that its people needed to learn more quickly, more effectively, and more actively.

There was an additional motive to focus on L&D - the company wanted to acquire the government's Investors in People status. FT saw the award as a foundation, part of any intervention that increases speed of learning.

AS: I knew we needed something that would get the whole organisation open to the idea of learning, passing on knowledge, supporting each other, demanding to be better, to seek ways to improve everything we did, to question things and challenge. Something that opened everyone's eyes to the possibility of being great - of being a really slick organisation.
I had a vague notion of what I wanted, but I couldn't articulate it.

I met with two suppliers. I talked about the project and my thoughts - and tried to draw a picture of what I wanted. When I read the proposals submitted, it was clear that neither consultancy could see my picture. The ideas didn't even come close to satisfying my vision.

Maynard Leigh were already working with another part of the organisation when they were recommended to me, so I arranged a meeting. About 30 seconds into my description of what I hoped to achieve, the Maynard Leigh consultant said he thought he got it - and described what he thought he had understood from my brief - it was exactly what I had pictured - it was as if he had seen the picture inside my head and translated into words far more effectively than I could.

So, what made the difference?

Maynard Leigh always aims to work in close partnership with the client. Whether we are helping with a major change initiative or a specific development area, we find it more effective to generate proposals with those who need to make the change stick.

Our approach to change is that it starts with individuals. Ultimately, it is individuals who make change possible. So much of our change work inevitably begins with developing people, potential and performance.

For the project we adopted a five stage process:

Act 2: Curating the Curriculum

First, we worked with Audrey to clarify the objective and articulate the vision. What would be a successful outcome, and what was the compelling reason for change?

It became clear that the vision was to create a company that is:

Secondly, through individual and group meetings, we moved into diagnostics. We sought to understand the environment as it stood, the obstacles to creating the vision, and to identify the enablers of learning culture. Most importantly, we discussed how to increase buy-in to the programme as a whole.

Our findings prompted further creative discussion in partnership with FT. Together we identified four particular areas or pressure points on which to focus attention. These would be likely to generate an impetus towards the desired change and dramatically improve performance.

The diagnostics and partnership discussions led to the subsequent programme intervention design.

AS: The brief came back quickly - and went much further than I had hoped. Not only did it exactly capture what I wanted, it articulated the thinking that would underpin the programme. And it described a programme loaded with creativity, fun, passion and lots of learning - perfect for our fairly young and highly creative people.


A brief intermission now, to explain our thinking on learning in organisations.

"The only truly educated person is the one who has learned how to learn." - Carl Rodgers 

In business today, the speed of information gives particular power to those with knowledge. Almost the only way to maintain a competitive advantage is to accelerate the learning and development of an organisation's people, their response to innovation, knowledge sharing, and ability to adapt.

Maynard Leigh interprets this requirement to mean that organisations need people who are constantly growing within the company, through developing themselves and those around them. Grow your people, and you grow your company.

It's not enough for people learn how they learn - to become a true learning organisation, people also have to learn how to teach others.

"We believe that the most effective learning organisation is one that is also a teaching organisation," explains our CEO Stuart Mackenzie. "People need to coach those around them, both formally and informally. This creates a learning partnership and is the most powerful way to create a company fit for the future."

Back to FT. We designed for them two learning events: Curiosity Killed the Cat, and Fish.

Act 3: Putting on a Show

Curiosity Killed the Cat was a theatrical intervention, fast-moving and multi-layered. This event aimed to:

This workshop experience used a 360° stimulation and was highly interactive, using multi-media and accelerated learning.

Fish followed Curiosity, and aimed to embed and maintain an effective learning culture which constantly and consciously supported learning and teaching. Amongst other things, this demands an internal resource of competent coached. Fish's premise was simple: "Give a man a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed them for life."

This two-day learning event set out to inspire people to become effective coaches, and to provide them with the necessary know-how and practice. It offered the tools needed for coaching, both in formal and informal situations, and examined how one supports and challenges others to learn and develop.

As Deena Gornick, the Maynard Leigh consultant responsible for delivery explains:

"People learn by doing, so we wanted to create many opportunities in which to practice coaching skills. Learning should also be fun, so the whole experience was designed to be enjoyable as well as instructive. Most of all, it was intended to be of practical use, so we continuously related the learning back to real life issues within FT, to ensure that the skills could be directly applied to the business.

Next came implementation...

AS: We do not force anyone to do a course. It was important that we made any event attractive to the people. Maynard Leigh actively helped us promote the programme - for example, helping devise a slow burning campaign on email. Using lots of interesting and thought-provoking quotes released slowly and with no more explanation than the name of the course - everyone was intrigued and really keen to go on the programme.

"I can never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn." - Albert Einstein

People vary in how they learn, and while there is no secret formula, there are some key ingredients. Maynard Leigh specialises in creating the best environment for individuals to maximise their learning. We use ideas from theatre combined with business understanding, creating an exciting and fast-moving learning environment. We get people up and doing, rather than having them sat and being talked out. One of the most important ideas for us is rehearsal - we create a learning environment where people experiment, take risks, and grow.

AS: The programme itself was great. The layout, the huge amounts of props everywhere, and the initial ice breakers set the scene for a day loaded with experiences. It was fast, the activities were varied, techniques and models were delivered in interesting ways. It was impossible not to participate.

There was a buzz at the office as one group completed the programme, while other people hadn't yet attended. People were anxious for their manager or colleagues to attend so they could discuss what they had learned on the programme and agree how to do things differently.

Act 4: The Conclusion were awarded the Investors in People award - the first member of the FT Group to win at the first try.

The report from IIP spoke glowingly about the effects of the Maynard Leigh course on the culture. Audrey provided us with direct feedback from one of the managers, six months after she and her team participated in the programme:

"As a result people were (and still are) far more creative in the ways that they approach their work.
There were some excellent tools and techniques that we have used many times since, which have helped us to approach problems and challenges in a more complete sense. Communications have improved ever since. Excellent for team working. The ethos that it's OK to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them was a valuable concept that many people took away. An important outcome from the programme has been the creation of a strong culture of learning, including learning from mistakes and understanding, valuing and using diversity in teams."

We then asked Audrey what her final takeaways were of the course:

AS: This experience and the Maynard Leigh intervention has raised morale, changed the culture of meetings, built personal relationships and made learning fun. Coaching and co-coaching has also become strong, including modelling from senior managers.

When we submitted our application for IIP accreditation, we invited each team to produce evidence of how we met each of the IIP standards. The submissions were amazing - they were highly creative, they all talked about how the team communicated and learned and how that learning directly related to the business goals. If we had asked for that months before, the submissions would have been entirely different.

In the IIP interviews, Curiosity and Fish came up time and time again - people saw it as a start point, a catalyst, a foundation - the point that they learned to listen, to learn, to communicate, to share - it was the springboard.

Curtain Call

Because of its success in the UK, FT invited Maynard Leigh to New York to continue their work. Curiosity and its sequel Fish have both now run successfully in the USA.

If you'd like to hear how Maynard Leigh can help you improve performance dramatically, please get in contact on

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