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A Leadership Framework for the Future

Manchester airportManchester Airports Group (MAG) is the largest British owned airports operator. The group serves over 23 million passengers a year through the four airports - Manchester, East Midlands, Humberside and Bournemouth.

The Group also runs thriving businesses in property development and management, car parking, airport security, fire fighting, engineering and motor transport. MAG’s public ownership (the group is owned by the ten local authorities of Greater Manchester) also means that, as well as being a successful commercial operation, the organisation has an important role to play in driving sustainable growth and making a positive contribution within the region. Furthermore MAG’s new £600m ‘Airport City’ Business Park has been nominated by the government as one of just four Government Enterprise Zones.

Recognising the importance of having a strong team of people to deliver this agenda, MAG recently reviewed its Leadership Framework. The airport’s aim here was to ensure that the criteria used to identify, develop and recruit its leaders are ‘best in class’, as well as being aligned with the organisation’s corporate strategy and values. MAG asked Wickland Westcott to provide an external perspective within this process, with a brief to ensure that the final Leadership Framework was leading edge and provided a robust, accurate and practical blueprint of its leadership requirements.

This project was led by Laura Oliver, one of Wickland Westcott’s Talent Management Consultants, with further input from other members of our experienced team of Occupational Psychologists. In order to audit MAG’s initial research we applied the five following critical tests:

  1. To what extent does the Leadership Framework represent emerging ‘real world’ demands of leading organisations? Issues such as the need to do more with less, driving growth within volatile markets, and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) were explored within this test.
  2. How does the Leadership Framework benchmark against those of other competitor organisations? Without wanting to be limited to existing best practice, we wanted to ensure MAG capitalised on lessons others have learned, and to build on what we have seen work elsewhere. Issues relating to the structure (number of dimensions/levels), content and the roll-out were explored within this test.
  3. Does the Leadership Framework have Construct Validity? Whilst this test appears conceptual by nature, it has practical implications. Construct validity refers to how coherent and independent from each other the dimensions are. Overlap causes confusion and will waste time in the application of the framework.
  4. Does the Leadership Framework have Face Validity? Face validity refers to how relevant, meaningful and representative something appears to be. Key measures within this test include the use of language that will resonate within the organisation, and the avoidance of inappropriate jargon or ‘management speak’.
  5. Is the Leadership Framework structurally sound? By this we mean is the framework presented in a way that makes sense and is accessible. For example, where dimensions include multiple levels, is there daylight and progression between them? Often frameworks include a ‘ceiling effect’ whereby lower level behaviours are simply repeated, albeit using longer words, at higher levels without truly capturing the additional demands of the senior roles.

The output of our analysis was shared with MAG’s project team and senior HR stakeholders. As practitioners ourselves, we took care to emphasise potential areas for improvement whilst recognising the need for compromise to create a framework that reflected MAG’s practical aims and demands. Libby Milsom, Group Head of Learning and Development commented:

"Wickland Westcott provided a robust and challenging assessment that balanced technical rigour with pragmatism and constructive advice. Their input moved us forward in many areas and provided reassurance both to me and our Executive team. We now know that we have solid foundations to our Talent Management strategy and a clear blueprint for the development of the leaders we need to achieve our strategic objectives".