On the right track

31st August 2018

P20 21 on track

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Gemma Giribet

At Southern Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway, Sandra Norval helped develop the Towards a One Planet Railway Sustainability Strategy. She speaks to Jan Maskell about the learning outcomes (LOs) that emerged during the course of the project.

What role did leadership play in this strategic development?

Clear leadership at board level demonstrated commitment to what we were doing, while at senior leadership level I led the Area Champions for the Environment (ACEs) and developed the competency matrix. My colleagues supported activities within their teams.

Every day, ACEs showed how anyone involved with the strategy could lead from any position and be innovative within their role. Members of the environment team, as it is now, secured their positions through working with the developing competence matrix. The most significant example of progression was Jase Brooker, who had built his skills by talking to and engaging with people, and was then seconded to my team. When I left he secured the head of environment role, building on what we started and developing the competence matrix further to enhance the training programme. He is committed to growing the strategy. It was designed to be flexible, so it should change with the organisation.

The strategy is working because there is real power in seeing a peer taking action and making a change – it’s inspirational. One ACE initially experienced teasing from his team, who called his ACE work “a jolly”. Over time, members of the team were enthused, and their line manager encouraged others. Eventually, the entire team did ACE training. ACEs still take the lead on different projects, from nuisance management to increasing recycling.

Learning outcome: Leaders set a vision or direction and inspire others. Authentic leaders are motivated by their own convictions rather than status or benefits, and their actions are based on personal values. The work of Walumbwa, Avolio, Wernsing and Peterson (2008) and Luthans, Avolio, Avey and Norman (2007) indicates that self-knowledge – understanding your own strengths and weaknesses – is essential for authentic leadership. In order to be perceived as authentic by their followers, leaders have to be clear about what is important to them and demonstrate consistency between their values, their beliefs and what they do. Hope, optimism and resilience influence how well these leaders perform at work, and their levels of satisfaction.

We tend to focus on talent development only when people get to senior roles, but we need to enable others to lead and reach their potential earlier, and to learn to self- criticise and assess what will or will not work. As sustainability leaders, we should be helping others to be responsible.

How important were networks and partnerships in the strategy?

The main network was keen individuals who wanted to take on meaningful responsibilities alongside their key daily tasks. When I started we had 43 ACEs, some of whom were very active. There are now 100!

Being an ACE did not mean extra pay – the motivation had to be that they wanted to do it and make a difference.

Learning outcome: Meaning and purpose are key factors that contribute to positive psychological wellbeing at work, along with engagement and relationships. Seligman’s (2007) model includes five elements that contribute to psychological wellbeing, which can be applied to the work situation – the PERMA model:

  • Positive emotions – feeling good. There is a distinction between pleasure and enjoyment. Pleasure relates to satisfying bodily needs such as hunger, thirst or taking a long sleep after a tough day. Enjoyment comes from intellectual stimulation and creativity
  • Engagement – being completely absorbed in activities. This is the experience of becoming so absorbed in something that you lose sense of time. This is important for stretching our intelligence, skills and emotional capabilities
  • Relationships – being authentically connected to others. Strong relationships provide you with support during difficult times
  • Meaning – purposeful existence; the actions that bring meaning and fulfilment, and that enhance your wellbeing. Understanding the greater impact of your work, and why you chose to do that work, will help you to enjoy the tasks more and become more satisfied
  • Achievement – a sense of accomplishment and success. Achievement helps to build self-esteem and strengthens self-belief.

Networks of champions can contribute to these aspects by creating new ways of working. Sharing ideas develops relationships, engagement and positive emotions. Social support is also important, providing a buffer against stress at work.

The ACE network operated flexibly, taking different personalities into account. It was important to build relationships with other teams, give people opportunities to lead on projects and talk to people in similar roles.

Learning outcome: Setting goals can be an effective way to encourage groups to adopt norms that are consistent with what the organisation wants. The extensive work of Locke and Latham (2013) on the effectiveness of goal setting offers a well-developed theory on motivation, emphasising the important relationship between goals and performance. The most effective performances seem to result when goals are specific and challenging, when they evaluate performance and link to feedback on results, and when they create commitment and acceptance. The motivational impact of goals may be affected by factors such as ability, and our belief in our own ability. Deadlines improve the effectiveness of goals. A learning goal orientation leads to higher performance than a performance goal orientation, and group goal-setting is as important as individual goalsetting.

Our work connected with Community Rail Partnerships, which involve local people and organisations working together to improve their local railways by adopting and enhancing stations or routes.

We also developed a strong relationship with Biffa, which dealt with the franchises’ waste management. ACEs led a zero-waste project, gaining experience partnering with Biffa. This led to a commitment to add six more projects to the Govia Thameslink Rail franchise.

Learning outcome: As humans, we are embedded in a network of social relationships, and the people we are in contact with have a powerful influence on our behaviour – allowing behaviours to spread. Bicchieri (2005) describes how social norms often serve a useful purpose and create the foundation of behaviours.

In what ways were education, skills and training part of your strategy?

One of my most important personal drivers was the Future Leaders Programme – Southern’s senior leadership development programme. It gave me real insight into the world of learning and development. I had an amazing coach, who I questioned about the structure of the programme and how it could be adapted, and read about what other organisations were doing.

Learning outcome: To be effective, leadership development should incorporate: structured learning about models and tools; individualised development, such as coaching; and application to real projects or questions. Coaching is recognised as an effective approach to changing behaviour, being tailored to the individual, and based on the relationship between the coach and the leader. Bresser and Wilson (2010) identified personal growth and the efficient implementation of skills as two of the key benefits of coaching for individuals – both of which were results from the senior leadership development programme.

We must take care to provide appropriate training levels to key staff. The IEMA Skills Map was my inspiration for the competencies; I set five levels, from Awareness to Strategist, and set out any softer skills that were also relevant. This was a useful framework to tie in with the 10 One Planet principles, creating a matrix. Anyone could then select the level and principle they wanted to work on and hone their skills. They could choose several principles, or specialise in one – you could be, for example, a ‘social’ ACE. The framework was designed to be driven by the ACE so that they could do as much or as little as they wanted.

Learning outcome: According to the CIPD (2017), a good competency framework provides clear criteria for identifying achievement, training needs, and career development. This shifts the emphasis from organisational results to individual behaviours. Competency frameworks are often seen as way to achieve high organisational performance through focusing on and reviewing each individual’s capability and potential. A competency framework can also be a key element in any change management process, setting out new organisational requirements – as was the situation in the case study.

I created a set of forms to record the ACEs’ experience in sustainability topics as evidence of transferable skills, creating portfolios for one-to-ones or interviews. It was important these fitted in with other processes, such as Investors in People (IiP). ACEs could then talk about their learning, build their Personal Development Plan and negotiate time and support for their ACE activities. The matrix and ACE programme made a strong contribution to IiP reviews and was built in an iterative way.

Learning outcome: The two main uses of performance appraisal are the evaluation of an individual’s performance and strengths against a set of standards, and the identification of their development needs. The organisation’s procedures need to support the framework, and the culture, resourcing and management structures must be supportive too. Everyone who uses the framework needs to be trained in how to use it. A framework is a tool, and, as with any tool, if users don’t know how to use it, it will fall into disuse or fail to meet its full potential.

Would this matrix be transferable to other projects?

Some of the lessons learned can be adapted and transferred to other organisations. Understand the organisation and get people on board to build longevity. Try to integrate with the culture. Use and adapt existing frameworks, such as learning and development systems. Remember that you are only leading if somebody is following.

Learning outcome: Systems thinking (Popper, 1972) recognises the interrelatedness of distinct aspects of the organisation, such as employees, functions and services. These systems are integrated to achieve the goals of the organisation, and making a change to one part of the system requires consideration of the effects on other parts of the organisation.

Lessen the perceived amount of change by linking it to existing methods. This makes the change easier to implement, reducing potential resistance.

Communication is key. Try to understand blocks and barriers, recognise confidence or self-limiting beliefs and create a movement of people acting as advocates for the organisation but gaining benefits for themselves. Ask questions – what do people want to do to contribute?

Learning outcome: Effective consultation and communication is vital, particularly when bringing in changes, to ensure engagement and commitment. The communication of a change (Lawson and Price, 2003) should focus on why the change is happening, and on what employees care about and value. To gain their support, you must provide a compelling case for how the change will make them better off, or what they will get out of engaging with the change.

Language is a powerful tool – the way you express yourself can affect whether your message is received positively. Whatever you are trying to communicate, its impact can be affected by the use of positive language, which comes across as constructive rather than abrasive, hostile or confrontational. Using positive language tends to reduce conflict, improve communication and reduce defensiveness in others. It also helps to portray the speaker or writer as credible and respectable.

Norms, beliefs and values differ, but if cultural differences are considered, ideas can be transferred. To evolve, take the opportunity to create positive cultures.

Learning outcome: Eisenstat and Beer (1998) proposed the Organisation Fit Process to focus on the alignment between an organisation’s culture and its strategic direction. Culture provides a sense of identity, generates a sense of belonging and reinforces behaviour.

Sandra Norval is the managing director of Catalicity, and was formerly head of environment at Southern Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway Dr Jan Maskell is a registered occupational psychologist

Image credit: Shutterstock


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