Asda Case Study - That all-important question, why?
Any piece of development needs to create a positive if it is to be deemed worthy of investment. At Cranfield Executive Development we are obsessed with impact. This series of articles has explored the nature of impact in relation to the Cranfield Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship, through interviewing a group of participants who are all senior leaders from the major retailer Asda.
In this final part, we ask the all-important question, “Why?”
Why does this apprenticeship create positive impact, and finally, why should someone invest their time and energy in this Apprenticeship?
Design for Impact™ research developed by Cranfield’s Dr Wendy Shepherd identifies that there are five key drivers which create success within an organisation, namely:
• Conversations and Communication,
• Relationships and Networking,
• Alignment and Priorities,
• Engagement and Motivation,
• Sense-making and Problem Solving.
These five drivers are woven into the design of every module. The Asda senior leaders whom I interviewed; Clare Connelly-Spry, Chris Gilmartin, David Marshall and Liz Richards, all shared examples of how they have been applying these drivers as a result of the apprenticeship They talked about how they approach conversations differently, how their communication approaches are more considered and tailored to the situation.
David, a Senior Manager in Automation, described how the range of models he learnt were helpful, but that what was critical to success was realising how to choose the right one. “You cannot just accept one model or lens for understanding a situation. You have to figure out what will work at the right time, and also which one which resonates with you. This enables you to choose an approach that fits with the authentic version of yourself.”
Their ability to create collaborative relationships and network more effectively within Asda came up in every interview. But this was not only the skills needed to network back in the workplace; they also networked while learning. Liz, a General Store Manager, described the programme as “Great for networking across the business because on each module we meet Asda people from all across the country. We learn so much more about Asda.”
David talked about how the fact it is a learning journey rather than a “two day hit” enabled him to gain insights on how to align with the business objectives, and to be clearer on his priorities. He said “The reflection is a skill I have honed. I am being far more thoughtful, and because the programme spans several months we revisit key pieces on different modules, so I can see myself improving each time. Because this is a journey, the learning becomes reinforced.”
“The reflection is a skill I have honed. I am being far more thoughtful, and because the programme spans several months we revisit key pieces on different modules, so I can see myself improving each time. Because this is a journey, the learning becomes reinforced.”
They all described how their ability to coach others was empowering their colleagues who were feeling more motivated and engaged as a result.
When it came to “Sense-making and Problem Solving” they had similar perspectives. Liz said “At this level you are expected to know everything, but you don’t. So this was an amazing opportunity to learn and grow.” David also said that colleagues often have the expectation that “you will be an expert”, and described how the statement from one of our faculty, Professor Neil Turner, really hit home for him. “Neil told us ‘All we want you to do is to think differently.’ I realised it wasn’t about gaining lots of knowledge and facts; it was about being open to thinking differently, and learning how to do that.”
Chris, a General Store Manager, talked about how the programme brought him a combination of fresh ideas and reinforcement of things he knew. “I thought it would be all about retail, all about Asda, but it wasn’t. I was amazed at the breadth. So, it removes you from your silo, and really stretches your thinking on what is driving industry.”
“I thought it would be all about retail, all about Asda, but it wasn’t. I was amazed at the breadth. So, it removes you from your silo, and really stretches your thinking on what is driving industry.”
He went on to say “The programme is brilliant for understanding industry, the economy, the world of work, and from a global viewpoint too. It has been refreshing to look at leadership from other perspectives and have access to renowned experts who publish.”
Clare also commented on how the programme’s breadth helped her to view problems differently. She said “Bringing ‘the outside in’ made me realise that one size doesn’t fit all.”
Cranfield’s consortium version of the apprenticeship, where participants from several different organisations come together as a collective learning cohort enhances this aspect of “bringing the outside in” even more. The consortium approach enables people to network and learn from people across a range of industry sectors, which will heighten the impact of “Sense-making and Problem Solving”. A further eight Asda Senior Leaders have just begun their journey on a consortium programme, and 25 more have signed up to join the next consortium which commences in March this year.
Another key factor for success on the Cranfield programme was identified as being Asda itself. David said “Asda have put so much investment into this – and not only funding. They have given us the time to do it. My line manager attends tripartite reviews with my apprenticeship tutor, and is actively supporting me.”
Liz concurred, “In Asda, if you put yourself forward for development and show personal commitment then Asda will give you the support.”
They all acknowledged that the programme requires both time and effort on their part, so I ended by asking them to sum up why a person should invest that energy.
Clare – “It fulfilled my expectations. It is well-rounded development of leadership practice. The modules I thought I would dread the most, “Finance for boardroom” and “Macro trends and economics”, were the ones I enjoyed the most, because the content was accessible, well-presented, and therefore easily understood.”
David – “It is a great opportunity to learn, to meet interesting people, to get top quality learning and up-to-date information, and to expand your capability as a senior leader. Plus the qualification itself has kudos.”
Chris – “It sharpens the mind. ‘Bringing the outside in’ has given me new ideas that I am applying to our Asda culture.”
Liz – “Quite simply, doing this Level 7 Apprenticeship breeds the right behaviour. When I look back at where I was at the start, I can see how much I have achieved and grown – thanks to both Asda and Cranfield.”
Discover more about the Cranfield Level 7 Senior Leader Executive Programme:
This interview was conducted as part of Cranfield's celebration of National Apprenticeship Week 2023