Case Studies

Building leadership capacity to deliver tomorrow’s transportation >


International expansion within a highly competitive and regulated marketplace, meant this transportation business is seeing tremendous pressures on its operating model.  Running both rail and bus franchises through a unionised workforce, it needed different ways to accelerate the readiness of their leaders to step up into the multi-dimensional and complex roles they required.  MDV Consulting was brought in to help build their leaders’ capacity to lead in more strategic and collaborate ways in order to navigate their fast-changing environments.

The Challenge

Expansion into new geographies, the rapid pace of change in transportation and the complex demands of multiple stakeholders was spearheading this international transportation company’s need to create a stronger pipeline of leaders who are ready earlier to move into bigger and more involved roles.  Demands on these leaders are many and difficult:

  • A very competitive market requiring ideas and faster responses to stay ahead.
  • International expansion required expertise to be adapted for the local culture.
  • Problematic industrial relations made it difficult to foresee the clear delivery of plans.
  • Changes to regulation was a constant challenge.
  • Decision making had to take account of the views of varied and vocal stakeholders.
  • A devolved management structure challenged the consistency of work quality and made collaboration across separate business units difficult.

Although leadership development activities had been provided previously, the company recognised it needed a different approach, one providing sustainable capacity building and giving participants the life-long learning to keep developing their capacity to think about and act differently to these challenges. They needed to strengthen leaders’ capabilities to demonstrate more flexible and agile ways of working, to promote collaborative working and be comfortable with ambiguity and rapid change.

The Solution

Championed at a senior level by their Chief Executive Officer, MDV Consulting designed a modular 12 month programme enabling leaders to continue transitioning through development stages with ever increased sophistication in how they think, perceive and act on the information around them.  The development journey was built around the personal development of three key areas: Cognitive, Interpersonal and Personal capacities, all essential to successfully navigate the leaders’ challenges.

Applying the conditions for vertical growth

The programme was designed to create the conditions to accelerate learning and make that learning “stick”.  To enable transformational learning, the programme was designed to provide a disruption to participants’ current thinking or ‘heat experiences’, promote opportunities for ‘colliding perspectives’ – or alternative views, as well as giving formalised support for participants to develop new and improved ways of thinking.  Based on research by Nick Petrie (Center for Creative Learning), these three conditions are highlighted as key to accelerating and promoting lasting development.

Understanding the starting point

Each individual’s development journey started with a ‘vertical assessment’, facilitated by experts from MDV Consulting.  Information gleaned from 360-degree feedbacks and psychometric tools consisting of the Leadership Development Profile (LDP) and Cognitive Process Profile (CPP), was supplemented by in-depth feedback and personal development planning sessions carried out by specially trained vertical coaches.  Those psychometrics were used to give an assessment of a person’s cognitive preferences and ‘Action Logic’, or how they make sense and respond to situations around them.

Reports produced following the feedback sessions were then explored in a three-way meeting between the participants, their line manager and the HR representative, to explore the opportunities and support required to address their development needs and aspirations.

Developing the capabilities

The ‘formal’ element of the programme started with a three-day workshop attended by the entire cohort.  The aim was to:

  • Discuss the business challenges and what different responses might be needed.
  • Understand the theory of adult development and what underpins the different development stages so they relate this to their own stage and needs.
  • Identify with the capacities of ‘Cognitive’, ‘Interpersonal’ and ‘Personal’ and what these look like as capabilities demonstrated in the workplace.
  • Learn tools to strengthen their capabilities to address complex challenges in today’s uncertain and fast-changing world.  These tools equipped leaders to take multiple perspectives, ask different questions, make decisions in uncertain situations, design safe to fail experiments and deepen other capabilities.
  • Build a cohesive group to promote cross-department collaboration and idea generation.

The programme design focuses on helping participants acquire “learning to learn skills”.  Content enables the learning of practices to develop a growth mindset, take an open attitude and be more receptive to new knowledge.

Development activities helped participants to:

  • Learn to seek and take account of multiple perspectives.
  • Use action inquiry to gain a more thorough view of the landscape of a problem.
  • Use problems as opportunities to learn from.

Outcomes to date

The programme is still in its early stages with further modules delivered over the 12 month period.  However, participant feedback to date is good, “Best programme so far”, with the development seen as a different approach to previous activities.

Participants have praised the transparency and individual focus of the process.  They appreciate the focus on their current stage of development and how their individual learning needs are matched to the business opportunities and challenges they face.

The client gained valuable insight from a holistic view of participants’ assessments.  This highlighted the centre of gravity for the whole group, allowing a programme to be designed that offered participants just the right amount of stretch and support.

Collaboration is already being enhanced across the business as a result of new connections made – participants were heard to say, “Let’s put in a day in our calendars and talk about this more.”

What next?

Three remaining modules are scheduled to happen over the following 10 months of the programme and will focus on helping individuals develop ‘Cognitive’, ‘Interpersonal’ and ‘Personal’ capacities to fulfil the full requirements of their leadership roles.

For more information please contact: Mike Vessey

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Creating the conditions for transformational leadership at a global financial institution >

In common with many large complex global businesses the Bank recognises that the world is changing fast and this requires new leadership capabilities. Despite a thriving leadership development industry leaders with the right sort of capabilities are in short supply. Our work with our client sought to create the conditions for ‘vertical’ development, not simply aggregate a collection of development activities in the hope that people would be ‘developed’.

As the world grows more complex, organisations need an ever greater proportion of their workforce to be able to handle uncertainty, ambiguity, etc. Adapting to such factors is not simply a skill anyone can acquire, however, but a way of living in the world. This way of thinking, feeling and doing is not inborn, but rather is developed over time as we increase our capacity to take others’ perspectives, view authority in new ways, and see shades of grey where we once saw only black and white. This is the essence of constructivist adult development theory

In seeking to develop a cadre of leaders at the Bank able to operate, thrive and lead in a VUCA world, we applied the concept of constructivist-development to their High Performance Director development programme, to support participants’ capacity to grow and make-meaning in a rapidly changing and complex environment. Deploying research from the Centre for Creative Leadership we sought to create the catalysing conditions that would stimulate ‘vertical’ growth as well as build out ‘horizontal’ capabilities. In doing so we have introduced the concept of ‘vertical development’ to leadership development across the Bank.

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Slaughter and May Business Services – a new mindset for managing performance >

There has recently been much discussion and debate in the press signalling ‘the end of the performance appraisal’ as a number of major professional services firms abolish traditional performance management processes in favour of a lighter-touch approach.  Formalised, mechanistic systems are being abandoned by firms including Accenture, Microsoft and Deloitte, and even the company most associated with forced rankings, GE, is dropping its annual appraisals.  PwC reports that two-thirds of large companies are planning to rethink their appraisal systems to some degree.  These organisations are questioning whether the time, money and effort spent on performance management makes a real impact on employee performance.  Could a simpler, less process-driven approach deliver improvement, particularly in the professional, knowledge-worker firm?

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Incorporating behavioural assessment within a strategic, large scale procurement process >


  • Our client – the Environment Agency (EA) – wanted to enhance its procurement process so it could measure a bidder’s performance against a defined set of behaviours, which it deemed critical for delivering the contract. This would set a new standard, as the first public sector procurement process to include a behavioural component that was on a par with the design, commercial and legal aspects.
  • Recognising that behavioural performance was fundamental to the project’s likely success, we engaged with the EA to design a bespoke behavioural framework, as well as a set of challenging scenarios to measure the bidders’ leadership and management aptitude against it.  The framework and scenarios considered aspects of the project that, in the client’s experience, could go wrong once the contract was awarded.  This level of robustness gave the framework validity in the bidders’ eyes. It also meant the framework could assess behaviours with the same rigour the EA applied to the technical aspects of each bid, while being discerning enough to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each team.
  • The result was a rich set of observed behavioural responses from each bid team, which will help our client to identify its delivery partner and create the foundations for a strong and collaborative working relationship.
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Helping Commercialbank of Qatar to differentiate its customer service in a competitive market >

Commercialbank of Qatar engaged us to help it become world class at customer relationship management. We designed and implemented a four-phase process to define the required standards and understand the current bench strength of the bank’s relationship managers.

This included a bespoke assessment process, through which we assessed 80 relationship managers. We delivered detailed reports on each one, providing a data-driven view of the bank’s bench strength, and up-skilled their line managers, to engage them in the process and ensure ownership of the findings. Our work enabled the bank to target its HR strategies, identify baseline sales metrics to track its return on investment and to deploy its talent more effectively.

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Helping a financial services organisation get new leaders up to speed during major change >

Hiring new people is risky. Up to half of senior hires fall short and even stars can take years to succeed in new roles. We worked with a major financial services organisation, which was going through significant cultural and structural change. Our bespoke onboarding and transition programme helped its new leaders make that switch quickly and effectively. Participants found it easier to perform their roles and to plan ahead. They built strong, mutually supportive networks with their peers and emerged with an understanding of the organisation, its culture and their role within it.

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Building leadership bench strength at the Financial Services Authority >

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) needed to develop leadership behaviours in its senior people and engaged us to design and lead an Executive Development Programme. Through a bespoke evaluation process, we got to understand individual leaders from the inside out. This allowed us to report a comprehensive picture of each person’s strengths, potential and areas for development, and create concrete actions plans to help them move forward. The programme became a standard part of the FSA’s leadership development and contributed to rising employee engagement and satisfaction scores.

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Building a talent pipeline at Laing O’Rourke >

Laing O’Rourke asked us to design and deliver assessments for its emerging leaders programme. This engaging annual process measured behaviours, potential and learning agility, resulting in feedback and action plans for those selected for the programme.

By combing the client’s contextual knowledge and our expertise, the programme enabled Laing O’Rourke to provide general executive education and to meet the specific needs of individuals and groups. Graduates from the programme are now in some of the company’s most senior positions.

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Board evaluation for a major UK plc >

Our client had seen significant change on its Board, with existing members changing roles and new executives and non-executives arriving. We conducted a rigorous Board evaluation, identifying developmental needs for individual directors and the Board as a whole. We also helped Board members to understand and appreciate their different styles and approaches, so they could work more effectively together. Our work enabled new Board members to contribute more quickly and helped those changing roles to work out the impact of this on their relationships with the Board.

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Developing future leaders at Redrow >

Redrow engaged us to design and deliver a cost-effective programme to accelerate the development of its future leaders. We started with a rigorous assessment of each person’s strengths and development areas. We then created an 18 month programme, which included group working, in-house learning and external courses, to help unlock their leadership potential. Each participant left the programme with a personal development programme, to support the next stage of their career.

The outcome for our client was a full pipeline of home-grown talent, greater employee engagement and retention, and a number of new business projects, which began life in the group sessions.

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Developing leadership performance and capability at Zibrant >

Zibrant asked us to help it deepen its leadership capability. Its young team leaders had little formal management development and were working in a rapidly growing, fluid and highly entrepreneurial culture. We assessed individual and team effectiveness and designed a workshop for four functional leadership teams, to align them with the organisation’s strategy and with each other. The outcome was a leap forward in leadership capability, helping each group work more effectively as a team and with the other functions, and creating excitement about the company’s growth and change agenda.

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