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Business interview: connecting leadership development with strategy

Business interview: connecting leadership development with strategy

Kirsten Lightfoot recently spoke to Morgan Philips Talent Consulting’s James Moore about her approach to learning and development as well as her current priorities and challenges. Kirsten is currently the Head of People Development at Newcastle Building Society and has over 20 years’ experience in learning and development.

Kirsten, with your considerable experience, what do you consider to be the biggest change you have seen in the learning and development space over the last five years?

KL: There are a few things that have really been notable for me. I think the most obvious is the advancement in technology and that is on so many levels. Everything is connected in life through the ‘internet of things’ and that creates an expectation within the workplace. We’ve seen a huge change resulting from the advancement in technology. Things like e-learning, mobile learning, gamification, social learning, virtual and augmented reality are part of our everyday. This has shifted expectations, they are higher, everything is expected to be on-demand but this does not dilute the need for human intervention and human connection, it simply enriches it.

Coaching is by no means anything new, however, expectations around having a coaching culture have grown. People advance through taking responsibility for their learning and development. It isn’t something that can be done to someone, the person needs to want it, to own it and I think that has driven a shift in what we expect from our managers. We want them to coach and grow their people, be part of the journey.

Finally, there has been a real shift in what people want from learning. Time is so incredibly precious for everyone so learning must address the need of the individual. Even in classroom learning, it is much more discursive and interactive with people learning from one another. Rather than teaching theory and asking people to ‘go apply’, people problem solve through action learning, supported by their peers.

Learning feels more inclusive, more collaborative, more honest. We’ve moved away from ‘training’ people to be a specific ‘type’. We are now celebrating the fact that differences matter and drive diversity of thought. Authenticity is arguably the most important trait that anyone can bring to the table.

From a leadership development perspective, what are your main objectives at Newcastle Building Society?

KL: Our key objective is developing leaders who strengthen our organisation’s effectiveness. We need leaders who bring our Vision and Strategy to life and collaborate with one another to ensure organisational goals are delivered. We also want to enable a strong leadership bench which meets the future growth needs of the business. This means being able to identify those with leadership potential and being able to focus the leadership development needs for existing leaders.

What do you find are the biggest obstacles to achieving those objectives?

KL: Having the right partners and tools in place. It can be difficult to find a real partnership where the focus is on our needs and the solution is truly adaptive. One of the things I love about Morgan Philips Talent Consulting is that the team makes us feel like we are their only customer. It’s also about having the right data insights. I have on-demand access to our results and, with the click of a button, I can change our context and see how that impacts our talent picture. 

We have worked together for over two years now. In your opinion, what are the positives of using Morgan Philips Talent Consulting instead of building in-house capability?

KL: I don’t think it’s an either/or. The way our relationship has been set up is as a partnership. My team delivers the solution using the tools developed by the Morgan Philips team. It saves us a lot of time and energy as we know there is rigorous testing and scientific research underpinning the tools we use so we know we are working with the latest thinking. It is important to me that we work through our solutions together. Morgan Philips have worked with us to understand our context, our aims and current capability. That has meant that we are addressing our organisation’s needs rather than having an off-the-shelf solution. It enables us to have a tailored approach and the whole offering is agile and adaptable to our ever-evolving needs.

We often speak with people about the importance of taking the time to fully understand the talent context of their organisation before investing in specific initiatives. It sounds like you agree, and if so, what benefits have you seen from taking this approach?

KL: I absolutely agree. It’s all too easy to be sold a ‘programme’ that really delivers very little other than a good experience at the time. Assessing where we are and where we want to be provides a key focus and direction on what is the best approach for us. One of the key things for me is having the ability to push through the different levels of maturity when it comes to assessing future talent and having an objective lens to challenge the subjective view.

Our approach to leadership development has evolved over the past two years. We have formalised our Leadership Blueprint with the Executive team and a group of Business Leaders who completed the leadership context mapping exercise, giving us one clear and consistent narrative which we can use for leadership development across the whole business.

We have a robust set of assessment tools to support us in identifying leadership potential and assessing leadership performance. Our leaders receive a detailed development profile which provides development goals and this is coupled with a coaching profile which their manager can use to support them with their development needs. Leadership programmes are being redesigned to mirror the blueprint and we are looking to make the context mapping exercise an annual occurrence so we can measure progress and test that the direction continues to hold true.

If you’d like to learn more about Morgan Philips Talent Consulting and how we can help you unlock the potential of your people, email James Moore at or call 07814 193388.

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