Broadened horizons

Martin Donelan, learning and development manager at Rolls-Royce in Bristol, explains how a new approach to leadership development has inspired its key people

Matrix Leadership Programme
Designed by: Common Purpose
Discovery House
28-42 Banner Street

Phone: 020 7608 8145

Rolls-Royce’s budget for training and educating its worldwide workforce is more than £30m a year. Some 4,000 of its 23,000 UK employees are based at its Bristol plant. To rise to the top of such a large company, people have to become experts in all aspects of leadership, from motivating and inspiring staff to increasing productivity. In short, these leaders develop the competencies needed to become brilliant at operating within the environment that is familiar to them.

But how effective are they when they need to operate outside the company, beyond their authority? Powerful leaders can run their operations with enormous skill, produce and deliver a plan, help colleagues to understand vision and rise to it, but can they deliver when there is no power to wield, and when the people they need to engage may not respond to their outreach? There is a growing recognition of the importance of leaders, particularly within large organisations, to operate effectively within their communities.

Aiding influence

To help leaders at Rolls-Royce influence the confines of their role and the organisation itself, some have participated in a unique leadership development programme that takes great leaders and teaches them how to be effective in this broader arena.

Common Purpose is an educational organisation that runs the UK’s most diverse leadership development programmes. Its leadership programme, Matrix, is a powerful educational experience that brings together leaders from all backgrounds, disciplines and sectors, and develops them to be more effective in their own organisations, and equally important, in the community and in society as a whole.

Matrix begins with a two-day residential course followed by a series of nine intensive days in the following year. Each day focuses on a different aspect of local life – crime, housing, the economy, transport, health, the environment, governance, culture and science. Participants grapple with real issues, participate in interactive exercises, panel discussions and debates, meet local, regional and national leaders, and make site visits.


For the past 10 years, Rolls-Royce in Bristol has nominated selected staff to take part in the Bristol Matrix programme. Director of Helicopter Engines, Rob Semple, completed the Bristol Matrix programme in 1998. He has since felt far better equipped to lead both his own team and also Rolls-Royce’s relationship with its immediate community in Bristol.

After completing the Matrix programme and working with fellow participants from the public and voluntary sectors, Semple had a greater understanding of how to work more effectively with local government and how to engage with the broader sphere of different interest groups in Bristol.

He has been instrumental in driving forward a series of initiatives that give the local community a stronger connection with the proceedings at the Rolls-Royce factory, including, for example, a telephone line the public can call if they have any concerns or questions about Rolls-Royce’s engine test operation in Bristol.

Common Purpose’s Matrix programme helped Semple to foster a better understanding between the company and the general public, which has had a direct and positive influence on the company’s operations. He has become a more effective decision-maker because he is more aware of the contexts in which decisions are being made and of their wider impact.

The benefit to the individual delegates is clear; Common Purpose opens the eyes of its participants to the way things work where they are based, and helps them develop the leadership competencies they need to be effective in areas beyond their authority. Because of the highly diverse nature of the programme’s participants, they develop powerful new networks of leaders in their locality whom they can learn from and turn to for support and challenge.

So, what are the benefits to Rolls-Royce of its investment in this unusual form of high-level leadership development? However effective a leader is within an organisation, they will be infinitely more effective if they can influence beyond their immediate environment. Matrix participants at Rolls-Royce are better able to spot new ideas and opportunities for the business. Most importantly, they gain fresh perspectives to tackle problems and challenges.

Studies have shown that an important factor in a company’s success is whether or not its leaders continue to learn and develop themselves. Common Purpose’s programmes provide an innovative approach that results in stronger, more inspired, better-networked leaders who are closer to their communities.

The return on investment for Rolls-Royce is that its Matrix participants benefit from shared learning, benchmarking of best practice and diverse networks of contacts that provide them with the kind of fresh perspectives that fuel innovation – vital to the success and longevity of any business, however big or small.


The Matrix programme is an effective tool for developing leaders by giving them a broader perspective on what leadership is about inside and outside of work.

Ability to meet business need    *****
Value for money           *****
Impact on the business  ****
Memorability  *****





Key: * disappointing * * * * * excellent

Comments are closed.