Continuous improvement is a hallmark of all good companies and Archwood Group, winner of the National Investing in Skills Award category of the EEF Future Manufacturing Awards 2013, is no exception. Ongoing investment in training has been the key mainstay of this drive for operational excellence, and has included areas as diverse as leadership and management, health and safety and TPM - particularly at the Chirk manufacturing facility.
Group head of HR, Angela Wagstaff, explained that the next step in business improvement would be to strive for a consistent approach to managing people, and to create an environment that nurtures positive working relationships and enables a supportive approach for dealing with underperformance. The company identified several key goals: to improve communication and how it cascades down through the business, to provide managers with better understanding and skill in handling grievances and disciplinary action, and to enable area leaders to play a role in recruitment. Alongside this, the company wanted to improve networking across the business, for its managers to develop a greater awareness of the impact they have on the teams they manage, and they should come away from this with a recognised qualification that would become part of their CVs.
With funding from the Skills Growth Wales programme, Angela and her team looked at several possible training providers and qualifications.
“We had already used EEF for two TPM training courses in 2012 and 2014,” Angela said, “and when we drew up a recognition agreement with Unite, they also trained our management team to work effectively and constructively with the unions. So we had a good track record of working with EEF.”
It was, however, the initial meetings with EEF Learning and Development Consultants Gill Hardy and Catherine Stothart that persuaded Archwood Group to select EEF as the training provider. “They were really good at listening,” Angela said. “It became very clear that they understood our requirements much more closely than the others, and they would be able to design a course that met our individual business needs.” Working closely with Gill and Catherine, they decided on an accredited CMI Level 5 Award in Management and Leadership, with elements customised specifically to the company’s requirements.
Catherine met with the Archwood Group management team for a detailed consultation to build a comprehensive understanding of their business goals and needs, and to explore how various elements of training could be tailored to deliver on those goals.
“It was a very thorough and efficient approach,” Angela commented, “once the proposal was produced, we refined it and signed it off very quickly. It was clear to us that EEF knew what worked and what didn’t, and we were able to tap into that.”
Once the proposal was finalised and agreed, tailored training material was developed and delivered to two separate groups as a six day course with an assignment that would be marked externally. The course comprised the following five elements:
- Being an effective leader
- Recruitment and selection
- Managing team and individual performance
- Engaging your team
- Developing yourself and others
Having started developing the course material in September 2014, the first two-day element of training began on site in mid-October, followed by four single days at roughly monthly intervals, timed to fit with the needs of the business. Participants were organised into two groups with an element of flexibility so that any individual unable to attend a specific date could swap to the other group temporarily.
EEF Consultant Gill Hardy explained: “We finished with a finale of reflective learning, where during the final afternoon groups of managers presented their key learning and its application in the workplace.” Some interesting insights emerged.
Firstly, the participants had developed a much greater understanding of themselves and of the impact they have on the people they manage. Secondly, they had developed a realisation of the importance of dealing with people as individuals, and having the flexibility to adapt their management style to the individual and the situation. “Leadership is all about understanding people,” Gill pointed out, “and adopting a coaching style of leadership is very helpful in getting the best out of people.”
An interesting bonus of the course is that it brought together teams from all areas of the business - for example a few sales and finance staff joined those from various areas of manufacturing. “They enjoyed the opportunity to network across the business,” Angela said. “This helped form a clear understanding of roles in other parts of the business.”
Finally, the course built on and consolidated some of the people-centric skills staff had already learned on other courses.
Improvement has to continue, though. Once the company has completed its current head office relocation, Angela is considering extending the course to more non-operations staff. “Over the years we have invested largely in our manufacturing team, and we need to do more for our commercial teams. So our aim is to inject some of the rigour of continuous improvement and learning into the commercial side so we have consistency across the entire workforce.”
A greater consistency and quality of management has been achieved across the business. Managers now:
- Have an increased understanding of themselves and others
- Adapt their management style to the situation and the individual
- Are more aware of their impact on others
Going forwards, Angela will measure:
- Improvement in relationships - a reduction in grievances and disciplinary actions
- Improvement in the recruitment process - shorter time to recruit
- Greater understanding of people skills and career progression - more promotions from within
About Archwood Group
Archwood Group is a UK market leader in the marketing, distribution and manufacture of home improvement products, including balustrade, timber flooring and decorative mouldings. The company distributes its products through national and regional trade outlets, DIY retailers and commercial & domestic new build sectors. Archwood’s brands include, Richard Burbidge, Atkinson & Kirby and Masons Timber Products.