Focus on First Group

Starting with the Individual: Focus on FirstGroup

“You can make quite a difference on an individual level” – is perhaps more often used in a motivational context rather than a reflective one. It was therefore inspiring to hear it come from one of our clients, FirstGroup, and used in reference to our latest collaborative research effort focused on the company’s Global Leadership Development Offering.

Janette Cowie, Group Leadership Development Manager, was our key contact throughout the process and was kind enough to give us some of her time to reflect on the project. Here are the lessons we came away with:

Use research to validate – and expect one or two surprises!

The original aim of the research project was to validate the existence of the company’s new Global Leadership Development Programme (GLDO). FirstGroup wanted to understand the value its leaders were taking from the programme as well as where most of the value was coming from. The great news was that the research validated the importance of the GLDO in the eyes of its participants.

It confirmed the team’s expectations in many ways, but also surprised them in others. For example, it was expected that the coaching element would help leaders identify their areas for improvement and become more self-aware. However, an additional and just as important benefit of the coaching was that leaders felt better able to translate strategy into practice.

An unanticipated, but really positive, finding was the extent of the progress that people had made as a result of the GLDO. Anecdotally feedback had been less emphatically positive, however when we measured on a broader basis we found that leaders were on the whole being really creative and proactive in terms of developing themselves. This showed the importance of collecting feedback on a broad and on-going basis.

Don’t be afraid to modify your approach if parameters change

Initially, the plan was to gather the feedback using an online survey. We progressed on this basis, creating the online questionnaire and testing it, but after a time FirstGroup found it necessary to reconsider how we could delve deeper into the response to obtain a richer view. As a result, we switched to telephone interviews.

Be clear on what you want the output of the research to be

An added challenge was the organisational changes occurring whilst the survey methodology was agreed and designed. It meant that some of the key stakeholders changed during the course of the research. Whilst these potential changes are difficult to foresee, it’s useful to already have obtained buy-in from current and anticipated internal stakeholders. It’s also helpful to be clear from the outset on what the output of the research should be. Know what you want to get out of the project, as this will help to frame what the methodology looks like.

FirstGroup needed to be agile; and in today’s world where change is so rapid it’s often necessary to review one’s approach to a project. Just like companies need to be agile, staff opinion research needs to become more agile and bespoke. However, the organisation needs to be ready for it. The annual survey needs to be bedded in, there needs to be the culture and systems to support innovation in that area.

Making a difference on an individual and group level

The feedback from the interviews provided FirstGroup with the data they needed to come up with some immediate and longer-term changes, such as: tweaks to the communications around the GLDO, following up with individuals who brought up specific requests or issues, establishing an internal coaching framework and improving alignment between the various development programmes. The great thing about responding to feedback, both immediately and over time, is that it sends a message to participants that their views were listened to and taken seriously. Not acting on feedback is a sure way to ensure disengagement rises and participation levels in future research drop.

Through working in partnership, we were able to provide FirstGroup with step-by-step guidance on the methodology for the project. The insight gained from the interviews proved useful both in terms of validating already-existing assessments of the programme as well as providing surprising new perspectives.

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