On course for success

The business

Morris and Spottiswood is a family-run firm established in 1925, specialising in interior fit-out, facilities management and social housing refurbishment.

The business has grown dramatically and now employs 555 staff in offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester. The workforce is divided equally between tradespeople and white-collar workers.

After a major board restructure in 2004, the HR team placed 29 managers on bespoke management programmes at the University of Durham’s business school, in a bid to improve their leadership skills.

The challenge

In 2004, Morris and Spottiswood created two new operational boards to support its main board, and HR director Allan Boyd felt managers’ leadership skills needed to be brought up to speed if the restructure was to be successful.

“We needed a programme that would give mid-level and senior managers a greater awareness of management and leadership,” he explains. The boards represent the two principle divisions of the company: fit-out and facilities management.

“Historically, senior managers weren’t aware of the wider aspects of the business and how they operate,” Boyd says. “While senior managers were proficient in their own area of management, they needed a better understanding of the business as a whole.”

The senior managers also needed to fully understand the financial and HR functions, and expand their marketing knowledge. And although mid-level managers were experienced at front-line leadership functions, they needed to learn more about motivation and inter-personal skills.

“As well as developing managers, we wanted management and leadership development courses to help support the growth of the business,” says Boyd. “All managers were expected to increase their range of competencies to enable the business to thrive and expand.”

The solution

Morris and Spottiswood chose the University of Durham business school because it was accessible to staff from the Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh offices. Plus, it offered tailor-made programmes, and Boyd felt the school had a reputation for working with smaller companies.
After consulting with training professionals at the business school, he asked Durham to set up two dedicated programmes, each tailored to match the new management and operational boards.

First, the enterprising management programme was aimed at senior management to address the long-term success of the business. It was designed to identify options available to managers, improve synergy across the business and help them make informed decisions for its future. Eighteen senior managers were initially involved in this programme.

Second, Durham came up with a professional development programme for the mid-level managers to focus on personal and management development. It centred on developing knowledge, skills and behaviour that would help them manage their own careers. Eleven operational managers were involved in this programme.

The two-day courses were residential, which allowed the participants to bond more as a team, and they ran every six weeks.

“The courses had to enable managers to get to know each other much better from a business and personal perspective,” explains Boyd. “In addition to aspects such as marketing and finance, the course had to teach them valuable people skills. We wanted the training to be reasonably academic, but also practical so it could be embraced by both levels of management.”

The courses were also designed to reflect real-life management issues experienced inside Morris and Spottiswood’s company culture – something Boyd describes as a ‘theory meets practice’ strategy.

The outcome

The programmes have already delivered tangible benefits to the management team, according to chairman George Morris.

“The first significant outcome was a much greater level of management understanding,” he says. “Managers now look at strategic development in a totally different light. We’ve run workshops on the back of the programme to build on learning outcomes, which have proved very successful.”

While Boyd believes it is too early see a reduction in staff turnover (currently 29%), the training has enabled senior staff to improve a range of management functions. These include areas such as management and leadership development, people skills and a greater knowledge of marketing and finance, he says.

A notable success of the programmes was the ability to identify managers who were deeply committed to the courses from those who were not. All participants had to undergo rigorous study, including dissertation writing, after each course module.

Seeing some participants struggle with the courses, the HR team gained an accurate picture of who was ‘management material’ and who was not. But Boyd praises managers who found the course difficult in light of the challenging academic workload.

The team bonding element was also a welcome bonus. “Before the programmes took place, the managers didn’t know each other very well and were alienated in their individual roles,” he says. “Now we have cohesion and competition within the boards. Competition can be healthy. This has certainly driven up management performance.”

Such has been the enthusiasm from managers on the enterprising management programme that some have even expressed an interest to study for a masters degree.

The management courses form just one part of Morris and Spottiswood’s commitment to people development. Last year, the company came 46th in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list, and won an Excellence in People Development award at the 2005 Glasgow Business Awards.

“We are fully committed to developing our people and have created a culture where they are commended for their efforts,” says Boyd. “It has never been more important for us to build a rewarding working environment. We believe this is what sets us apart from others in the industry.”

If I could do it again…

Morris and Spottiswood was originally concerned about placing managers on residential courses, but chairman George Morris advised HR managers to have faith.

“From a cost point of view, we initially thought a residential course was inappropriate,” he says. “Some elements were also too academic as for some individuals. However, the business school spent a lot of time basing the content on real-life situations from our organisation.”

HR director Allan Boyd adds that it is essential not to devalue the importance of a management and leadership develop-ment programme. “The effort participants put into the course is the real measure-ment of reward,” he says. “Looking back, it would have been better to ensure the course contents overlapped so managers could develop more all-round skills.”

The employee perspective

Susan Cardwell is the marketing manager at Morris and Spottiswood and has worked for the company for more than six years. She attended the enterprising management programme. “The course has improved my skills in two main areas: finance and people management,” she says. “I now have more commercial awareness of the financial side of the business. The great thing about the training is that it was tailored specifically to the company.”

From a people management perspective, Cardwell found the programme particularly beneficial as her marketing team had recently doubled in size. “Gaining a sound knowledge of recruitment and motivation was very important to me,” she says.

Guide to developing a successful management course in 3 steps

  1. Management education and academia are two different worlds, so make sure your expectations are realistic.
  2. Be mindful that courses are tailored to benefit business performance rather than an individual’s self-fulfilment.
  3. Ensure the programme providers spend time getting to know your organisation before they compile the modules.

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