At NFU Mutual, we aim to give everyone at every level the chance to develop to their full potential. And that goes for leaders across our business too. We talked to Xavier Teasdale-Firth, who organises and runs our leadership development programmes, about how the business supports its leaders and the value in being able to deliver in-house learning and development.

Hi Xavier. Could you give us an idea of the range of learning and development opportunities available at NFU Mutual?
I think one of the first things to say is that the business invests a lot in learning and development. The Learning and Organisational Development team (L&OD) is a sister department to HR, rather than being part of it. We’re an experienced team too – there are around 70 of us, all focused on making learning the best it can be across the business.

We run learning and development for people at every level. We have business partners in every area of the organisation, who are on the ground, understanding learning needs in different teams and departments. At the foundation level, it’s about catering for the learning and expertise that all employees need to do their jobs effectively, and to give them a sense of belonging. At the next level up, it’s more around specific learning, so we have teams who focus on certain audiences, such as apprentices or graduates, or in certain areas such as data and analytics. And one of these audiences is leaders, which is my focus.

It sounds like there’s a lot going on! What’s your approach to leadership learning?
We’re aiming to develop professional leaders, so we treat leadership as a skill that can be developed. But leadership isn’t just about leading people. As well as team leaders, department managers and directors, we also work with people like project managers, who might not have direct reports, but who are still leaders – just in a different sense.

Our Leadership Development Centre is a centre of expertise that supports all leaders across the business. We develop specific in-house programmes that support leaders in managing business challenges and help them to develop a positive team dynamic and culture. It’s a valuable organisational asset, championing the best professional leadership practices by focusing on the future. By looking strategically at where the organisation wants to go, we can create initiatives to develop the skills and behaviours we need to get there. That’s why we see it as important to define who leaders are and include people who aren’t necessarily people managers.

What does the Leadership Development Centre offer your leaders?
We offer a range of different development programmes. There are traditional programmes aimed at specific roles, such as team leaders, department managers and executives. Then we have communities of practice. For example, we launched an online leadership community, which is a collaborative safe space where leaders can share information and ask questions. The launch at the beginning of 2022 involved 25 leaders and it went down so well that we now have around 540 leaders using it.

We also have an organisational coaching and mentoring framework. As an organisation, we’re members of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and we’ve invested in developing an internal network of 62 professionally qualified coaches, who provide services to the rest of the business. Anyone in the business can request a coach for a particular skill, such as leadership. We match the request to a relevant coach and the coaching usually lasts around six months. At the end of the coaching, there’s professional and personal feedback, so we continue to improve the service. We also offer team coaching, which might involve coaching a leadership team or a team leader and their direct reports, either in a one-off session or a series of meetings.

Then there are the talent development routes that identify potential future leaders. Managers have a talent forum, where they can highlight anyone in their team and recommend them for the talent pipeline. This is all supported through the learning and development business partners, who make sure it’s a quality process.

How do you deliver the training?
With the move to more online and remote working, more of our learning and development is delivered online. But that doesn’t just mean video. Our ‘learning in the flow of work’ approach takes the learning experience to the individual, rather than making them come into a classroom. And we’ve also introduced interactive communications, such as the online leadership community I mentioned earlier.

It’s about looking at the value and the impact of the training. So, if there’s a value in delivering it face-to-face then we’ll do that. We also take accessibility and sustainability into account too – does it make sense to bring someone down from Scotland to Stratford for a day? There’s also value in an online option – for instance, giving people the chance to learn at their own pace.

As well as coaching, you also offer mentoring – how do they complement each other?
Yes, we have 200 mentors across the business, ranging from those who support onboarding for new starters to well-being mentors, who help people find a better work/life balance. Mentoring isn’t as formal as training or coaching, so it can be more effective for new starters who don’t really know what training they might need yet, or where they want to take their career. A mentor can use their experience and knowledge to answer questions and guide people to help them find the best direction for their career.

In 2023 we are launching a new ‘mutual mentoring’ initiative, too, to champion diversity and inclusivity – the difference here is that the mentor won’t necessarily be in a more senior role, and they may bring a unique perspective or experience to develop areas reflective of different demographics or backgrounds.

It’s quite unusual to have all this available as an internal resource – why do you think it’s important?
Some organisations pay a lot to external suppliers for this kind of development, so to have it as an internal resource gives a great return on investment. Overall, as a business, we have a genuine desire to engage with our people as much as possible. Our culture of caring for and investing in everyone makes learning and development crucial for us, because it assists progress. It makes sense for us to do this ourselves, because we want to focus on enabling everyone to be the best they can be, whilst preserving and sharing our unique culture with others.

It’s incredibly powerful to be able to help people unlock their potential through a full suite of support, from systems and platforms to professional coaching for new team leaders. That’s what makes it so dynamic and rewarding for me.

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