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Case study

Network Rail: Selecting people in leadership positions for collaborative skills

13 November 2015

This case study looks at how Network rail changed the way it sort and identified staff to develop a pool of alliance managed to aid early project delivery and turn around a failing traditional contract.

Network Rail: Selecting people in leadership positions for collaborative skills
Network Rail work in identifying people for their collaborative skills has helped improve project delivery times.

The company studied people in leadership positions across the rail sector, developed an interview-based 'Personality Profiling' tool and widened their leadership criteria in order to deliver these benefits.

Executive Summary

There are fundamental factors that influence the performance of an alliance such as the legal and commercial framework as well as the extent of integration, corporate culture and maturity of the contracting parties. However, our experience, and a good deal of alliance literature argues that, regardless of these other factors, alliance performance will be sub-optimal in the absence of high- quality leadership.

This fact was at the front of our minds as PTP Associates developed its ‘Right Person-Right Job’ process that was used for the selection of alliance leaders in the Network Rail Hitchin Alliance, North Doncaster Chord Alliance, the Finsbury to Alexandra Palace Alliance and the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme Alliance. Experience in Australian alliances had demonstrated that additional skills than that expected of a project manager are required for an alliance manager.

Below is an overview of:

  • Why we did it
  • What we did
  • How we did it
  • Benefits and outcomes

This case study is one of a number of real life demonstrations of the Alliancing Code of Practice.

Why we did it

Based on close involvement with a number of alliances, we concluded that in the first instance, adopting an alliance commercial / legal framework eliminates a significant part of interference stopping high performance. This framework removes commercial misalignment and contractual barriers. However, whilst significant, this is not sufficient on its own to deliver a high level of performance. The real challenge facing an alliance relates to human behaviour. ‘Unless behaviour changes, nothing changes’. It is people, their mindset, behaviour, feelings, beliefs and assumptions that present the real challenge to the alliance achieving a high level of performance. This challenge could only be overcome with high-quality leadership.

What we did

We looked at a large number of theoretical perspectives that have outlined what constitutes effective leadership. Much has been written on the connection between leadership and organisational performance. PTP also studied the output from research on alliance management in Australia. Our objective was to understand the type of leader and their required skills that are needed to build a high performance alliance. As part of this research, we also studied people in leadership positions in the rail sector in the UK.

We concluded that the selection of people for leadership positions in the rail sector in both client and contractor organisations was often based on ‘hard’ technical competencies with insufficient consideration of ‘soft’ leadership competencies that affect motivation and performance. Our conclusions included the view that the values, skills and competencies of designated leaders will influence the extent of collaboration between the contracting parties – particularly in response to uncertainty or risk – hence ultimately the success of the contract. So we decided that we needed people in the alliance manager role who:

  • Could provide influential behavioural models to others.
  • Could create the conditions to shape the alliance culture and employee behaviour.
  • Could shape policy and control the levers of power that inhibit or enable employee motivation and performance.

How we did it

Members of the PTP team accessed and reviewed numerous academic studies and conducted interviews with seasoned Alliance leaders in Australia and the Oil & Gas sector. It became clear that alliance managers required discernibly different qualities from those managing traditional contracts. The Project Alliance contract required certain qualities from their alliance manager if the project was to be successful:

  • High levels of energy and enthusiasm
  • High levels of patience and understanding
  • High level of integrity, which is required to gain the trust and confidence of others

It became evident that the alliance culture of collaboration, innovation through cross-company learning and ‘best for project’ focus, drives the need for greater relational management skills, attributes and experiences.

The people in the alliance manager’s role needed to be able to interact and influence at business board level so they also needed experience in general management. The outcome was a PTP Framework that set out the required skills, attributes and experience, both hard and soft, for an alliance manager. An overview is set out below:

  • Baseline knowledge and skills
  • Baseline experience
  • Relational leadership
  • Personal attributes and values

At the core of the selection process was the person, their personal attributes and values. So, as part of the selection process, PTP used a Personality Profiling tool that we had been licensed to use since 1993. This tool had been specifically designed by psychologists for use by management in organisations. It produces a comprehensive multi-part report on how an individual behaves at work; actual behaviour, how best to manage, what their work strengths are likely to be, and where individual work preferences might lie. In the hands of an accredited and experienced profiler, this tool provides valuable insights into the person.

Given that there were no experienced alliance managers in the sector, the selection process needed to identify those individuals with personal attributes that provided them with the potential to be successful alliance managers.

The selection process started with a skills, experience and attributes outline profile being sent to alliance corporate members with requests for candidates for the position of alliance manager. The selection process was built around an interview format conducted by a panel of three, including PTP. Selection was based on the candidates match to the PTP Framework, a presentation and their Personality Profile.

Benefits and outcomes

The primary benefit was that alliance managers with no previous experience were selected for the four alliances, Hitchin, North Doncaster Chord (NDC), Alexandra Palace to Finsbury Park and Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP). Having selected candidates with potential, providing them with a development opportunity and support, we had the start of a talent pool of alliance managers for the rail sector.

The alliance manager from Hitchin brought the project in 6 months early, the alliance manager for NDC brought it in on budget and on time, and the alliance manager for Alexandra Palace rescued what had been a failing traditional contract, built it into a successful alliance and brought it in under Network Rail’s budget. While the EGIP Alliance is still in the implementation phase, they have successfully completed a 44-day blockade and successfully delivered the Winchburgh Tunnel and completed over 1 million man hours, accident free.

Further information

For further information please contact:

Ces Shaw, PTP Associates
t: 01628 776 059
[email protected]

What is the Alliancing Code of Practice?

The Alliancing Code of Practice outlines the information needed at different stages within an alliance. It provides accessible and valuable support to those embarking on an alliance journey and those already developing an alliance. It draws on experience from many organisations; clients, delivery teams, consultants and academics to highlight:

  • which aspects of alliance set up are most important,
  • when they are most applicable,
  • the building blocks that need to be in place to ensure the effective development of alliances.

Find out more about the Alliancing Code of Practice

  • Charles Jensen, knowledge content producer at ICE