Leadership development: Management goes nuclear

Leadership development doesn’t come cheap – as we report from one of the UK’s nuclear operators.

The nuclear fuel supply chain will be of greater importance in the years ahead as it results in the sustainable generation of zero carbon electricity globally. Uranium enrichment has a key part to play, while the importance of leadership and management of the process cannot be over-stressed.

Tailor-made

A £250,000 two-year contract to design and deliver a tailor-made leadership development programme for Chester-based uranium enrichment company Urenco UK was won recently by Manchester-based Total Excellence Centre (TEC), against keen competition.

Urenco is jointly owned by the UK, French and Dutch governments and has 20% of the world market for enriched uranium – booming thanks to growing demand for nuclear power. It sells nuclear fuel to power stations in most parts of the world and it produces more than 1,500 tonnes of fuel a year.

According to Urenco’s head of HR, Steve Ball, TEC won the leadership training deal because it offered a more practical programme than its rivals.

“The aims and objectives are to raise the standard of leadership performance at all levels within the organisation by pursuing a development programme that provides not just skills training but seeks to change the mindset of our leaders,” he adds.

“There’s an increasingly challenging leadership environment in the nuclear sector, with the emphasis on performance, accountability and delivery,” says Ball. “There’s significant change in the business requiring stronger and more inspirational leadership.”

The scope of the work involves delivery to all 100 leaders in Urenco in the UK, ranging from the managing director at the top to the deputy team leader in production facilities. It applies to all levels, not just the top tier. The programme is accredited to the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), with candidates who complete the course successfully being awarded an ILM Level 3.

Eight modules involve 12 learning days per leader, spread over 15 months, with the programme tailored around specific leadership standards.

“Competence assessment is built in,” says Ball. “There are two work-based assignments per leader, designed to assess what they’ve learned and how they’ve applied it in the work environment. The emphasis is on the application of skills, not just learning theory.”

Deliver

Echoing the emphasis, Michelle Mercer, director of TEC, says: “We feel we have produced a programme that will deliver great results. Urenco UK already has a good leadership team and committed workforce who we are helping to take to fresh heights. This will involve changing the long-standing culture within the business. We’re focusing on ensuring the training we deliver actually does impact on the day-to-day business.”

Ball indicates the leadership and development methodology that’s deployed is workshop-based and interactive, with a constantly-changing, mixed group of delegates. “There’s networking and sharing of cross-functional experiences, with every session delivered by TEC,” he says.

Success is measured in many ways. The ILM module programme is measured through the two work-based assignments. Overall assessment is provided through Urenco’s performance management system, which constantly measures and monitors progress.

Standards

“The leadership standards are a clear set of well-defined standards developed by our staff through a series of focus groups,” says Ball. “Employees – about 20% of the workforce – were split into groups and asked: how do you want to be led? What are the important factors?’ We chose three key themes for leadership standards: lead by example, focus on performance, and motivate – each has expectations and competences. Every leader understands what skills are expected of them.”

At the beginning of the process, every leader had to go through a 360-degree feedback exercise to identify which training and development programme needs to put in place. “It is an intranet tool designed specifically for Urenco to measure performance, with feedback from above, below and to the side,” says Ball.

“There are regular reviews between ourselves and TEC to see how the programme and delivery can be improved,” he says.

There is also feedback from leaders to shape how the programme rolls out – it is a long-term ILM development programme the start of major culture change, with leadership development becoming an ongoing process.

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