MatchFit Methodology

A forward-thinking reskilling project with NatWest

There is no doubt that technology-driven changes to working practices can cut business operational costs, increase efficiency and deliver incredible benefits to customers. However, this can come at the cost of employment as automation replaces jobs, and the loss of intangible human skills and knowledge built up by employees over many years of experience.

This has been an area of focus for the NatWest Group, where a number of employees were at risk of redundancy due to the closure of branches and increasing digitisation of functions. The Group were interested in testing whether some of these employees could be reskilled and redeployed as software engineers within the organisation, thereby avoiding the loss of talented staff with customer-facing knowledge, as well as supporting staff at a difficult time. The third phase of this reskilling programme—and the point at which MatchFit became involved—entailed developing a suite of learning resources via an app, to develop the software engineering skills of the reskillers.

Heading up this project on behalf of the bank was Damian Sellers, Head of Tech/Change Workforce Capability at NatWest Group. We spoke to him about the project, whether he thinks it’s been successful, and what it means for the future.

Firstly, we asked Damian how and why he became involved.

“My role involved heading up the tech capability stream of our workforce enablement in our services space. Services in NatWest covers a broad area, but it comprises most of the system support functions; so mainly tech and change. It employs 30,000 people—half the bank—and what we were trying to do is look at what today’s skills are, and then, in this rapidly changing world around us, what skills would be needed in the future and what the gap will be.

Banks are also changing massively and instead of being these big grey monoliths, we are all trying our best to be agile, digitally savvy, and digital-based across everything we do. Everything is changing around us and the workforce needs to change too.  

NatWest are a purpose-led bank as well. That’s the strategy under new CEO, Alison Rose, the first ever female CEO of a ‘big four’ bank. Climate, enterprise and learning are the focus of our purpose, which is to champion the potential of people, families and businesses.

What we were looking at in our capability stream was ‘how can we align everything so that we’re doing the right thing for our people’, because NatWest don’t want to be a bank that hires and fires.  They want to take the talent out of those parts of the organisation where roles are being automated or digitalised and retrain those people.

So one thing we did, amongst others, is to pilot an upskilling programme. We invited at-risk colleagues—people that had already been told they were going to be made redundant— to apply for one of 20 software engineering training places.

Applicants were assessed and interviewed, and then the successful candidates became a cohort of 20 to be reskilled into software engineering roles within the bank. It’s quite an investment for the bank, because it takes roughly nine months to train people and place them in the businesses. We started with a three-month software engineering bootcamp, which trained them in the fundamentals of software engineering, then another three months of self-led tailored learning, with access to learning materials. Then crucially—and this is where MatchFit came in—we also suggested the idea of the reskillers actually doing a builder project.

A builder project is a recognised term within this kind of learning space and within technology. In this instance, it was to work on an external application build for one of our customers on a ‘no regrets’ basis. So essentially our customer, MatchFit, potentially benefits from the app build, and the bank gets a risk-free training area to test the project participants’ skills and develop their confidence.”

What have been the outcomes?

“The actual outcome is that the reskillers have been brilliant. They’ve built the app, with full front to back coverage and it is going to be great!

There have been some terrific stories! I would get a presentation from the reskilling cohort every week, where they reported on what they’d done; how the sprints went. There are some amazing stories, and for some this has been life changing. People have been really worried about the way forward, but we had no age cap on the project and some people in their 50s have taken the plunge and decided to try and re skill as a software engineer, which I think is so brave!

And now the bank also benefits from the fact that all of these customer-savvy people who know the products, know the customers, demonstrate great behaviours and are about to be deployed into the mix with quite a homogenised group of software engineers. In general, this is still male-dominated, still very tech-focussed, they’re all come from the same STEM university background. We’ve added in some people with very different backgrounds and that is really going to shake things up in a positive way!”

How does the app work?

“The MatchFit CLIMB model itself starts with a review across all the workforce which looks at ‘how good are you at: commitment, leadership, intensity, motivation and belief’. There are similar lenses for the HUMAN and TEAM models as well. This is explored via a questionnaire, produced as an analysis and then recommendations can be made according to any issues highlighted, with the appropriate intervention delivered. This is usually done face-to-face, with whiteboards, and people in a room.

The task was to translate this to an app. We coded it so that teams can be set up within the app, team members can answer all those questions in the app and grade themselves one to 10 on the answers.  It then produces a result and gives tailored learning based on any development areas, in all of those different categories. A matrix calculates which learning content a person should be directed to according to their score, and that content might be a video, recommended reading or a task.

There’s also a manager view, so a manager can get an anonymised aggregate score for their team in each of those categories within the CLIMB, HUMAN, or TEAM model. That manager can then see whether there is an area of weakness, and MatchFit can be called in to do some targeted leadership training, for example.”

What have been the challenges?

“The matrix is quite a complex algorithm to actually figure out – it’s really intermediate training rather than beginner. So the challenge was whether our trainee software engineers could build something that was getting more and more sophisticated. There were the security elements of it, as well as things from a functional perspective, such as password resets, and ‘what happens if I want to take someone out of my team; someone leaves; I add someone to the team? How does someone actually get access to the application in the first place?’  

It was also a challenge for me, in a small team, and I had to ensure I could translate the MatchFit brief accurately, and consider all the complex technical scenarios.”     

What would you consider a successful outcome from this project?

 “From a NatWest perspective, a successful outcome is that their reskillers benefit from it. If they’ve learnt key skills, keep their skills fresh and develop themselves through building this app, then that’s all I really care about. There would be a sense of pride for them, however, if it goes live and they can log on as a user and see what they built.


Although the cohort are now being placed in their new business units across the bank, they will continue to work on the MatchFit for a minimum of 30% of their time for at least another three months, because they won’t all start coding straight away due to the critical nature of the systems they’ll be working on.

The internal goodwill that was generated off the back of this has been fantastic. NatWest CEO Alison Rose heard about what we were doing, and sent each of our reskillers a personal email. The feedback was great – everyone recognises that it’s brilliant that the bank is supporting their people in this way, and it aligns with NatWest’s strategy and focus.

It’s not been without cost, but measured against the financial—and human—costs of redundancy, it has proven to be a very sound investment.”

When Team Opinions Divide

One of the key themes that emerged from our recent interview with MatchFit consultant Alison Phelan was how much divergence of opinion there could be within a team during the initial research and analysis phase of a MatchFit programme. Whether it’s thoughts on the culture; day-to-day experiences; or leadership, there are often wide-ranging opinions. 

Even within the individual there can be conflict – a person might absolutely love their job, and yet still have strong criticisms about things that they perceive to be going wrong.

This is actually fairly typical and illustrates just how complex company culture can be. It’s also why the phenomenological element is really important, because we can all experience a culture completely differently from one another, and even that is fluid.

“Do you like your job” may seem like a binary question, but actually, it’s more complicated than that. There may be aspects of my job that I enjoy, and others I find challenging or frustrating. But that might also depend on my frame of mind at the time.

Within any team, there will be polarities and that’s why we look at group dynamics. Because it’s a dynamic, it moves and changes, and that’s OK. That phenomenological aspect addresses this by looking quite literally at the here and now. There are similarities with what I often found in my psychotherapy work: an individual could be really consumed by a particular issue one week, and yet by the next session it wasn’t as important anymore. This was either because something else had taken priority, they felt differently about it, or had worked it through.

So it’s really important to think about the sort of assumptions that we might make, how they would impact the conversations we have, and how this will steer those conversations and the types of questions we might ask. Part of the skill of the facilitators, when we move on from the analysis phase, is to navigate those ever-changing dynamics for the individual and group. We look at how the individual can move towards having more of those components that they’re satisfied with, more often, and then how the team can unify themselves with a shared direction and joint objectives. We also have to appreciate that this is not always going to be cohesive, comfortable and positive for everyone all the time.  That’s the definition of dynamic.

The first thing a leader needs to do to help address some of these issues is to recognise individual experience, and not make assumptions about how someone should be experiencing the culture, and therefore categorising people into groups.  The most effective way to get to the bottom of what’s happening is by listening to the experiences people are having, but not asking leading questions to direct those conversations.

For example, in designing in a survey for a certain programme, we were asked why we hadn’t referred to a certain category of people and their experiences specifically. This was interesting, because there were many different identities of people that we weren’t asking about. Our response was that if those employees were experiencing the culture in a negative way specifically because of membership of that category, then this would be emerging organically, without bias, in the conversations.

Ultimately, it’s all about ‘how do you impact on the individual experience of people, their interpretation of their environment and culture, and how do you then collectively deliver across teams to try and unify people’s working alliances?’.

That isn’t really happening as much as I believe it should.

MatchFit Interview Series – Sarah Castle and Janet Peel, Ministry of Justice

The professional development of employees can be a sizeable financial commitment for organisations, and it is all too easy for budgets to be spent on short-term benefits that quickly fade away. Core to our MatchFit values, we work in partnership with our clients to facilitate the development process that drives real change, and empowers participants to embed this change in organisational culture.

As part of our ongoing series of interviews with clients and participants of our MatchFit CLIMB programme, we spoke to Sarah Castle – Official Solicitor and Public Trustee and Janet Peel – Deputy Public Trustee & Head of Operations and Private Office, of the Offices of the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee (an Arm’s length Body of the Ministry of Justice) about their experiences of this process so far.

What were the challenges that you were facing before working with the MatchFit and HRCT consultancy team?

Sarah: Janet and I have felt for some time that as a senior leadership team, we needed to start thinking cohesively as a unit, instead of in silos. We wanted to maximise our potential in working together as an SLT, so that was certainly a primary motivation. We have a lot of people who manage others in the OSPT (Official Solicitor and Public Trustee) team, with a lot of staff progressing up through the grades system. I wanted us to really help our managers to manage performance, guide progression, and have a better, more informed, understanding of what management actually means; how to manage difficult conversations et cetera. So it was both a senior leadership piece and also an opportunity for the general management and leadership path that we have for staff.

We felt lucky to be chosen for the MatchFit CLIMB project, as we know that not everyone has yet been offered it within the MoJ. Janet and I really grabbed it with both hands and wanted to maximise the input. We have genuinely loved and benefited from it – we’ve engaged with Bradley (Honnor) and Tim (Foreman) from MatchFit and we’re making real progress. Some of it has challenged us! We’ve used MatchFit as a sounding board, and been provided with really helpful feedback and advice. They’ve challenged us to push our vision through, and given us the confidence to move it forward.

We work closely with Tim and feel that because of his experience, he’s able manage things in quite a subtle and sensitive way, which has been of real value. He has great emotional intuition – some of our challenges are not straight forward, and he’s navigated this really well!

I don’t think we would have made that progress in quite the same way, at the pace we have, without that support and intervention from MatchFit.

Janet:  I agree – I think one of the big challenges has been around our vision and moving the organisation towards that and how it needs to be. A real sticking point was the fact that even at  SLT level, we were having difficulty moving forward and getting on board with the vision collectively. So to have this opportunity has been invaluable. We’ve had two of the CLIMB sessions so far, and there was a tangible shift in mindset from the first to the second. It feels like we’re making progress, and I don’t think we would have made that progress in quite the same way, at the pace we have, without that support and intervention from MatchFit.

So what changes have you seen?

The language has changed

Sarah: Our senior leadership team is partly made up of senior operational staff and partly senior lawyers. They are very different in terms of experience and approach! I think one of the changes I’ve seen is that there has been more receptiveness to seeing matters through a different perspective, and a move away from thinking that if someone is having a hard time, it’s purely their problem. I’m seeing a shift to a more supportive and understanding circle of colleagues. It’s hard work to get to that, but I really think we are making head road.

Janet: The language has changed as well – what was really interesting at the last CLIMB session was that there was a lot more talk in terms of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ and ‘my team’. That was a nice shift and I was really pleased to hear it.

Was there a pivotal moment that you could identify where you could say ‘this is actually making a difference’?

A relationship of trust has developed

Sarah: We have had a crisis in our work, to be honest, and as a result of that we had to have some very difficult conversations. The result of those conversations has been a positive shift. It wasn’t an anticipated crisis and it was painful at the time, but I think, now we’re coming out of it a little, it’s moved us on a lot in terms of relationships.

Janet: It has – but that is with the support of Tim and his colleagues. They really waded in to provide that assistance.

Sarah: They did – Janet and I trialled our plan with them and they said, ‘there’s nothing in there that doesn’t make sense’. They gave us the confidence and the push to go for it, which we did. They also helped in the background, having conversations with colleagues who had been affected by the plan and providing that independent support.

What’s happened subsequently is that a relationship of trust has developed, and I think that has enabled team members to be quite open and honest about what they’re feeling. There’s been this confidential sounding board that plays back what they’re saying and pushes them in the right direction, in a non-confrontational way. So I think this has helped a lot. This combination of interventions has moved us on, and some of it is quite subtle. I’m a bit worried for when the framework disappears!

I think you have to commit to the programme, there’s no point doing it half-heartedly. To do that, to buy into it and to trust the process, the personalities involved are really important. If you gel with the consultants who are chosen to work with you, then it’s a win-win. It feels as if there is a lot of science behind the programme. When you’re dealing with highly experienced professionals, the consultants also have to have experience and professional depth to work with them. Participants need to be challenged – they are in a position of leadership, and while Janet and I can keep reiterating the point, having that external professional presence has made a big difference.

How do you see the relationship developing?

I would have the consultancy here indefinitely

Sarah: We want to consolidate the progress we’ve made, and push it as far as we can go within the life of the programme. I would have the MatchFit and HRTC consultancy here indefinitely. I think we would really benefit from having ongoing input, because I’m hoping that over time, the senior leadership composition will change and there will be new faces, new ideas and more diversity in the leadership group.

Why would you recommend MatchFit?

It’s been one of the best things we’ve ever done.

Janet: The flexibility that they’ve shown has been a big factor for me, because we have been able to bounce ideas around with Tim, David and the others, and we hadn’t expected necessarily to have them as informal advisers. They were really happy to be responsive to our needs and flexible about what being on the programme meant for us.

Sarah: I’ve also been very impressed with how they’ve taken the time to really understand our business. You can’t work effectively with people if you don’t understand what they do, and they’ve really taken the time to do that. Because of that, it’s developed a trust and a respect that has truly helped senior colleagues buy into the process.

It’s been one of the best things we’ve ever done.

Janet: Without a shadow of a doubt. Especially given how short a time we’ve been on the programme so far – just six months. And of course the first three months really are about interrogating the data and getting information to inform the rest of the programme, so we’ve actually only been doing this in a meaningful way for three months. What we’ve derived from that three months has just been so impressive!

Sarah: Yes! And MatchFit don’t dictate to you, they work with you, and I think that’s really important. They want to set realistic goals with you. I found the analysis they did at the beginning and the report that they produced, holding a mirror up to our service, both a scary place to be and fascinating at the same time.

We will use that information, all of it, good and bad. It got under the skin of our organisation in a way that other interventions haven’t.  

I found it personally very supportive and I don’t want them to go! I don’t think you can make a better recommendation than that. I can see a place for them indefinitely as part of our ongoing leadership and management training. 

Alison Phealn

An Interview with new Consultant Alison Phelan

A recent addition to the team, Alison Phelan has a background and degree in Educational Research, which is proving very useful in the 360 Analysis element of her work with MatchFit.

We asked her about her background, her impressions of the MatchFit programme, and how her skills add value to the offer.

“I’ve worked in a number of management and professional roles in further and higher education in relation to workplace learning across a wide variety of industry sectors. Much of this involved engaging with employers in developing responsive training and development programmes. In order to build relationships and support the delivery of training, I had to become quite adept at quickly tuning into each industry’s unique challenges, developmental needs and culture. This experience has helped me, when interviewing people during the analysis stage, to understand and consider their comments within the context of the sector they are working within, their own workplace and their individual perspective.

Having experience of leading teams through restructures, evolving strategic aims and changing government priorities provides me with an insight into how we emotionally respond to change and uncertainty in the working environment. This has been very useful for my work at MatchFit, as I talk to a wide range of people throughout the analysis process, including managers and team leaders.

I started my career as a training assessor for government-funded vocational training programmes delivered by private training companies. The recipients included disadvantaged young people and adults who were very vulnerable and had a range of social problems and barriers to employment and further education.  I undertook a lot of one-to-one reviews and individual training plans with this group, some of whom were suffering from trauma and extreme anxiety.

Then for a couple of years I worked in recruitment, specialising in headhunting sales executives and managers within the IT and reprographic industry. This was for a small company that worked nationwide, so I got really good at doing remote interviews by telephone. I had to be able to draw out from potential candidates what they had achieved and the value they could bring to their next role.  

In my spare time I’m involved in supporting education and the NHS. I’ve recently been an advisor and one of the co-authors on an academic journal article which has just been accepted for publication in the British Journal of General Practice.”

How did you become aware of MatchFit?

“I met Bradley many years ago when I was consulting for a training company he was working for at the time. We kept in touch over the years, so when I was looking for some consultancy work recently I asked him if any of his clients might have something. He said that he was looking for someone to help with the MatchFit programme, so here I am!”

What do you think is different about the MatchFit approach?

“It is different from other kinds of staff development and leadership training because it doesn’t just provide a short-term solution. It’s a very personalised approach to each client and it’s a long-term proposition.

I also think that by involving staff at all levels, not just management, it provides a more inclusive way of working and a continual development framework. This supports improved performance and a better culture. A lot of training and development is about compliance; about the way things must be done.  The MatchFit model is more about developing a high-performing culture, and I just think it’s the right kind of offer for people right now. People are looking for something a bit different, that’s going to work long term. We’ve all seen staff development training programmes where someone comes in, delivers a great training session, and everybody goes back to their jobs fired up. But then nothing actually changes.

The way we work with our clients is via partnership, rather than the client just saying ‘here’s a problem, let’s pay someone to come in and make it go away’. The organisations we work with are really invested in the long-term vision of how the MatchFit model is going to work, how it’s going to be kept on track, revisiting it and checking in with the people involved. It’s a really good approach!”

MatchFit Consultants all come with unique skill sets. What does your experience bring to the programme?

“I think my experience of extensive one-to-one interviews and discussions with a wide range of people from different settings is extremely useful in this role. Often this has included sensitive information, which people have trusted me enough to share. Being able to accurately reflect in writing what has been said, whilst retaining both the important details and the anonymity of the person, is essential.”

Your work with MatchFit CLIMB involves the 360 Analysis – can you expand on this?  

“The 360 Analysis interview section is a range of open-ended questions which bring out people’s views about the culture and place where they work; about how they perceive their work within the team and how the team sees them. It also looks at how they feel about wellbeing within their organisation – is it good, bad, indifferent; are they supported? It examines perceptions of management and senior management and whether teams feel they are approachable; can they talk to them; do they feel respected by them.

There are also some questions about HR which are more about efficiency, and whether people are treated fairly and consistently. Clearly, it’s important that I ensure interviewees feel completely safe and comfortable talking to me, which is where my background comes in extremely useful. People need to feel assured that I’m conducting the interview from a position of absolute objectivity and will write it up in a way that is completely anonymous. People have been speaking very openly indeed about how they feel about certain issues, and it’s very interesting, as many of them have a lot to say, and there are some very different and mixed views!

This analysis is usually conducted after the organisation’s HR team have performed their own staff survey and analysis and reported their findings to us. Of course, what people will say to their organisation’s HR department might be the same, or slightly different to what they tell us. It’s important to get these two different views because then we can start to triangulate the findings and identify the similar themes and/or disparities.  One of our consultants will then speak to the Senior Leadership Team and see if their perceptions match what the staff are saying in terms of how things are run, how good or bad things are going.

I write up the analysis and include a number of the comments in order to give a balanced view and a feeling of what people are saying. I then make some recommendations for interventions that I feel the SLT would benefit from focussing on based on their short, medium and long-term goals. This is then added to the HR and Senior Leadership teams recommendations. The MatchFit CLIMB programme then starts from this point on.”

Have there been any surprising elements?

“What’s been surprising for me is that there can be such an assorted range of perceptions! Some people say everything about their job is absolutely fantastic, and then someone in the same department will give a completely different view.

What’s also very interesting is that people can have very mixed views within themselves – they might say everything is terrible; they never get to hear about anything; people don’t respect what their team does; and then in the same breath say ‘my job is the best job I’ve ever had, I love it!’ So there might be many reasons why they think their job is great, such as the camaraderie they have with the team, but on the other hand they’ll be listing all the things that are wrong, such as not having any resources.”

How do you see things progressing in the future?

“I’m really motivated by helping people, and for the work I do to help them fulfil their potential in both their organisation and their personal lives. People are more interested and aware now about emotional intelligence as well as just being good at specific elements of their job.

So I think the MatchFit approach is absolutely the right one for our times, and I look forward to helping build on this success.”

Wellbeing and the challenges for leadership

Wellbeing and the Challenges for Leadership

by Bradley Honnor

A topic that comes up frequently lately is how to make workplace wellbeing more than just a tick box exercise.

One of the issues at the forefront of this challenge for organisations is that we live in a commercial world. Our economic system is built around making money and long hours, which doesn’t necessarily fit naturally with the work-life balance. The complexity for a lot of businesses is that ultimately the goal is performance, so we want people working hard, engaged and smashing their targets.

Historically, we’ve associated hard work and long hours with commitment and performance; you could argue that someone like Elon Musk who’s worked extremely hard with really long days for many years—and insists on the same ethic from the people around him—has become successful and wealthy because of it. That obviously doesn’t take into account the personal sacrifice or the support system he must have had in place to achieve it, but the perception is still one of supreme success.

What’s come to light more recently, with more employees experiencing mental health concerns, is that there is a correlation between our physical and mental health, and our performance. There is evidence through psychology and neuroscience to suggest we think and perform better if we’re well-rested. There are lots of studies of athletes, for example, that show how performance and sleep are linked. There are even studies in the wider population which show that habitually sleeping less than seven hours a night increases susceptibility to respiratory infection!

Businesses are embracing the concept that looking after staff wellbeing is important for performance, but at the same time, the competition and the pressure to generate revenue has not gone away. The big challenge for leaders is how to make these agendas compatible.

This takes a leap of faith – it’s not necessarily something you can prove or immediately measure. The mixed messaging around working long, hard days versus how a work-life balance makes you a high performer and a more rounded individual just add to the challenges. As leaders, we have a responsibility to look after our team. It’s about saying ‘no, we want to be the type of organisation and culture where people are actually happy’.

Part of this responsibility is in modelling these behaviours ourselves. If an organisation is saying ‘we value wellbeing, there’s more to life than work’ but the leadership is still putting in those hours and not taking breaks, the subliminal message is still one of presenteeism; hard work, not smart work. So it is really important for leadership to do two things: to give people permission and make it clear that it’s okay to prioritise their wellbeing and, when they notice people aren’t doing that, to gently challenge it.

A leader needs to look for the signs that someone’s under pressure and getting stressed, and be prepared to take some work off them for a period of time, or find a way for them to get that space they need. It’s going to be different for everybody, and does require openness and trust.

A healthy culture is one where no-one feels guilty about having to pick up the kids, or has to pretend they’re not actually walking the dog when the boss rings after 5pm. And it’s not hard for leaders to foster this – there are techniques that can are quite easy to build into the day. For instance, I generally don’t book any calls on Wednesday or Friday afternoon. There are obviously things that sometimes creep in that may be too important to put off, but people do respect this and try not to book into that time.

It’s one of the tips we recommend to leaders on our CLIMB programme, because having time to think, reflect and strategise is invaluable. If you don’t block that space out it will naturally fill, like water in sand.

If leaders are walking the talk, it becomes much easier for their teams to follow.

An Interview with Consultant Heather Rayfield

The MatchFit team have been expanding rapidly over the last year, and have been fortunate to welcome a number of highly experienced consultants with diverse range of skills and credentials on board.

One of these is Heather Rayfield, a facilitator and coach who not only has a leadership and management background spanning 40 years in retail and finance, but also brings valuable perspective from her experience as a holistic practitioner.

We asked Heather how her management experience and focus on wellbeing inform her work.

“I was just 18 when I joined the House of Fraser Group as a management trainee” she says. “Retail was starting to buzz and things were really happening, so I had the most amazing time. I was out of my comfort zone every single day, but it was wonderful as I moved through all the operational sides of the business: from buying through to merchandising, logistics, day-to-day operations, finance, budgeting and, of course, leading a team.

Then I became a technical specialist, as I was asked to join a PR consultancy who were covering a lot of the expansion of retail parks and shopping centres modelled on the American-style malls. I specialised in the retail side, covering the launches with all the celebrities and ‘ra ra’; dealing with the media etc. But I also handled the other side, so dealing with the planners, developers and investors to actually get the shopping centre started.

From there I moved into financial services, where I spent 10 years working for a number of building societies and European banks. That was my doorway into training and people development, and that’s where I found my love of coaching. I took my ILM Level 7 in Executive Coaching and Mentoring and never looked back. I had found my passion, my purpose in life!

For the last ten years I’ve been working as an independent consultant, supporting organisations with leadership and management development, coaching assignments, and some customer service programmes. I’ve worked for a whole range of clients ranging from British Airways, Morrisons, American Express; worked in the third sector with charities and here I am in the public sector with the Ministry of Justice.

The connection with Bradley from MatchFit was made last March via LinkedIn. I think we just clicked, he liked my background and ethos, I liked the MatchFit approach, and I’ve been doing a lot of work for him ever since, which is really exciting and interesting.”

Is there a a specialist skill that you bring to the table?

“I think number one would be my deep understanding of management and leadership, having performed that role in blue-chip companies” she explains. “It gives me the credibility to walk through the door of an organisation and be able to cite the work I’ve done and the experience I have; demonstrating my understanding of a business’ operations.

Because I’m a facilitator and a coach, I’m able to bring the best of those two roles to any client I work with, looking at the bigger picture and then focussing in.

I’m also a holistic practitioner: I’m a clinical reflexologist and have certification with We Focus in corporate mental health and wellbeing. I’ve always been interested in mind/body/soul or spirit coming together to help people perform to the best of their ability, so this really informs my approach to my work.”

Are you finding that a holistic focus is becoming more important?

“It’s so interesting you said that. It comes up all the time and what I find is that people might come to me and say ‘I need some help with presenting’, so we start with that, and then we go deeper to understand what else is going on in their lives. That is where you can make real behavioural change.”

Looking at the work MatchFit are doing within Government Departments, what do you think have been their main development challenges?

“The first thing I would say is what a great group of people! They are really committed and passionate, and very clear on the organisational ‘why’. There’s always change coming of course, but they have real depths of technical specialism and take pride in what they do.

The main challenges I’ve noticed are actually quite common: they are very clear on the ‘why’ and the ‘what’, but it’s the ‘how’ where they need a bit of extra help. For example, areas such as prioritisation, energy management, and time management, particularly around hybrid/virtual working. We’ve had some good conversations about ‘what’s making you book meetings back-to-back? What’s stopping you from building in some breathing space?’.

I’ve also noticed this ideal of perfectionism. This resonates with me because I know that when you’re a technical specialist, you want perfect all the time. But we know that way lies madness, so we have to convert this from ‘practise makes perfect to practise makes permanent’. Stepping away from that need for perfectionism, which you don’t want to be carrying with you all the time, is OK. It’s OK to make a mistake. It’s what enables a growth mindset.

The final area is around autonomy. That’s the next move in terms of ‘OK, so now I know how to manage my energy and know how to prioritise myself, I know practise makes permanent. It’s about me now, stepping into leadership – how can I manage myself, lead myself more effectively?’

The ‘how’ of achieving this is something we are working on through the MatchFit CLIMB programme.

You mentioned energy management – can you expand on this?

“The first CLIMB Programme I ran was around impact, and being your best self. We did some work on being present and having presence, and found that while a lot of people had some experience of practices like yoga and mindfulness, they were unsure how to apply the concepts to their day-to-day work. The common problem is ‘how do I bring that into my daily practise when I’ve got 75 tasks on my To Do list?’

This is where my experience from the mental wellness programme comes in. It’s about introducing practical tools, tips and techniques such as the ‘constructive pause’. This is where you take a three-minute micro-break just to write down all the thoughts that come into your head; a process of clearing the clutter from the mind so that you can look at that those thoughts and observe ‘that’s really interesting, I don’t know why I was worried about why the windows need painting, let that one go. But actually, there’s something – I haven’t spoken to one of my colleagues for a couple of days, I need to give them a ring’. “

That’s not something that gets addressed very commonly in the workplace, is it?

“No, it isn’t. Sometimes we see these big wellbeing initiatives which talk about having fruit, doing yoga, having reflexology (which I would definitely recommend!). But it’s really about what that means day-to-day: what can I do to set myself up for success? It’s about senior leaders doing the same thing, and everybody bringing it into their daily practice.

Challenging this gently is also important. For example, where we see people booking back-to-back meetings, saying ‘what about having a 50-minute meeting instead of an hour? Can you achieve what you were going to do in 50 minutes rather than 60? Yes? Do it!’.

It’s a bit of a ‘permission piece’ as well.  We need that behaviour trickling out so that everybody’s doing it, or gently challenging each other to do it. If you can’t model the behaviour yourself, you can’t expect your teams to be modelling that behaviour.

Bradley has really encouraged the MatchFit team in this area, so we can always reach out and say ‘what’s top of our mind right now? What’s going well? What’s not going so well? What can we help you do, or your teams do differently?’ Having a curious mindset is not just important for consultants have, but for everyone to have.”

So how do you assess the results, whether the behaviours are embedding?

“As part of our MatchFit approach, we measure our work at four levels. From Reaction through to Behavioural Change. We also have a number of tools, such as psychological spacing and follow-up activities, as well as the coaching. How I would assess outcomes on a one-to-one basis is by looking at whether the person has achieved their goals, whether they’ve done something differently, and what impact that had.

With one of the current senior leadership teams I’m working with, an actual business project was part of the programme. This was really important, because that’s where you can really evidence new understanding and deep behavioural change. The results have been incredibly positive: the feedback was that when the group presented back with their findings and the results, there was real change – the needle had moved.

It’s wonderful when that business challenge element is woven through.

Other projects might be improving communication and team engagement, or setting up and training internal consultants. When projects are embedded within a development programme, it’s music to my ears, because then you can see things really working and getting tangible results.

Another way of validating whether what we’re doing is making change is when people come back on a workshop and report back what has happened since the last time. It might be something as simple as 4-7-8 breathing that they’ve used, found helpful and passed on to a partner.

How similar or different are people’s experiences of the programme?

I think there are some common similarities, but also some key differences. There are common threads which ensure everybody is aligned, and I love the phrase ‘freedom within a framework’. The framework is the CLIMB, the approach, the topics etc. so that people are all travelling along on that journey together. But there is also a huge opportunity to bring that back to ‘my why’.

This is achieved through coaching of course, but also through building in opportunities for reflective practice. We might discuss a topic in a workshop, but we then give people time to reflect on what that means to them personally, so they can see what it means in terms of the bigger ‘why’ for the organisation.

It’s really important to allow for both of these

Leadership: The gift of ring-fenced time

by Bradley Honnor

We were lucky recently to interview Lyn McDonald of the Cabinet Office, who was generous in sharing her insights and learning from MatchFit’s CLIMB programme she’s been participating in.

Lyn is a joy to work with, and I’ve personally been involved in the leadership development programme she’s engaged with, so it was really interesting to hear her personal views and how her expectations of both the programme and her role as a leader have changed.

She said something that really stood out to me:

MatchFit gave me time, and in asking me questions about my leadership, it’s allowed me to realise I am a leader. As an expert, a lot of what you invest in yourself is your technical expertise. But leadership is also a skill, and I’ve had a little bit of a realisation that I’ve grown in that regard. I’m starting to describe myself as the leader of three functions, not just as someone who heads up those functions. I have started trying to live in this as a leader. Yes, I am required to be an expert in order to lead other experts, but that’s no longer really my job. I now need to sit back and let others be the experts and to concentrate on getting better and better at the day job – which is leading! That for me has been a big gift.”

That first sentence is really key.

It’s incredibly valuable to give someone the opportunity to have time to consider their leadership, to reflect on what leadership actually is and what it means to them. The more programmes I’ve facilitated, the more I’ve realised that people are so consumed with running their business, that it’s not very often these opportunities to take time out arise. There’s little time to think about the approach, or the dynamics within a team, how the culture is developing, because everyone’s just doing their job.

Having worked with so many senior people, very often one of the key ‘penny drop’ moments is really appreciating the need to take that time to reflect. A key MatchFit post-intervention takeaway for leaders is to maintain that ring-fenced time; to consider their approach in how they are working, how the team is doing, and those other dynamic cultural leadership issues.

What I hear commonly from the leaders I work with is ‘I just didn’t really appreciate how important it was to block some time out in my diary to just think about my strategy rather than just the daily operational activities’.

The next point is about leadership being a skill.

That’s an interesting concept as well, because what that means is that we can become better leaders. We would be rather arrogant if we weren’t reviewing our leadership skills and enhancing them to be better leaders for other people.  The MatchFit perspective is that a leader is in part the servant of their team and develops the culture, with a responsibility to do this as effectively as possible.

‘Head down and running the business’ is not necessarily leading, so there’s real insight in Lyn’s quote. Leadership is a skill, which means that it can be refined and developed. We can become better at it, and we’ve got a responsibility to do that. Until we have the luxury of some time to really sit back and think about leadership as a skill, we don’t always get that insight.

Job titles designate the responsibilities of a role, but leading effectively is about the behaviours we exhibit in performing that role, and how that impacts the people we work with. How good do the people we’re leading feel about what they’re doing? How valued do they feel? How motivated and engaged are they? How productive and how committed are they?’

We should be asking ‘what do I need to change, or do differently to become a better leader?’.

Another element to consider is that often people are recruited into management roles because of their expertise in a particular function. You could be really great at selling and therefore promoted to sales director, but not actually have developed the skills to lead a team. There’s a real consequence to the business if that leadership element isn’t also in place. You could argue whether a leader really even needs to understand the specific day-to-day aspects of a business? It’s good practise, but if you have experts reporting to you, shouldn’t the expertise be their role?

Sitting back and allowing people to thrive; leading without a strangle-hold and giving people freedom to develop in their role just makes good sense, because we actually want leadership at all levels. A great leader can inspire that behaviour in everyone, which is very effective in creating high-performing teams. By trusting in the team and allowing people to flourish, it also creates a little bit more time and space for a leader to concentrate on the bigger strategic picture.

Ultimately, we all need development as individuals; in our approach, our practice and methodology.

Leadership as a skill is not a destination, it’s a journey.

A MatchFit interview with Lyn McDonald OBE of the Cabinet Office

In this interview, we talk to Lyn McDonald, the first ever female UK tax inspector specialist in financial transfer pricing. She reflects on the lessons from her unique career trajectory, the challenges of leadership in a large organisation and how working with MatchFit has helped her, and the wider impact it’s had for her team.

As a Political Philosophy graduate, Lyn joined the Civil Service in 1987 through the specialised Fast Stream programme, and chose the Inland Revenue out of the three departments in the scheme (the Foreign Office and the MOD being the other two). She spent 16 years as a tax inspector, specialising in international taxation and specifically on financial transfer pricing. This resulted in her becoming an expert in a very restricted, male-dominated but incredibly interesting area.

She says: “I was the first woman inspector to be given that position, at the time it was considered a bit hard and technical for the girls!

From there I set up the first risk area in HMRC and later joined the senior Civil Service in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) because I was curious to see what the rest of the Government did. However, the role was very different to what I thought I was there to do and somehow I ended up managing hundreds of people!

I started a project with the DWP called ‘Tell Us Once’, which was about how we treat people when they are at the worst or best points in their life. ‘Tell Us Once’ was the first ever cross-government programme, with the purpose that someone could tell government just once that they’d had a birth or a bereavement. It won lots of awards, and accelerated my career considerably.”

Lyn gained a reputation for speaking the blunt truth and was recruited into the Cabinet Office by (Lord) Francis Maude to work on grants, efficiency and effectiveness, which totalled £130 billion worth of expenditure every year.

She explains: “The Prime Minister wanted a review of counter-fraud and I was the only appropriate expert on the team. So I ended up doing the review and then it just grew and grew, and before I knew it, I was leading three functions for the whole of government and trying to work out how I ended up with 200 staff when I only ever planned for five!

Functional government is a reasonably new concept that’s of interest to the rest of the world, and will be quickly adopted by other governments, I suspect. If you think about the departments across government, they are organised into discrete areas: the Department for Education does what it says on the tin, then you have the DWP for benefits, jobs; HMRC for tax. We’ve been very good at picking out what we believe are the key elements to our society, and what we need to focus on.

At the head of this structure are the Permanent Secretaries. These are the accounting officers – the Chief Executive officers, in private terms. As accounting officers they are accountable for every penny spent and for everything that happens in their department. What Lord Maude discovered is that while we have a lot of expertise within government, we were short of subject matter experts, for example communications specialists. We now have 14 functions that run horizontally, and the leads have professional expertise, set the standards and lead the professions.

My area is called FEDG – “Fraud, Error, Debt and Grants.”

How did the Cabinet Office manage performance standards before working with MatchFit?

“We do performance reviews and staff surveys every year, but these can be a blunt instrument. I have 360 degree feedback from staff, colleagues and externals; then we do staff surveys. The staff will say how they’re feeling, what they’re happy about, what they’re not happy about and my performance is related to that. I could be brilliant, but if I get really bad staff survey scores I better be ready to explain why!

I think most people are frightened of feedback. Running an operational unit the way I did with ‘Tell Us Once’, the feedback was gold. I didn’t really understand what feedback was until ‘Tell Us Once’. It’s lovely when people tell you how well it’s going, but what you actually want is the person who tells you what you’ve done wrong, because then you can sort it, and more people are going to want to use it.

We designed ‘Tell Us Once’ from the outside in – we went out and spoke to bereaved people, and to the people who were delivering the service and they designed it. What we then did at the centre of government was make it happen. We said ‘go do it and come back and tell us what’s working, what’s not working and then we will put legislation in place or break down barriers or find you the money’.

Because we designed it as a strategic outcome, it meant that every local authority could administer it in a way that works for them. What works in the Scilly Isles with one death per year is not what works in a London Local Authority that’s got two major hospitals in its borough. Once you start working like that, feedback is your lifeblood.

And that works for staff as well. Is it a surprise that if you look at formal grievances, much of the time they’ve come from somebody who’s got a poor performance marking. If you don’t understand that then you are looking the wrong way. I can be asked ‘how did that person get it, did you put the wrong processes in place?’ But you can’t make a decision based on the number of grievances, those are indicators – not absolutes, because if you manage performance properly, you’re going to get poor performers either situationally or because someone is not right for the role, and dealing with that properly, helps individuals in your teams and of course your business. Getting continual feedback from staff is a brilliant way of finding out not just where they’re unhappy, but why. If you do it well, you get a chance to change, adopt and adapt in flight which helps individual and overall performance. In our business that makes a difference to the country. So the feedback is vital. While the quantitative information is useful, we tend not to do very well at qualitative feedback, and tend to shy away from it, get a bit nervous. However, both my boss and a colleague I work closely with, who also works for me are actually very good at doing that – they’ll say ‘are you open for some feedback’ and they’ll always tell me where I could have done better. I love that, because I can use it or ignore it—that’s entirely up to me—but if I don’t hear it, I’m never going to know whether I’ve just missed the opportunity of a lifetime to get it right.

How is the MatchFit CLIMB programme helping?

“MatchFit gives me that qualitative opportunity, gives me opportunities to get underneath. It doesn’t mean I’m suddenly going to make all my staff happy and give me 10/10, but it lets me see where I can add or change things. I can change the message, change the tone or the approach and I can work out where I can do that for the business. It’s a real chance just to sit back and look.

Initially, I was really cynical – I’m a Tax Inspector! However, I love to be the first to try things, it was a tick in the box, and I thought ‘you know what, it might just work’.”

So what convinced you of the programme’s merits?

“I think the joy of MatchFit CLIMB is that if you asked everybody else you would probably get a different answer. That’s one of the things I love about it – it takes on different forms because what you put into it is what you get out of it as well.

Where MatchFit has had a big impact for me, and the difference for me from other training, is it creates a safe space, and time to just think about these things. That doesn’t always sit well with others, that’s not the magic answer. They may not understand why we don’t ‘just do it anyway’. But the reality is that none of us actually do and sometimes it’s just not possible in a normal day.

Like any good therapy, the questions are what counts! My son’s an expert in conflict resolution and I sometimes go to him and say “I don’t understand why I can’t persuade ‘x’, or why ‘y’ thinks this, what do I do here?” and he always says to ask questions. Asking questions enables you to find out what’s going on, but people also find out about themselves and their motivations. So asking the right questions is how MatchFit has been guiding us back to really thinking about the issues.

As experts, we trust other experts. The fact that the training and techniques are delivered by trained psychologists means you’re immediately more relaxed. There is a predisposition among all of us that if you show up saying ‘I’ve got these qualifications and I’m accredited’ then we’re going to take your view, because that’s how we work. That’s a big thing for us and it’s allowed us to all sink into it and really think about it.

For me, it also came at a perfect time. My colleague Mark has been working for me for years. He came up through the ranks quite quickly, so at the start of Covid he was temporarily promoted to the same grade as me, so that we could do this project together. It was challenging for him, but it was also challenging for me – I wanted the help, but I’m used to being in charge!

MatchFit gave me time, and in asking me questions about my leadership, it’s allowed me to realise I am a leader. As an expert, a lot of what you invest in yourself is your technical expertise. But leadership is also a skill, and I’ve had a little bit of a realisation that I’ve grown in that regard.

I’m starting to describe myself as the leader of three functions, not just as someone who heads up those functions. I have started trying to live in this as a leader. Yes, I am required to be an expert in order to lead other experts, but that’s no longer really my job. I now need to sit back and let others be the experts and to concentrate on getting better and better at the day job – which is leading!

That for me has been a big gift.

MatchFit’s CLIMB programme is enabling me to enjoy my role more fully. I am interested in the concepts anyway, and read around the subject a lot, but it’s allowing me to think more about how I lead, what I’ve done, and how I show up as a leader. How I talk about leadership is as important as anything else that I do.

Really what it showed me was that if my staff results are bad it’s not necessarily my fault, but if I’m not being the leader how will I know? How will I know what can happen unless I step up to that and really pass it onto everybody else as well?

So I’ve spent a lot of time working with the staff around leadership that I wouldn’t have done before, and I’ve been getting fantastic feedback, which is a joy. My 360 degree feedback reinforced the point that if you put the effort in and you think about it properly and professionally and you make that your job, not the thing you do on the side, but the thing that you do – then you know it can make a difference. It makes a difference to people’s perceptions and it makes a difference to how they hear you. When I talk now in board or group meetings at the Cabinet Office, I’m no longer just talking as a niche expert, I’m talking as a leader. That has had an impact on me and I think that’s allowed me to make a big impact on my wider team as well.

The challenge I have now is how to roll this out to my wider team, because I would love to do that. I know it works and I want other people in the Cabinet Office to get in and do it as well. I just think it will help hugely with the challenges ahead.”

MatchFit Consultant Michael Brooke

An interview with MatchFit Consultant Michael Brooke

One of the unique things about the MatchFit programme is that it’s not a modular, scripted, off-the-shelf product. It evolves as a part of a consultative process, is very dynamic and so demands a lot of skill and experience from the facilitators tasked with managing the programmes.

A consultant that regularly delivers this unique MatchFit experience is Chartered Psychologist Michael Brooke, who worked with the business as client before becoming a member of the delivery team. We asked Michael how he came to work with Bradley and the team, and how his knowledge and expertise help him to deliver the business’s unique propositions.

“My experience is really very varied – as a Chartered Psychologist, I’ve obviously worked as a practitioner, but have also mixed this with in-house roles in some big organisations such as investment banks, law firms and wealth management. I was head of Learning and Development in a large investment bank in London when I met Bradley, who was an external supplier brought in to deliver training. We ended up co-delivering training there, as we got on well and were very like-minded.

I have worked with MatchFit since the beginning. The assignments are varied and you really do need to be able to think on your feet!”

What are the first things to think about when delivering a MatchFit intervention?

“We can’t go in with a script – we have to think about what the organisation needs, what are their issues, how well can we really understand them? What do we know about the science of behaviour, the psychology and all of the leadership evidence out there that will work for these people?  I think the skill is listening, and then talking about the right things, and really understanding them and their context before we start making suggestions. What MatchFit does well is that we immerse ourselves fully in the challenge, and work it out from the inside.

An example is a civil service client I’ve been working with around the CLIMB programme for their senior leadership team. The programme we developed for them consisted of up-front analysis, where we interviewed individuals and then worked with them one to one. We then engaged with them as a group, but the challenge has been that they are very outcome-focused, busy and slightly impatient to get into the ‘tough feedback’. So I’ve really had to hold my ground and not rush the process. I had my ideas of what the feedback should be but wasn’t going to share them until I really understood the issues.

We have now got to the point where we can say “This is what’s wrong and this is what you need to do about it” but it took a long time to develop the trust needed for them to actually listen and be open to the recommendations.

Another interesting example is the Prison Service. I needed to really immerse myself and spent a lot of time with the Governor of a certain prison in order to thoroughly understand it.

Although similarly challenging, the Governor and his team had very different needs to the previous example. While the environment is ‘rough and tough’, most of the problems arose because of how people were left feeling. The way a policy was interpreted, or how someone was spoken to – it was these small, day-today interactions that were causing a lot of the problems.

Telling a prison governor that he needs to be thinking about how people are left feeling is not something you do on day one!

I think a big contributor to MatchFit’s success is our credibility. With all the folks that Bradley has assembled, there is a real wealth of knowledge and experience, and that’s what underpins the service.”

So how do you go about extracting what the root causes of the problems actually are?

“That’s a great question. I would say it’s about really establishing our credibility, as I’ve mentioned, and showing that we’re listening – properly listening with an open mind. Then it’s insisting on having enough access to people before we start drawing conclusions. It’s a thorough exercise of getting under the skin of an organisation, and I think that is the key.

Establishing trust is vital – we work hard at creating an environment where people feel safe and can be incredibly honest. We fiercely protect this and people’s confidentiality – they need to feel they can tell us anything and it won’t be attributable to anybody (outside of the requirements of safeguarding, obviously).

People are often coming into the process with a lot of suspicion – sometimes they are not briefed fully, so they’re very rightly not sure what they are there for. They wander into the training room or another virtual call and they’re quite anxious. So the first thing we need to do is put them at ease. We have to show that we’re credible very quickly and gain trust, so that they really do start telling us what we need to know. Then we can really get under the skin of the problem. It’s the combination of ways that we do this which enables us to really delve deeply.”

If you’re meeting resistance, do you have a key question to break the deadlock?

“We will call it out – we are very nice, but we are also very direct, so in this situation I might say “Look, I’m getting a sense that this isn’t landing, so if this isn’t working, let’s talk about it.” If somebody is being difficult or disruptive, I might say one-to-one “If you’d rather not be part of this, I don’t want to waste your time”. However this is when people tend to open up and let you know what’s really annoyed them, that they should be somewhere else or they think this it is a waste of time. It’s about acknowledging that and, on occasion, saying “OK, don’t stay”.

But the really satisfying part of doing client programmes is turning people around who started like that. I had a great example recently with the prison service where the participants would vote with their feet if they didn’t want to attend – they would just not turn up.

I facilitated a long programme where it culminated in the real need to get certain groups of staff in the room together. I knew that certain ones were passive, in other words they just wouldn’t show up, but I also knew that if they heard via word of mouth that actually the last session was really helpful, they would join in.

I had one particularly tough cookie, who ended up apologising for how he’d been acting at the start and acknowledging that it had, in fact, been really helpful. This is what I enjoy most about the process.”

What would you say are the most common issues you find yourself having to address?

“How individuals operate under pressure is a common feature in the places we deliver the CLIMB programmes. People are often experiencing some difficulty, pressure or overload, so we relate to them by talking about understanding pressure and stress. I’ve got a certain set of models that I use that are a little bit different. They really people talking, and that always gets them interested.

For teams, there’s a lot of mileage in looking at strengths collectively, so I do a lot of work around ‘what have we got in the team’? Getting people to rate themselves informally really engages them to talk about what they’re good at and highlights the areas that need work.

For example, one of my favourite methods with a team is to say “Where do we think we are against what I think a high performing team does?  For instance, is there real clarity about who does what and what the aims are?” If they get to rate something like that anonymously, it’s very powerful. Then I might say “Where are you at on trust within this team, as we know that levels of trust are very high in a really good team that works well?” So if the team rates itself at 7, “How do we get that to 8?” This can open up hours of discussion!

Then we ask for the commitment “You’ve suggested it, why don’t you go and do it?” or “That’s a great idea, it’s come from you, what is going to stop you?” That’s usually where the resistance comes, usually that they won’t have time, so I’ll say “Well I’ll hold you accountable then – we’re going to ask you next time” and that’s a way of challenging the resistance.

Ultimately, our objective is to give people the tools to take away and independently create new, sustainable habits around high performance, that will also positively influence those around them.” 

MatchFit CLIMB: The Leadership Model for High Performance and Measurable Results

What is MatchFit CLIMB?

For organisations to compete effectively in today’s highly dynamic environments, they need eloquence across three core competences: leadership, communication and culture. The MatchFit model series has been designed to address these key areas at the heart of high performance.

According to the development goals to be addressed, a bespoke programme can be designed from the three MatchFit elements: HUMAN (culture), TEAM (communication) and CLIMB (leadership), using these models as lenses to explore and explain what is happening in terms of dynamics.

The CLIMB model came about as a response to MatchFit’s belief that many leadership training and development programmes suffer from the ‘training cliff’, where people participate in a course and the learning then ‘falls off a cliff’ when they walk out the door. Nothing changes, no one does anything differently and organisations spend large budgets without ever really knowing the outcome.

The conversations around how difficult it is to measure development, and how nebulous it is, have been rolling on for years. It is difficult: variables need to be isolated, to start with. If someone attends a training course and then becomes a better manager, is that due to the training, or is it because they simultaneously got a bonus, or experienced something positive in their personal life, and so feel happier, more motivated and engaged in their job? What has made that change happen needs to be specifically recognised.

However, it’s not impossible to agree success criteria before commencing a development programme. In many instances this gets over-complicated, when actually the simple questions are ‘What does success look like to my customer?’ ‘What needs to happen or change in order for us to feel that this had an impact?’

MatchFit Managing Director, Bradley Honnor, explains “The current methodology of learning often doesn’t work, and I can say this from my experience, having been in the industry for a long time. I’ve been a participant, developed solutions and delivered training for many organisations, from blue chip companies through to public sector and SMEs. The philosophy has always been similar: look online for some management training for middle managers, find a ‘From Manager to Leader’ course and then put a number of people through that course. We know the 70/20/10 model which says the way that we learn is 70% on-the-job experience; 20% being coached and only 10% is actually learning in a classroom-type environment. So why should so much money and time be invested in that ten percent?”

“I felt that there had to be something better” 

He continues: “I started to think about ‘what does high performance look like? When we talk about high performing teams and organisations, obviously it can be different in every business or team, but is there a way of breaking down the key principles?’

“CLIMB was built around this concept. Rather than delivering a training ‘day’, CLIMB has always been a programme, aimed at the very top of an organisation, all the way through the whole business, to include people from lower grades and junior roles; ideally with everybody participating to a greater or lesser extent. This ensures it becomes integrated into the culture and everybody is aware of why the ‘climb’ is taking place and what part they play in supporting it.”

For every client, a written CLIMB programme is specifically tailored each time. It is not about a standard training presentation. 

The journey is unique for every team that engages in it, and for every individual within each team. The agenda and interventions are set by taking the key stakeholders through a detailed initial stage to uncover the root of what needs to be addressed, but the programme evolves and adapts as it rolls out. The team identifies success criteria as they move through, and each individual can pick out elements unique to themselves as well.

This is a consultative process of experiential learning, so MatchFit’s role is to facilitate, rather than just ‘train’. This requires a lot of skill and experience from the MatchFit team to deliver. The client becomes a partner in the development agenda, and participants are asked to identify what’s not working from their own perspective and invited to consider what they might do to resolve the issues, with support and guidance. This approach achieves higher engagement, and suffers far less resistance.

MatchFit carried out extensive research to design the model and found some key components common to all high-performing teams, regardless of the industry or environment. Principally, there was always a sense of commitment; people had the appetite to be better developed, to grow and challenge themselves, their thinking and each other. There was a culture of ‘good isn’t good enough, we can be better’, a pursuit of excellence.

Leadership behaviour went hand-in-hand with commitment in creating the CLIMB programme. This was not just about a job title – it was about the people consistently seen being champions, and leading by their actions. They were overcoming problems, challenges, obstacles, politics, dynamics and resistance because of the commitment and leadership qualities they showed.

Similarly, the research identified intensity, motivation and belief. Fundamentally, it’s not enough to be really committed for a week and then lose motivation. That is an easy trap for organisations to fall into: to embark on a project that everyone is excited by, and then months later, people stop going, because there isn’t enough intensity. If you think about anyone who is highly successful in their field and then look at their level of intensity, sometimes it is even so high as to be detrimental to their relationships and the people around them. They are completely obsessive. It’s a very powerful component in success, but it does need to be balanced.

Motivation is an obvious component, but it is not always so simple to identify and harness. And then finally, there is belief.

Bradley expands: “We all know that high performing teams, individuals or organisations have a belief that they are world class, or their product is top of their field. If we don’t believe we can be better, do more, win that deal, negotiate that price or turn this customer relationship around, then we’ve already lost.”

The CLIMB concept, therefore, is about the pursuit of excellence as a journey, understanding that we can always be better, whether we are striving for the top of the mountain, or happy supporting the team at base camp. The programme is about better management or leadership, but also about consolidating, reflecting and taking time for self, if that’s more appropriate.

Ultimately, it’s about creating an environment where a person can thrive, according to their own value system, and develop their role and self, to maximise how they experience their working environment, and their success within it.