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EDF: Developing leaders remotely

"Even if it were possible to go back to face-to-face post-Covid, would we do the programme exactly as it had been originally planned? Probably not. Would I consider continuing to do the simulation virtually? Absolutely yes. It’s really challenged my thinking about virtual learning, and what I would say now is ‘go for it!’” - Barbara Thurston, Senior Leadership Development Programme Manager

Case studies

About EDF

EDF is helping Britain achieve Net Zero by leading the transition to a cleaner, low emission electric future and tackling climate change. It is the UK’s largest producer of low-carbon electricity, meeting around one-fifth of the country’s demand and supplying millions of customers with electricity and gas.

It generates low carbon electricity from eight nuclear power stations, more than thirty onshore wind farms and two offshore wind farms, and operates one of Britain’s biggest battery storage units, one gas and one coal power station, EV charge-points, and combined heat and power plants.

EDF is part of EDF Group, the world’s biggest electricity generator. In the UK, the company employs around 13,000 people at locations across England and Scotland.

EDF’s organisational goals

“The landscape for utilities has completely changed in the past few years, and I think that raises the prospect that what we need from our leaders has changed quite significantly.”

– Barbara Thurston, Senior Leadership Development Programme Manager

 

In 2019, the context in which EDF Energy in the UK operated was changing. Its place in the market was changing and it was also embedding a recent acquisition.

EDF UK identified a number of strategic imperatives which relied on great leadership across the business, as well as a number of different leadership skills and behaviours required to ensure future success.

A new approach to leadership

A new EDF Group leadership framework was created with the plan to roll this out to different levels of leaders across the organisation via three core programmes targeted at improving individual, team and business performance.

If the business was going to remain successful in its new context, EDF needed its leaders to be open, engaged and authentic.

EDF leadership framework

“We recognised that our leaders needed to adapt how to think and act to succeed in the years to come. Mindsets that were holding them back need to be discarded and new ones that will help them flourish mastered. Our Leading Leaders programme is a critical part of this and, along with our other two core programmes, aims to develop a common language in the leadership population across EDF Group.”

– Barbara Thurston

The objectives of the programme

In 2019, EDF asked Lane4 to work with them on the Leading Leaders programme aimed at developing the skills, knowledge and behaviours of the mid-level leaders who were likely to have been leading for several years.  The aim is to take ~250 senior leaders through the programme over the next 2-3 years.

The objectives of the programme were for leaders to:

  • Recognise what they need to do to transition from “Leading Others” to “Leading Leaders”
  • Have a greater understanding of themselves, the leader they are, and want to be
  • Have an increased resilience and the ability to manage their own performance and that of their teams
  • Be able to think beyond their own function and take a more commercial view when making decisions
  • Work more innovatively and collaboratively across the group in order to improve operational, financial and social performance

The design of the programme

“So, we were all set to go with this wonderful blended learning programme spread over a period of 6/7 months, starting with a face-to-face simulation. And then Covid happened.”

– Barbara Thurston

 

In early March, Lane4 and the EDF people development team were mid-design with the programme. It was to be a 6/7 month blended learning journey including an immersive, face-to-face business simulation – something new and experimental for EDF UK. The training would be intimate, with small cohorts of 12 being taken through various touchpoints over approximately six months.

At this point, however, Covid-19 hit. The face-to-face components of the programme were immediately rendered impossible and the People Development team at EDF had to make some quick decisions about the best way to support their people through this incredibly difficult time.

Many EDF employees are key workers and so great leadership skills are critical to supporting them in times of crisis. This, in addition to the significant ongoing transformation across the business, led EDF to decide that the planned Leading Leaders programme should continue after being adapted to wholly virtual/digital delivery.

The objectives for Leading Leaders remained the same and Lane4 worked in close collaboration with EDF to ensure that the new version of the programme would still provide a great learner experience in a digital environment.

 

“Our mantra during this journey soon became clear: “virtual doesn’t mean worse it just means different.” The learning objectives would not be compromised.”

– Barbara Thurston

The radical new approach: a wholly virtual business simulation

The first cohort of 12 leaders began the Leading Leaders programme in May 2020.

One of the most novel and exciting components of the Leading Leaders programme is the simulation. Originally intended to be done face-to-face, this activity involves actors and high-pressure scenarios similar to those facing EDF teams in real life. In light of the pandemic, the simulation was redesigned to involve virtualised role-playing and managed to effectively mirror the challenges of remote working.

Delegates are placed in project teams within a fictitious organisation with structural and operational parallels to EDF. Each delegate is assigned a distinct function, and the teams must handle challenges such as integration of a different culture, stakeholder management, difficult conversations, and fluctuating team dynamics against the clock.

This simulation creates a safe environment for failure and allows for continuous feedback throughout the day. This is a crucial part of nurturing growth mindsets in your people.

 

“Despite being fully virtual, the business simulation proved hugely immersive. It has surpassed all expectations and really impacted our leaders. We had never tried using actors to bring the learning to life before, but seeing some of the delegates going through that experience and just having those “Aha” moments – where suddenly something about themselves made sense and they could see themselves as others do – totally vindicated the decision to switch the simulation to virtual”

– Barbara Thurston

 

“Having been through similar real-life business scenarios to the ones that played out, it was really good to go into a safe environment where you could try out new things and leverage strengths.”

– Delegate feedback

 

“I actually found that the virtual element of it contributed to the learning outcomes. Specifically for me, one of the things I need to focus on is how I engage people and bring others in, which I find is more challenging virtually, so that’s definitely been positive for me.”

– Delegate feedback

The results

EDF feedback collage

The Leading Leaders programme is ongoing with the first of many cohorts part way through the programme. Feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive; delegates gave the programme 4.8 out of 5 for “The facilitators created a safe, trusting and open environment” and 4.6 out of 5 for “I’ve come away from the workshop with some useful learnings or realisations.”

“Well done on managing this via Zoom – very impressed.”

– Delegate feedback

The programme has been recognised, along with EDF’s other two core leadership programmes, as a finalist in the Learning Technologies Awards ‘Best digital transformation of a training programme in response to COVID-19’ category. This acknowledges the success of EDF’s shift to virtual learning in the face of the pandemic.

“Working with Lane4 on the Leading Leaders programme has been a real gamechanger for us. They brought so many fresh ideas to the table, and their energy and determination to make the programme work virtually was remarkable. Even if it were possible to go back to face-to-face post-Covid, would we do the programme exactly as it had been originally planned? Probably not. Would I consider continuing to do the simulation virtually? Absolutely yes. It’s really challenged my thinking about virtual learning, and what I would say now is ‘go for it!’”

– Barbara Thurston

 

Interested in keeping learning alive in the current environment? Contact Lane4 to find out how we can help you.