Sigma Components (Sigma) is a leading manufacturer of precision engineered aerospace products, with manufacturing facilities across the UK and China. It also offers customers a range of value-added services including global supply chain management, new product introduction and product lifecycle management.
Being a fast growing medium sized business, Chief Executive, Mark Johnson, had a sense that the organization needed greater coherence from the leadership team to support a high performing culture.
Diagnostic & programme set up
Space2BE started the process with a half-day diagnostic session, where it became clear that the team were hard-working, ambitious, loyal and target focused and were constantly balancing its efforts between the priorities of productivity versus quality, training and continuous improvement. This is a well-known story in manufacturing.
Drawing on three team development diagnostic tools the core emergent challenges related to: communication, conflict, lack of support, trust and relationships. The team recognised that they were not yet ‘high performing’ and were motivated to improve for the greater good of the company.
Space2BE proposed an integrated project identifying Sigma’s business challenge as requiring a ‘holistic high performing culture’. Essentially, the project would involve:
- One on one conversations with each team member to drill down into the issues and appetite for being part of the journey
- High Performing Team Workshops with tailored to the total team needs and designed to achieve cognitive and emotional shift
- One on one coaching for those that felt they would benefit from it
- Sharing of emergent Organisation Development reflections during the design and delivery processes i.e. feeding into a better understanding of their culture, experience, change and required people strategy to support Sigma’s agenda
- Cascading the HPT ethos to all teams
- Formulating methods for embedding & sustaining new behaviour
Project deliverables, ways of working and a reward mechanism were created. The reward for this project was structured differently to any other that Space2BE had done in the past as it included core payments plus special ‘bonus’ elements attached to outcomes. These outcomes were to be recognised by feedback ratings from each of the leadership team members at project milestones.
We set to work. Our journey to travel was designed using the Space2BE HPT process. With Sigma, we jointly agreed to theme the work “Good to Great” Jim Collins, 2001) because it fitted perfectly with Sigma’s desired strategic direction.
The Sigma Way – an easily understood strategy
Clearly Sigma’s success to date had been based on well thought out strategic analysis and tactics, however, as is typical with medium sized fast paced businesses, it had never been captured in a way that made sense to all throughout the business. This was our starting point. Space2BE created an aligned onepage strategy document, which could be shared with the Board, customers and employees, together with an underpinning RACI plan detailing each strategic goal and how it would be delivered.
Excitingly, ‘The Sigma Way’ was born – later to become known as the key strategic tool across the group.
The Space2BE HPT process
We were now able to co-create a definition of a high performing team within that context. From this we developed the gap and created the plan for addressing it. The longest and most challenging stage was then developing ‘the magic’ as depicted by our HPT model. This was where the ‘real’ work was to start.
Three full day team HPT sessions were designed and delivered over a 9-month process, which took the team on a journey of developing new thinking, new selfawareness and renewed motivation for being ‘one team’ instead of operating with a silo mentality. Towards the end these sessions included ‘straight talk team coaching’ sessions where open discussion around any aspect of the HPT process was encouraged.
Prior to this workshop a 360-degree feedback process was undertaken and 1:1 feedback sessions were given. Each leader was then given a series of 1:1 executive coaching sessions to work on their personal change goals within the context of now being a ‘high performing team’ member. As we all know, 360-degree feedback can be a tough experience and as this was the first time these leaders had done this, great care was taken in setting the process up and managing the feedback conversations. On occasion, three-way coaching sessions were organised to help improve the relationship and ways of working. The participants of these demonstrated courage, openness and commitment to change.
Striving to help Sigma ‘self-manage’ their high performing focus, in between the team workshops, leaders were asked to complete ‘embedding activities’ with their own teams often communicated by email ‘nudge documents’ – reminders, ideas and tools. I think this was one of the programme elements they struggled with the most.
A year into the process Sigma held a management conference at Cranfield which afforded us the opportunity to engage 60 managers from across the globe in the launch of ‘the Sigma Way’, the principles of ‘good to great’ and each individual strategic pillar. Each leadership team member led a section and shared their experience of the HPT process. The openness and vulnerability demonstrated by some of the general managers was deeply felt by everyone in the room and fair to say, this was a ‘first’. A greater sense of ‘connectedness’ ensued. It felt like a pinnacle moment for this team.
“The management conference was superb and a fantastic launch, we now need to communicate as planned to every employee what ‘The Sigma Way’ is”
At the end of the programme we designed and delivered a bespoke ‘Leadership Development Day’ which gave participants an opportunity to explore what ‘great leadership’ looks like at Sigma given the context of the Sigma Way Strategy and drawing on principles from ‘Good to Great’. The outcome was a Sigma Leadership Brand.
Overall huge progress had been made. Mark Johnson’s (CEO) own reflection on the programme …
“We all know that the performance of a business is directly linked to the
performance of its people… Through spending time working together on the issues associated with HPT, we were able to build mutual understanding, develop trust and to get our leadership team focused on the ‘bigger picture’. It takes time, but local ‘silo’-based local attitudes are disappearing and trust continues to build, allowing people to expand their local performance, that feeds into the greater success of the whole Group.”
Specifically, the first two HPT workshops were deemed a success by 88.9% of the team who felt they provided clarity on what a high performing team should look like within their business, provided tools to help them understand each other better and commented that trust and openness was increasing. Importantly for some, the coaching support around the edges was critical to shifting the dynamic of this team to ‘great’.
The later evaluations revealed some of the challenge in any change journey. People were in different places. Some loved the executive coaching components…
“I have developed my self-awareness considerably, it was something I
hadn’t previously considered as really important. I am more aligned to the HPT collective objectives and how I interact with the HPT post the coaching sessions. My coaching skills have also been developed significantly with some good working examples deployed, also the awareness of coaching requirements within my management team and the importance of giving them good honest feedback. Finally, using team participation and involvement to find the best solutions – stop and listen“
Others less so…
“It’s difficult to change very much after 38 years in work”
Lack of follow-up between sessions was an issue. The hard to break habits of focusing on the so called ‘day job’ were proving hard to break. Traditionally they say it takes 7 years to shift a culture, in this era, how many companies have this amount of time to do that?
The improvement of communication was deemed to be good 71.4% of them believe that communication has been improved ‘to a large extent’ amongst the leadership team.
The ‘Trust’ scores varied throughout the programme. Approximately half the team felt that it had improved significantly.
Their own reflections on why this was so are reflective of most teams in my experience:
Where ‘completely’ was not selected in the above two questions about communication and trust, which of the following reasons reflect you views?
|We need more time – it takes a long time to improve trust.
|Not everyone is at the same stage of self-awareness and development.
|We need more time together as a team.
|Under pressure we keep reverting to type.
|The HPT programme needed to be different.
A team member commented:
“Change is painful. It also requires enormous resilience and consistency from leadership.”
Reflecting on the journey Sigma has been on, Mark added:-
“In the same way that Success is a journey, not a destination, this is the same with Sigma… We are never complacent about our performance, but we now have a better understanding of each other and are developing the trust needed to enable us all to grow as individuals and as a high performing team.”
Cascading to other sites
Some months later we cascaded the process at one of their larger UK manufacturing sites based in Farnborough. This culminated with an inspiring and fun change workshop using storytelling techniques… helping the team leaders ‘let go of the old’, ‘embrace the now’ and ‘co-create the future’. A different experience for everyone in the room and one that received extremely high reviews.
“The session was very engaging and reignited a fire within me to keep
doing the right thing, and trying to make a difference, within the business”
Continuing the focus
Our learning and recommendations to Sigma for moving forward included the overriding message “to continue the work” and specifically several process improvement suggestions. One that stands out for me is the need to appoint
some internal sponsors to ensure that the ‘in between session’ actions and behaviours are delivered. The transfer of learning and capability for ‘selfcoaching’ and ‘monitoring’ would ideally be the next step as this fantastic organisation sustains its ‘greatness’ and continues to raise the bar for its customers.