G4S plc, based in London, is the world’s leading international security solutions group, which specializes in outsourced business processes in sectors where security and safety risks are considered a strategic threat. G4S employs over 620,000 people in more than 25 countries and is the world’s second largest private sector employer. Company turnover is roughly divided half and half, with 47% coming from Europe, and the other 53% divided between N. America and developing markets.
In addition to the challenges of managing a large, diverse and globally spread organization, the organization is in a process of change:
- Locations in NW Europe and S/SE Europe have been brought together only in the last 2 years;
- Companies located in Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Finland have all had their Cash operations, which constitute roughly half of G4S’s global business, integrated also very recently;
- The exit of longtime CEO Nick Buckles. Ashley Almanza, a very recent arrival at G4S as CFO, and new to the security industry, was promoted to CEO in his place.
Because of rapid growth and these shifts at the top of the organization, investment in leadership development had been put on the back burner in recent years. An attempt had been made to begin a European Leadership Program a couple of years previously, including selection of many suitable candidates, but was cancelled before it could take place. The current list of candidates was prepared in December, 2012. Because of both internal and external stability and employee satisfaction, it was very important to many stakeholders (candidates, their charges, HR, upper management, among others) that the current program begin as scheduled.
European Leadership Program
In order to design, develop and deliver the program, Regional Human Resources Director – Europe Peter Agergaard was looking for a new external leadership development company to partner with. He wanted something new, creative and different, something other than the standard management development program with its emphasis on cognitive knowledge and skills training. Preferably something with more strategic relevance, personal development and real-world application Additionally, because of all the recent worldwide acquisitions of smaller security companies, he wanted a program that emphasized the values of G4S, namely an open, creative, proactive organization which a transition from a man-hour provider to a solutions provider. The key of the program should be to transform the leadership of G4S from problem solvers to change agents with a shared vision.
De Baak was present on a list of 10 possible collaboration partners based on its strong reputation in the Netherlands, where many of the top management is located.
After an initial round, De Baak was selected as a short-list candidate and invited to Amsterdam to present ideas for the European Leadership Program. A very productive co-creation session resulted in a program that met the requirements. Some of the unique features of this program were:
- Action Learning: 4 strategically important projects would be defined that would act as a platform for learning, as well as providing business results for the company at completion. The projects would be based on the classic Reg Revans formula for Action Learning: P + Q = L, where P stands for programmed knowledge, Q for the structured questioning process, and L for learning.
- Online collaboration: given the fact that the course participants in the program, and their repsective Action Learning project teams, were geographically spread across Europe and the Middle East, a method for supporting synchronous project collaboration was needed. The existing tools within G4S (WebEx, the “Hub,” as well as internal knowledge bases) seemed to be adequate for this support.
- Upper management support: each of the Action Learning projects would be supported by mentors who would work directly with the team, and a project sponsor from upper management who would be the “owner” of the project, responsible for implementing the end results.
- Employer branding: part of the success formula for leadership development programs is visibility within the organization. Letting colleagues know that the company is investing in their personal development is a significant motivator. Therefore, giving attention to the program through internal marketing channels was also a feature of the program.
- Flow from and to existing management/leadership development programs
- Entrepreneurial methods: by encouraging the participants to seek out resources both within as well as outside the organization, as well as linking the Action Learning project to all levels, the course helps to support the entrepreneurial development of the participants.
G4S selected De Baak as its leadership development program partner, based on both the strength of the proposal as well as the creativity demonstrated by the co-creation process. The candidates were informed of the selection and all preparations were made to have 18 course participants travel to Amsterdam for the first of three European Leadership Program modules.
One week before the first module was set to take place, G4S instituted a company-wide freeze on all “non-essential expenses,” especially travel and lodging. In practice this meant that the first module of the ELP would not be able to take place as scheduled, as the participants would be traveling from all points of Europe, from as far away as Israel and Kazakhstan. The first module was also planned to consume an entire week in Amsterdam, which meant considerable lodging and per diem expenses for the entire group. It was with great disappointment that Peter Agergaard contacted De Baak with this news.
Considering the importance placed on having this program begin as scheduled, the anticipation that the selected candidates had in beginning the course, as well as the considerable investment made in partner selection, program design and development, cancelling the ELP altogether was not a decision taken lightly. Instead, Peter decided to postpone the program, with the first module taking place well into the first quarter of the following year, which assumed that the freeze on expenses would be lifted by then. The danger of this decision is that it might be met with scepticism from the candidates, especially considering the history of planned programs being cancelled altogether. This scepticism would have exactly the opposite effect on the organization as intended by offering a leadership development program in the first place. Instead of boosting morale and motivation, cancelling the program would most likely lead to demoralization and demotivation, especially among the selected candidates.
De Baak proposed an interim solution to G4S: to begin the Action Learning projects as scheduled, but treat it as a “prelude” to the program actually beginning the following quarter. This solution would:
- Demonstrate to the participants that, despite this setback, they are valuable to the organization and very much worth the investment in their personal and professional development;
- Start making progress on projects that potentially have significant business value to the organization;
- Demonstrate to G4S at all levels that the HR department is flexible and creative in finding solutions in developing its people, despite setbacks;
- Take advantage of the blocked agendas of the participants for the coming week they would otherwise have been in Amsterdam;
- Begin generating returns on the significant investment already made in the development and design process of the program.
The challenges to this proposed solution were two-fold:
1) The Action Learning formula of P + Q = L would not have the attention it would have received during the first face-to-face module. P being programmed knowledge in the form of:
- Listening, communication and coaching skills;
- Working collaboratively and team management;
- Intercultural differences and communication;
- Developing themselves as leaders;
- Questioning techniques and feedback methods.
2) Group cohesion and company-wide learning opportunities would be diminished due to a lack of initial face-to-face contact.
All of this would be exacerbated by attempting to run a project without a clear understanding of who your teammates are and what you have to offer each other. Nevertheless, it was decided that the benefits of the clear internal signal beginning the Action Learning projects would send, as well as the potential business-related benefits of successful projects, were strong enough arguments to begin the course in this manner.
This proposed solution, as well as G4S’s willingness to accept it, proves that the collaborative, co-creation relationship that was established early between De Baak and its client G4S has benefits that extend far beyond simple design of the program in the initial stages. This relationship has set the tone for a long-term collaborative relationship that extends into the delivery of the course itself. It is expected that this mutual respect and give-and-take from both sides will continue to benefit both parties long into the future. The projects are currently running and all of them appear to be successfully launched. It is expected that they will mainstream with the programmed knowledge offered when the formal face-to-face portion of the course begins. Not only will the participants have had significant contact with each other in the meantime, they will have built a store of shared experiences that can form the basis for cases over the entire course.