Improving morale within Northern Rail’s Engineering function

by Craig

The challenge

The engineering function at Northern Rail had a morale problem… and that morale problem was affecting performance (of people and of the trains that they maintained) and quality (of work being done and of leadership and management).

The solution

• a vision                                                        • an understanding

• a document                                                • ones to ones

• group and team workshops                    • time to involve team leaders

• a coaching approach to management   • spotting the stars

• to the shop-floor                                       • taking change by the hand

The result

• for the individuals who’ve embraced it we’ve seen promotions and much higher job satisfaction

• in the teams that have embraced the approach we’ve seen big productivity improvements, higher quality and standards, greater pride and better teamwork

• at the depots which have taken it on board, morale levels (as measured by the employee survey) are up

• for passengers, we’re seeing a more reliable train service

Want to know more?

a vision: we facilitated a few groups to come up with a vision that was meaningful and exciting for Engineering (and which was consistent with the vision for Northern Rail as a whole, of course), this gave a clear picture of where everyone was going

an understanding: we held some focus groups to get below the surface of the morale issue and to spot the behaviours that would move Engineering forwards. The understanding went the other way too – the guys started to understand that they personally were part of the problem and therefore part of the solution (yes, we know it’s a cliché but it’s a very appropriate one!)

a document: based on this understanding, we drafted a document and called it More Of This… quite simply, it listed out the behaviours and real examples that we needed to see more of

one to ones: we used the document as the basis for discussions with all 60 managers at the depots. With a coaching approach, we got each of them to hold a mirror up to see how well they stacked up and what they needed to work on and do more of. Then we had follow-up coaching sessions, sometimes observing them doing their jobs and giving live feedback and coaching. All this was pretty tough for lots of them because it was the first time they’d had such challenging questions as the ones we asked…

group and team workshops: during some of the one-to-ones it became clear that some group work was needed too so we ran various workshops. In many cases, these broke down years of unnecessary barriers between people and again there were some pretty tough conversations going on (and plenty of light bulbs switching on too!)

time to involve team leaders: workshops and one-to-ones with the team leaders got them engaged in the process, which was key to making a real difference at the front line… for the first time, these guys started to understand that their role was to lead their teams and challenge the unacceptable behaviours that were going on

a coaching approach to management: with all the groundwork done, it was time to start embedding More of This. We built the in-house capability of managers to be coaches so that they could bring out the best in their teams day-in day-out without an ongoing reliance on external support. About 60 managers came to one of the three-day Super Coach training courses that we ran and about 120 team leaders came to a 1-day coaching course. (As an aside, another training provider told us: “they will be a nightmare” but we chose not to accept that label. After all, you always see what you look for…)

spotting the stars: all of this development work has enabled the leadership team to spot who their stars and role-models are, which has informed their succession planning and their promotion decisions…

to the shop-floor: now it was time for the people who worked on the shop floor to get more involved. To do this we developed 20 people to be co-deliverers of a workshop called We All Have a Part to Play. The workshop was designed to help everyone explore the part they play in improving morale and in how it feels to work in Engineering. Again, this choice to build in-house capability puts the function in a strong position to keep the momentum going when new people join.

taking change by the hand: there are, of course, people on the shop-floor who are resisting this change and are determined to work how they’ve always worked… it’s normal human behaviour after all! We equipped some of the managers and team leaders with specific ‘handling resistance to change’ skills and this has helped shift people’s perception about the current and future changes…and also to manage the ‘resistors’ to change!

What Stuart said…

“Rambutan have helped both me and my senior team to understand what we need to do to deliver our business and the quality of discussion and challenge, at all levels of staff in Northern Engineering, is both refreshing, inspiring and starting to deliver our metrics, whilst exhibiting the right values and behaviours we strive for. A great team to work with’.

Stuart Draper, Engineering Director

If you’ve got a business challenge and this short story has whetted your appetite to tackle it with a refreshing approach then give Craig a call on 07889 810055 – he’d love to have a chat!