Sam Stevenson

Organisational change can deliver real success, but commitment needs to come from the top

Bradley Honnor explains why the effort to improve the way teams and businesses operate through leadership development programmes requires engagement from the top down.

I’m often asked how MatchFit can demonstrate the ‘why’ when I discuss a leadership programme with a new client.

The answer is fairly simple. As in any purchase, it’s important to make sure the benefits are understood. You may well think that your business performance and culture are strong, but there is always room for improvement. Can ‘good’ become ‘great’? We ask that question – the honest answer is always ‘yes’.

It’s important to realise the benefits that improving from good to great can deliver for the business and what that means for the return on your investment.

We encourage clients to consider the pain and pleasure principle. The first task is to identify where they see the pain within the business. Is it poor performance, is it attrition rates? Is the senior leadership team overwhelmed, are teams and staff working in silos?

Once the pain has been identified, we can create a programme that identifies the opportunities to enhance performance and operational excellence and delivers the solutions.

Staff remain the biggest asset to any business. If you can progress, improve, enhance and build a team or organisational culture where people can thrive and take pleasure in working, the results can be significant both in performance and staff retention.

The success of any programme, however, depends on the level of engagement both during the programme itself and subsequently over time.

And that engagement has to start from the top. Senior management needs to lead by example and drive the process. More importantly, they need to been seen to drive the process. If the process is not seen to be top of the leadership agenda, it will not be top for the wider employee group.

When clear and engaged leadership is happening, we see nothing but good outcomes. When it is not, there is a significant chance that what we are trying to achieve with the client will fail.

Giving staff the time to succeed

As well as enjoying senior-staff sponsorship, the programme needs to be relevant to those participating, and to fit around their working days. People do not want to spend weeks out of the workplace, or away from their desks. The programme must recognise attendees have a day job to do and be structured to accommodate this.

Engagement also needs to go beyond the session itself. There needs to be the willingness to understand:

  • what changes are being suggested
  • why they have been suggested
  • the difference they will make to the individual and business and,
  • why it is important to put those into practice after the sessions have been completed.

Maintaining momentum post programme

Leadership development and driving change does not finish once the programme has come to an end. Maintaining momentum is vital to delivering success.

At this stage, MatchFit cannot directly influence the actions of the leadership team, so we advise creating a record of what the business and individuals say they are aiming to achieve and the actions required to do this.

That list needs to be focused and achievable. It’s better to have three or four specific actions that are more likely to be achieved, than 25 points which will be far harder to manage and record.

Team ethos and mutual accountability are also critical at this stage. Where these are strong, each member will feel responsible for playing their part and not letting the rest of the team down. Having multiple forums in which the actions can be reflected on, and success acknowledged and celebrated by the teams and wider business, is also important.

When there is strong leadership from the top, a culture of accountability, and pride and an understanding of the tools and techniques needed to affect positive change, then success is far more likely to follow.

Keeping the CLIMB momentum going – an Interview with Tim Forman

In a recent interview, MatchFit Consultant Tim Forman discussed how he has worked with the Civil Service HR Casework Team to deliver a CLIMB programme to the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee (OSPT) SLT (senior leadership team). The CLIMB programme is a multi-stage initiative that aims to improve performance and cohesion of an organisation. It includes interventions that cover technical and phenomenological aspects, as well as the CLIMB stages, which are designed to promote self-awareness, self-management, and team collaboration among others, to develop culture and achieve high performance.

This article highlights a new pilot project, called , aimed at keeping the positive momentum from the CLIMB by providing bridging support and coaching.

“I started working with the OSPT in the summer of 2021,” Tim explains.  “They completed a six-stage leadership CLIMB programme and have commenced the Shadow ExCo programme for 11 future leaders. In conjunction, we will be delivering a new pilot programme called RE3 aimed at continuing the momentum of the CLIMB.”

“Maintaining momentum after completing a leadership programme can be a challenge. That’s not always easy for an organisation on its own,” he says. “It’s often the case that once a programme has ended, the day-to-day stuff takes priority, and some of those valuable activities undertaken during the CLIMB pause, or timelines start to slip, because people are ‘busy’. The idea of RE3 is to provide a further step in order to keep the momentum going. We look at the results, refocus on the aims, and reinforce the skills, capability and confidence gained – hence RE3!

He praises the OSPT for their engagement and participation in the CLIMB leadership programme, which has led to excellent initiatives being taken with great results. “They have been exceptionally good across the senior leadership team, who are split into different teams. The work they’ve been engaged with has helped bring those teams together and break down silos, with lots of development actions coming out of it. They’ve been strong advocates, and very committed to following through on the actions that they’ve agreed to during the CLIMB programme. They’ve seen some very positive outcomes as a result,” he said.

Tim emphasises the importance of accountability in achieving these results, saying, “I’m sure we’ve all had the experience where an organisation decides they need to do something about issue A, understands why they need to do it and agrees on what they need to do. Then things come to a halt, because that accountability is the bit that is missing.”

“With the OSPT, they’ve been very clear on their priorities stage by stage in the programme and that has shown in the outcomes and the engagement of their people. They’ve really enthused about the ‘why’ of what they’re doing, to the extent that as the CLIMB came to an end, they were already in discussions with MatchFit around what they can do next and how we could keep that going. And the products of those conversations are that they’ve invested in the Shadow ExCo programme, and a pilot programme has been developed, which is RE3.”

The RE3 pilot project with OSPT is an exciting development for MatchFit, and Tim sees it as a valuable tool for maintaining momentum and achieving long-term results after completing a leadership programme.

He says “Whereas a standard post-programme check-in is a bit arbitrary, with RE3 there is a framework around which to keep the momentum going. So for example, if we look at the first of the RE3 elements, the results, the HR Technical Consultants are going to do an organisation-wide survey across OSPT to understand the impact of the technical and phenomenological interventions, and the six CLIMB stages.”

Apart from the survey, the results phase also includes a case audit, which will compare the current cases with those from before the programme’s implementation. The audit helps assess the impact of the programme on case handling.

At the refocus stage, two-way discussions are held with the key stakeholders to look at the survey and the case audit comparison and gain an understanding of OSPT’s perspective, refocus the client’s aims and objectives, highlight successes and identify areas for improvement.

Tim continues “There is also a wellbeing check led by the HRTC through 10 one-to-one meetings, and a workshop where we’ll talk about the impact both personally and professionally. And then the refocus will highlight wins, what’s been achieved and what’s still outstanding in terms of next steps.”

The final phase is reinforcing, consisting of a three-module coaching programme led by the HRTC. The aim of this is to upskill OSPT staff in coaching skills for the coaching and development of their own people. They’ll have a phenomenological toolbox of practical tools tailored to the needs of their clients. MatchFit then run a combined mediation and positioning session with the senior leadership team and the wider first line management team.

“This is an exciting phase,” says Tim. “We run sessions with the first line management team, combined with the SLT, where they are encouraged to understand one another’s perspectives, and, typically, reinforce the cultural changes and high performance identified throughout the CLIMB programme.”


In the beginning stages of any programme, there can be a degree of scepticism in some quarters. But the realisation that a senior leadership team are keen to share the room with line managers and work together, and the opportunity for line managers to enjoy a safe space to really get down into the details some of the subjects they wanted to talk about, quickly dispel any hesitancy.

Tim says “OSPT fully embraced the CLIMB programme, and their commitment to actions and belief in the process grew from early uncertainty, resulting in the achievement of quality outcomes. There was genuine appetite to develop the programme for the wider management cohort and their teams. The programme included a range of judiciously selected interventions, and the tremendous take-up across OSPT demonstrated.”

“The strength of our programmes is that we get to work people over a period of time,” he continues. “This is why recognising that every minute they spend with me, or in a one-to-one, or in coaching is time they’re not doing something else. So it’s got to be inherently valuable. If we have three hours in the room, with 10 people, that’s 30 hours of their time. There have to be top quality outcomes to make that 30 hours more valuable than anything else they will be doing in that time.”

Tim concludes “It’s important to highlight the commitment delivered by OSPT in wanting a continuation of the work the HRTC have been doing with them. It’s exciting for us at MatchFit to develop the RE3 pilot to support the growth, keep up the momentum gained in the CLIMB and develop leaders for the future. In doing so, we have the opportunity to learn from it with them and develop a programme we can share more widely. It’s a win-win!”

You can read the previous interview with Tim here

The Phenomenological Core of CLIMB

An interview with Bradley Honnor

In this article, MatchFit MD Bradley Honnor talks all things ‘phenomenological’ and how this philosophy is at the very heart of MatchFit and the CLIMB people development programme.

“Phenomenology is about the individual experience that each and every one of us has,” says Bradley. “If we all go to the same party, we will all have a different experience. Everyone might say they enjoyed it, but in reality we’ve each had a different evening to the others that were with us. Everybody thinks and behaves uniquely and phenomenology is the phenomenon of that individuality. It goes beyond the collective experience.”

“In a work context, if MatchFit is delivering to a group, everyone in the group saying they enjoyed the day is not a particularly useful insight, because each person will have had a unique experience,” he continues. “We want to tap into that uniqueness, because that’s where the real value lies for an individual.”

With MatchFit’s CLIMB programme, integrating this uniqueness is inherent in everything that the team does.

“Most leadership programmes work through off-the-shelf content that may or may not fit with each individual in the session,” says Bradley. “It’s fairly typical to be sent on a training programme about delegation, for example. But if an attendee doesn’t have a team, the day becomes irrelevant, and that person won’t engage.”

Every CLIMB is very much about focusing on what each individual needs, even within a group, which is why one-to-one, as well as group work is undertaken.

“We’ll sit down with *John* to look at Mastery, which is all about *John* becoming an expert in what he does. We’ll look at what he needs, his strengths and what development areas are relevant for him specifically,” continues Bradley.

The CLIMB facilitates somebody’s personal learning journey towards their own development. This can often be in a group environment. And when the group is brought together, it’s a collective because the group will have joint goals that it needs to achieve together.

“You can speak to that group as a collective in regard to its collective goals. But each individual will have a unique input and perspective on making those goals happen in their own specific areas. That’s why the CLIMB has always taken a phenomenological approach.

When we talk about  changing a culture, for example, what do we actually mean? Because the culture at work is going to be experienced differently by each individual. Some will find it fast-paced and exciting; others will find it high-pressured, oppressive and overwhelming. It’s the same culture externally, but it’s not necessarily the same culture individually. There is a phenomenological element, because of how we each interpret our particular environment in the context of how we’re experiencing it, here and now.” Bradley continues.

MatchFit consultants work with a group around their collective goals, and with individuals in terms of their individual contribution towards those goals. This explores issues such as motivation, and whether attendees actually want to do the type of activity that’s needed in order to deliver those collective goals.

“It’s not an approach that’s unfamiliar in coaching, but it differentiates MatchFit from other companies that deliver leadership programmes. Most leadership programmes provide prescribed content, which is what clients see and buy into. But we don’t have content and we don’t try to sell in that way – which does prove challenging at times!

What we actually want to do is go into a room with a team and a flip chart, pen and a blank piece of paper and ask ‘So what’s going on? What are the goals? What needs to happen to deliver those goals? What are the challenges and barriers?’

It’s a very effective methodology because everyone is identifying their own priorities, what’s important to them and what they want to engage in first. So you’ve got them on board immediately. You don’t have people sitting on the CLIMB wondering why they are there, because everybody has been able to contribute to the reason why they are there,” Bradley continues.

The CLIMB is a dynamic process with priorities often changing and evolving as the needs of the group and individuals within the group change.

“What’s important today might not be so important tomorrow,” Bradley points out. “And that’s okay. We don’t have to finish something purely because it’s been started. We can, and should, pivot very quickly according to need. That’s different to being in the middle of a standard leadership programme module, where you’ve either got to carry on, regardless of whether it’s relevant or not, or drop out and not complete it.

I often cite the example of making a presentation. You’ve prepared all your slides and know what you’re going to say. You’re halfway through your presentation and someone asks a question. In response to that question, you show them something on the flip chart that wasn’t in the presentation and may not even have been even relevant to its content. Then at the end of that day when you ask people what the most impactful part of session was, more often than not, they will say the moment when you discussed what was on the flipchart.

But on the whole, we’re just not used to operating like that. If you went on a leadership course, you’d want to see the content. You’d want to know what you’re covering on day one, when the breaks are, and how long the breaks are. Right from our school days we’ve had structure [a curriculum] and we are fed learning whether we want it or not. And adult learning is very similar.”

Bradley concludes, “This is why CLIMB has been so successful. It is different, because of that core phenomenology that’s fundamental to everything we deliver. And that is really important to MatchFit – because it’s what we know will ultimately deliver the best results for our clients.”

One Step Removed – the Challenges of Leading Remote Teams

By Bradley Honnor

With remote and hybrid working set to become normal working practice rather than a temporary emergency fix for some time to come, it’s interesting to note that levels of ‘quiet quitting’ and burnout reported in the workplace have rarely been higher. A Deloitte survey (1) found that 28% of employees either left or were planning to leave their jobs in 2021, with 61% citing poor mental health as the reason.

For many, the opportunity to avoid the commute and arrange work hours around life commitments has proved invaluable. But there’s little doubt that this flexibility can come at a cost, and does not always lead to increased productivity (2). For some remote workers, it’s harder to switch off, and many are reporting working longer hours since working from home (3).

Some major challenges fall out of this for leaders – how to guard against employee burnout, and how to keep staff motivated, creative and engaged, when face-to-face contact and those serendipitous ‘ah ha’ moments around the coffee machine have been all but eliminated.

The risk of burnout

It’s a sad fact that most of the organisations MatchFit are working with are talking about burnout to some degree. Many people feel like they, or someone they know, are heading towards a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. They’re using phrases like ‘unsustainable workload’ or ‘high-pressure culture’. Feelings of isolation can also affect mental health. People will be heading towards burnout if these issues aren’t resolved.

If burnout isn’t addressed, it can develop into a mental breakdown. You can often recognise when stress has become a problem by observing behaviours. People withdraw, or interact with others differently. Their behaviour or expression of their personality alters to some degree. It can escalate to the extent that it becomes associated with a culture of bullying, harassment and discrimination, because everyone is under stress, suffering from work pressures and taking it out on their colleagues.

This type of behaviour can become normalised, which means a lot of us are working in a very unhealthy way. Lots of people are working very late without lunch, or aren’t leaving their desk at all, because they’re working from home. They’re spending evenings and weekends working. We work with enough organisations to know that many people think this is normal!

However, there’s a whole continuum of things that happen before that point is reached, which does present an opportunity for intervention. It’s also important to recognise the difference between healthy levels of stress, such as those experienced with an approaching deadline, and the cumulative effects of prolonged stress from which periods of recovery have not been built in.

It’s also quite interesting to recognise that this is the opposite of how younger generations want to work. They are actively seeking—if not demanding—a different way.

So, one of the many challenges for leaders becomes ‘how do we pull apart the entrenched cultural mindset that long days and unhealthy ways of working are necessary evils for career progression, whilst reproducing the environment of creativity, learning and engagement that traditionally arose from office-based personal interactions?

Engagement is key

As a leader, you have to be smart and flexible, because if you insist that somebody works in a way that they don’t want to work, then they’re not going to stay around for very long. We know that a key motivator is for people to have autonomy and feel that they’re in control of how they work. A leader needs to accommodate this, because if they don’t, it’s going to backfire on them.

There’s plenty of evidence (4) supporting the model that flexibility in the way we’re allowed to work is as—if not more—productive than traditional patterns of long hours in the office with no lunchbreak, not least because that can lead to burnout. Leaders of today need to approach the issue with an open mind and work out how best to incorporate flexible working in a way that benefits both employees, and the business objectives.

However, creating connections and engaging with people working remotely is a different challenge. People do like to work remotely. There’s a ‘back to work’ policy right across the Civil Service now and a lot of people don’t want to come back. A survey (5) by broadband provider Gigabit Networks found that while 83% of businesses wanted their employees to be based in the office for at least three days per working week, only 20% of employees were prepared to do it.

Goals that motivate

Encouraging feelings of engagement with the business and with each other is harder to achieve when people are working remotely, so that isolation factor needs consideration. But motivating someone at home is not so very different to motivating them in the office. It centres around setting goals with a sense of purpose that inspire and stretch people, but not to the extent that they’re overwhelmed.

A sense of purpose and people feeling valued are key to intrinsic motivation. People need to feel important and that they have a voice. That’s one of the fundamental elements of the MatchFit CLIMB programme. Attendees are encouraged to identify and work through issues that are challenging to them, whether that’s a more junior member of staff wanting to be more confident in the workplace or a senior leader wanting to create a more engaged and motivated workforce.

How do you engage people and connect them together?

There is no magic wand. The unavoidable fact is that it takes effort – teams need to be bothered about getting together. We are, though, seeing an increase in teams getting together more from a social perspective. The work may be online, but when the team gets together, it’s actually to socialise.

It’s a given that managers should be asking how people are, and checking in to see how they are doing on a regular basis. But creating well-curated opportunities for people to convene, share ideas and feel a common purpose are also essential. Meetings for the sake of them just won’t cut it anymore, and are a waste of everyone’s time. But not every collaborative event has to have a firm agenda – informal virtual ‘drop-ins’ also have a role to play. They can be an enjoyable, low-pressure, way of fostering relationships, and some organisations have used them very successfully to enhance team cohesion.

And this is really important for creativity and innovation – we need to be bouncing ideas off other people. How many times has a throwaway remark or half-baked idea from one person, actually evolved into something tangible once another mind has engaged with it?

Ultimately, good management—and good corporate responsibility—is really thinking about how you connect people who are working remotely. This is the new world of work, so what is the plan?







Further reading

Health and wellbeing benchmarking tool launched

By the Numbers: Employee Burnout, Workplace Discrimination, and the Great Resignation

The financial cost of job burnout

Once burned out, twice shy: The unaffordable cost of work-related stress