Enhancing profit & performance through leadership - Northern Rail

Context & challenges

The Northern Rail Leadership Development Programme (NLDP) was developed in response to strategic reviews conducted across the business. Its aim was to develop a consistent approach and standard of leadership across the organisation, beginning with senior managers, followed by all levels of management.

The main objectives of the NLDP, which was delivered in association with Real World Group (RWG), were: to provide an excellent standard of leadership development for all senior managers; to enable senior managers to feel valued, and to strengthen their confidence as leaders of the business; to promote the importance of self-development; to encourage cross-functional working between senior managers; and to build on existing management and leadership skills.


To ensure maximum impact and outcomes for this project, the following principles were applied at all stages of the programme, from launch to delivery, to evaluation: practical and rooted ”in the real world; underpinned by cutting-edge research; relevant; inspirational; challenging; focused and measurable; highly motivational; integrated with other aspects of the wider programme; and business-critical, with a customer excellence focus.

The programme comprised three main elements:

1. Diagnostics: This involved the use of the NL-360 and the MBTI. NL-360 is a 360-degree diagnostic instrument that assesses individual behaviour in relation to both the ‘Northern Rail Values and Behaviours’ framework, and evidence-based engaging leadership behaviours and qualities derived from Real World Group’s TLQ. Each participant had the opportunity to explore their feedback reports during three one-to-one coaching sessions and to devise practical action plans to enhance their personal leadership.

2. Workshops: Two two-day workshops were provided, which focused on how to engage individuals and teams, through a series of theoretical inputs, activities and skills practice, resulting in action plans.

3. Projects: Participants were also involved in one of four group projects, which focused on specific aspects of the upcoming year’s business plan. These enabled delegates to both, reflect on their individual and group learning, and, importantly, relate these activities to their leadership practice at a strategic level.

Successful outcomes

Part of the programme was designed to enable leaders to immediately put their new leadership skills into practise on a project of their choice, engaging their team in new and more effective ways. The success of these was showcased at an event to celebrate the programme end.

As an example, one of the projects was intended to increase passenger usage on Sundays on a particular line during the run-up to Christmas. To achieve this, managers utilised their increased engaging leadership styles to great success. This took the form of: explaining the nature of the project to staff; discussing the practical implications with staff; and asking for volunteers.

The project was successful, not only in the result – an efficient service, run profitably – but also in the way it was achieved, which included an increased staff pride and commitment in their work, demonstrated by staff voluntarily taking time out to clean and scrub the rolling stock and other facilities, and deciding to dress up in seasonal costumes, and distributing mince pies to passengers en route.

Evaluation of the significant difference the programme made to the leaders and their teams was also gathered, and included examples such as these:

1. What has been the key learning for you as a leader? Looking at different ways of managing to really get the best out of different styles; greater self-awareness and understanding of others; the 360 provided me with a real benchmark of my performance; to really understand where people are with their development so you can understand their needs.

2. What are you doing more of or differently as a leader as a result of the programme? Listening and really trying to stand back from situations before jumping in with opinions, suggestions and so on; spend more time with my direct reports – interacting with my staff and involving them on a more regular basis; implementing new ways for my team to work together; stepping out of my comfort zone; taking time and sometimes stepping back to ensure people around me are with me, and considering what I need to do to ensure I am doing enough to bring people with me; asking more if people are on my page.

3. What key achievements, as a result of the programme, are you particularly proud of? Actively seeking out feedback on my performance as a leader; gave the managers and union reps enough information during a change process – this could have been a really difficult project but by managing the change in this way it has allowed for a much easier transition; gaining respect from the team through empowering them and trusting their abilities; the ‘ah ha’ moments – it works; I understand my management style a lot more than I did before and I am now in a position to share this with my team. I also feel I have a more open and honest approach to my team and my job. I am more comfortable asking for feedback and debating issues within my team; the team has developed and become less dependent on me as a result of identifying their needs and they are more empowered to make decisions and actions, which releases my time to do other things and also allows them to take ownership of their job and outputs.