We have worked on a range of projects in recent years that feature all the key elements of the Vogel Wakefield approach to leadership. Here are some of them.
Mental Health First Aid England
Mental Health First Aid England is one of Europe’s fastest growing companies. It trains people in how to support those who are experiencing mental health issues. Faced with the challenges that rapid growth brings, the founder-CEO, Poppy Jaman, engaged Vogel Wakefield to help foster distributed leadership in the organisation.
We worked initially with the five-strong team of directors, building on their already robust team ethos to take them to the next level of communication and collaboration. We were then invited to deliver a development programme for the wider leadership team of nine managers. We interviewed all those who would take part in the programme and used the resulting data as the basis for designing the programme in collaboration with Poppy and the COO, Fionuala Bonnar. We developed a programme of six day-long group modules supported by one-to-one coaching for each participant. The programme blended a curriculum of development topics (such as understanding oneself as a leader and leading through networks) with issues that emerged from the business in real time (such as prioritising the opportunities of growth). This provided a safe environment in which tensions could be surfaced and trade-offs explored collegiately.
“Engaging with Vogel Wakefield was an important next step for the growth of our organisation and its existing and emerging leaders. Our experience of the leadership development programme has been extremely positive and we have all benefitted hugely from the wealth of insight that both coaches, Mark and Martin, offered us. Every person in our leadership team has grown in confidence as a result of the programme and we continue to adopt the many useful techniques and practices taught on the course as part of our everyday business. I have no doubt that the skills we learnt over the year-long programme will enable us to continue to grow MHFA England at pace, whilst staying true to our core mission of increasing mental health literacy of our population at large”
– Poppy Jaman, CEO Mental Health First Aid England
The OU’s Vice-Chancellor required a new academic strategy to underpin an ambitious change programme. Kevin Hetherington, the Pro-VC for Research and Academic Strategy, was charged with delivering this. Kevin made it a top priority to engage staff in developing the strategy and he called in Vogel Wakefield for support.
We first interviewed a small number of academic staff to understand their views. We reported back to Kevin and his team and worked with them to design an immersive consultation day – involving nearly 100 participants from within and beyond the university. We then facilitated Kevin and his team in defining the strategy and working out how to use their diverse networks of influence to further engage staff. This entailed making the case for radical change while at the same time listening to legitimate concerns. Despite significant early opposition, the strategy was approved by an overwhelming majority at the university senate.
“It was exciting to work with Mark and Martin. They provided tremendous support in helping us develop our thinking around vision and staff engagement, and in challenging us to think boldly about what we wanted to achieve. This was a highly collaborative process and they became very much part of the team. Their workshops with us were well-planned, thorough, and thought-provoking. They are very knowledgeable of the challenges facing the university sector and are familiar with its ways of working. I wholeheartedly recommend them.”
– Kevin Hetherington, Pro-VC for Research and Academic Strategy, Open University
University of Leeds
Leeds University is one of Britain’s largest universities with a distinguished record in teaching and research across a broad range of disciplines. The University is committed to developing more interdisciplinary research, believing that only such an approach is capable of addressing the world’s most pressing problems. Establishing a Cultural Institute which will have global reach is central to this strategy, drawing as it will on the University’s fine record in the Arts, Humanities, Performing and Visual Arts and nationally significant collections of cultural assets.
The University asked Vogel Wakefield to work with two of its Deans to scope out a high level remit for the Institute using our proven public value methodology. We began by interviewing senior members of staff about their ambitions for the planned institute. Drawing on this research, we then facilitated the Deans in clarifying its core purposes and identifying the value it would create for the university, its students, cultural partners, and the wider city region. We then ran a large consultative event designed to engage both cultural partners and academics from other faculties in emerging thinking about the Institute and to gather their contributions to its development. As a result, formal approval for establishing the Institute has now been given and the project is entering its implementation phase.
“Over the period of a year we were able to develop an excellent and close working relationship with them. Martin and Mark bring many qualities to the table, and we were extremely impressed inter alia by their intellect, powers of spoken and written communication, their professionalism, tenacity of purpose, creative thinking and clear-sighted analysis of potential challenges — and identification of solutions to them. They are also possessed of a good humored drive and determination that was central to our making progress on a complex project with diverse stakeholders to a relatively tight schedule. They are efficient, reliable, uncomplicated and, not least, great fun to work with!”
– Frank Finlay, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Leeds
EngageTech is a fast-growing agency for developing sales leads in the tech sector. Anxious to keep all that’s best about the company’s culture as it grows, EngageTech’s founder, James Ellis, asked Vogel Wakefield to make an assessment as to whats’s working and what’s not working so well for employees. Chief among his concerns were how to maintain a clear focus on high performance while keeping EngageTech an enjoyable place to work, and how further to promote openness and transparency.
We spent time with James and EngageTech’s head of account management, Camilla Watson, clarifying the brief. We then conducted confidential, in-depth interviews with a cross-section of the workforce and analysed the data gathered to draw out common themes. In debriefing our findings with the company, we discussed strategies for addressing the issues identified. James and Camilla are working on implementing these strategies with a view to improving retention and improving sales performance.
“Our project with Vogel Wakefield has enabled us to start working towards a company culture that has been built from within by the team rather than dictated from above. Mark and Martin have taken time to understand how our business works and asked challenging questions about the kind of company that we want to be. It has been an amazing, collaborative process and we are now focused on making sure the suggestions are implemented. Most importantly their open, relaxed style meant that we were able to get to the crux of certain issues and tap into the existing company culture to understand how the team view ‘working at EngageTech’. I would not hesitate to recommend Mark, Martin and the whole Vogel Wakefield experience!”
– James Ellis, Founding Director, EngageTech
Softwire is a technical development agency which regularly features in the top 25 of the Sunday Times best small companies. 15 years since its founding, the firm has more than 100 employees. Bright, young recruits can rise quickly to management positions. Managing Director, Zoe Cunningham, and Operations Director, Andrew Thomas, asked Vogel Wakefield to investigate the development needs of a subsection of this group who work as project managers.
We interviewed a cross-section of project managers at different levels of seniority to assess their perceptions of: the autonomy and guidance they experience in their roles; their approach to defining success in projects; and meeting customer needs. We surfaced a diversity of views among the group, which pointed to an opportunity to create greater alignment around both Software’s distinctive strengths in its market and its approach to delivering customer value. We debriefed the findings with Zoe and Andrew and discussed strategies for addressing the points raised.
“Mark and Martin provided a really valuable service to us in interviewing key members of our delivery team and highlighting common themes and challenges. They did an excellent job of getting to the heart of our employees’ issues. The key outcomes for us were getting an outside opinion on our processes, hearing thoughts around the flip side of our most cherished policies and getting practical tips and techniques for improvement.”
– Zoe Cunningham, Managing Director, Softwire
BBC World Service
In the spring of 2014 the BBC World Service became fully integrated into the BBC. Along with new opportunities for career development, came challenges as well. Instead of guaranteed government funding, the World Service would need to make its case for licence fee revenue by demonstrating both the value to British audiences of its contribution and the effectiveness of its leadership and management. Vogel Wakefield were invited to analyse the development needs of the next generation of leaders in the Language Services and to advise on their structure.
Through a series of one-to-one interviews with managers and the 13 future leaders we identified a range of development needs. From these, a development plan is now being created with our input. Also, drawing on our findings, we facilitated the Controller of the Language Services in creating a new, more streamlined structure which removed a layer of management. Once this is in place, we will be working with the new leadership team to create a common leadership ethos.
“It is not by chance that Mark and Martin call themselves a ‘counter-consultancy’. There are no diagrams, no matrix and no pattern. This is about real attempts to find solutions to genuinely complex and tangled issues. And so they listen carefully, unpick and unravel knots and difficulties, restate and summarise, ask questions and ask again, then reflect back. They’re demanding and relish a challenge – they work with you rather than for you, they engage, collaborate and ensure clarity and precision prevail. And crucially they’re perfectly comfortable navigating different and seemingly contradictory worlds. I would recommend them without hesitating.”
– Liliane Landor, Controller of Languages, BBC
The Cultural Institute at King’s
The Cultural Institute at King’s is a flagship initiative at King’s College London, connecting the College with practitioners, policy makers, producers and participants across arts and culture. A year into its life and with many successful projects already running, the Institute invited us to review the workings of the senior management team. Our brief was to enable them to move beyond the the start-up phase so as to work effectively together with the momentum of an established venture.
Through interviews and workshops, we elicited the processes of each team and developed a common senior management process. This enabled them to assess incoming project proposals more effectively against strategic aims. The outcome has been to reduce duplication, strengthen collaborative working and create a stronger sense of shared purpose.
“I was delighted with Vogel Wakefield’s contribution. Mark and Martin took time to listen to the team and were effective in challenging and provoking open and valuable discussion and debate. They brought their extensive experience of a wide range of organisations to the particular challenges of this project, delivering a very positive experience that achieved the aim of building more effective, streamlined and efficient processes across the Institute.”
– Deborah Bull, Director, Cultural Partnerships, King’s College London
“Above all, they stayed with the work programme to the very end, despite numerous changes of direction and postponements. A very refreshing ‘consultant’ experience, conducted with mutual respect and in an atmosphere of trust. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.”
– Ruth Hogarth, Head of Administration, Cultural Partnerships, King’s College London
National Portrait Gallery
Faced with significant funding cuts from central government the Gallery turned to us to understand better its social value.
We designed a project to tap into the knowledge and perceptions of the workforce as well as understand its founding purposes and how these have been interpreted differently over time. We analysed the results to produce both options for increasing the Gallery’s impact and a draft framework for capturing its social value.
The Director and his senior team found our report stimulating and challenging. The Gallery commissioned us to develop this work further as a basis for revising its longer-term strategy.
“My colleagues and I found their approach to be diligent and well-honed… I would very much recommend Vogel Wakefield as a team that gets quickly to the heart of an organization, takes the trouble to find out what really makes it tick, and then helps make sure that it could be even better in the future.”
– Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery
Channel 4 Television
In 2013, Channel 4’s chief executive, David Abraham, set up three groupings of executives, each covering discreet areas of responsibility, with a view to ensuring in-depth consideration of key aspects of the channel’s business. A year after the new system came into effect, the chair of the Operations Executive, Glyn Isherwood, engaged Vogel Wakefield to review its work with a view to agreeing any necessary changes at an away day.
Through a series of 1:1 sessions, Mark Wakefield worked with Glyn to review the current work of the Operations Executive. This involved understanding its relationship to the other executive groupings and the main board, as well as its role in supporting Channel 4 to deliver its strategy. In reviewing both where the Operations Executive had had success and where it might reasonably expect to develop its work, Glyn saw the need to bring in new members representing other areas of the business and agree a more ambitious remit. Once this was clear, the challenge for the away day became to design and deliver an agenda that would renew the Operation Executive’s shared purpose and ambition around a revised remit.
“Mark played an important role in helping me focus on critical issues for the Operations Executive and proved an invaluable sounding board which helped develop my thinking for a forward looking agenda. He navigated the issues arising on our away day with a high degree of tact and skill which made for a successful outcome.”
– Glyn Isherwood, Group Finance Director, Channel 4 Television
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Kew needed to prepare an exposition of its public value to submit to an independent review of Kew’s funding and operations that had been commissioned by the Government.
The project involved interviewing senior personnel throughout the organisation, facilitating a constructive critique of the organisation’s case and synthesising a narrative for presentation to the review.
In the context of public expenditure cuts, the review recommended continued real terms funding for Kew.
“Martin established productive and mutually respectful relationships, being candid and challenging as well as supportive. Martin worked with a broad range of people on the Board of Trustees and senior management team to synthesise the diverse and complex aspects of Kew’s mission into a coherent and compelling narrative.”
– Professor Stephen Hopper, FLS, former Director and Chief Scientist at Kew