The Challenge: National Grid is one of the world's largest utilities, owning and operating gas and electricity transmission and gas distribution networks in the UK and US.

The company in its current form was created by the merger of National Grid and Lattice Group in 2002. This merger marked the start of a major change programme for the new company, then known as National Grid Transco.

For the IT department, this involved merging teams of both the former National Grid and Lattice Group and a significant change to the department structure, including the outsourcing of services.

A staff survey and conference in 2004 revealed that following this period of significant change staff were concerned predominantly with the following:

  • Few promotional opportunities
  • Lack of commitment to staff development
  • Clarity of roles
  • The increase of outsourcing/out-tasking
  • The flat structure that was emerging
  • Continuing change within the organisation

Focus groups were launched and a few key initiatives put in place to make some changes. The project as a whole became known as the People Agenda.

Initially the focus groups consisted of volunteers from across IT. The groups generated many ideas and received management sponsorship for their action plans and the result of this management sponsorship was a priority list of People Agenda activities.

A further staff survey reiterated that career development, appropriate and targeted training, and better access to the leadership team should continue to be the top priorities.

Having got to this stage, National Grid IS UK identified a need for further support to implement these changes and to drive the People Agenda forward.

Partners in change

National Grid IS launched a tender process to find a service provider and sought a partnership approach. After the subsequent procurement process, successful partnerships were established with Mercuri Urval and BCS.

BCS's SFIAplus model was used as a basis for defining the IT roles specific to National Grid. The company has used SFIAplus to articulate an IS business strategy and to deliver a series of core competencies. The latter define the people capabilites identified within the IS directorate.

Mercuri Urval are experts in improving people's performance in business through aligning capabilities to strategy. They helped us to answer four key questions:

  1. What capabilities will we need to be successful in the future?
  2. What capabilities do our people have today?
  3. What capabilities can our people develop - and how?
  4. What capabilities do we need to acquire - and how?

Preparing the ground

Mercuri Urval initially worked closely with the IS focus groups, leadership team and our customers and suppliers to develop an understanding of core capabilities based on company values, strategy and specific roles.

Core competencies were established and, with the SFIAplus role descriptions, technical capabilities were agreed.

Interest in the project was generated by means of communication bulletins and a series of teleconferences designed to brief members of staff prior to their attendance at a development centre.

The development centres

Mercuri Urval designed a programme of two-day development centres which ran between July 2005 and January 2006. Over 150 IS staff attended 22 centres in this period. During the development centres staff took part in a variety of activities, tests, and interviews, culminating with a one-to-one feedback session with a trained assessor.

A small number of National Grid employees were also trained and accredited by Mercuri Urval in development assessment and feedback and worked closely with Mercuri Urval during the development centres.

The feedback sessions provided staff with the opportunity to discuss career aspirations, strengths and potential areas for improvement.

The process was reinforced by a follow-up individual report, which recorded the observations from the centres and formed the basis of a discussion with the member of staff, their manager and a Mercuri Urval consultant. The outcome of this discussion was a clear development plan.

Benefits and outcomes

For the organisation, the development centres and one-to-one processes provided a detailed skills audit that has formed the basis for a varied programme of improvement steps and development interventions.

To further support the process, Sudhir Varadarajan of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) carried out some statistical analysis of Mercuri Urval's findings and critical path analysis to support the strategic planning of the People Agenda.

Amongst other things he identified that in most cases an interelationship existed between the different training interventions identified. This would allow staff to receive targeted development, which would improve effectiveness in more than one capability at a time.

During the development centres staff were given the opportunity to meet and chat with members of the lead team. National Grid IS has continued to encourage access to the lead team with a series of 'meet the manager' sessions at each location.

The IS team intends to build on the project and continue to promote organisational and individual development on an ongoing basis to ensure that IS within National Grid continues to be competitive in a constantly changing environment.

An excellent start has been made with recognising the contribution of individuals and linking individual achievement and potential to organisational needs.

This is creating an environment where development planning is the norm and is seen as a priority activity, which results in tangible benefits for all.

Most importantly, all of the People Agenda activities have been successfully integrated in a coherent plan that supports the execution of our business strategy. National Grid IS will continue to work with partners at BCS and Mercuri Urval to measure progress and deliver the right capability building programmes.

In the near future National Grid IS hopes to have this IS development process accredited by the BCS as a further sign of National Grid's commitment to 'best of breed' development of its IS staff.

Individual benefits

  • A commitment from the organisation to support and encourage career development.
  • An insightful view of where best to target personal development.
  • Through role definitions - a clear understanding of what is expected.
  • A variety of targeted interventions designed to improve organisational and individual effectiveness, including:
    • Master classes in financial skills and supplier relationships.
    • Communities of practice.
    • Development coaching.
    • A development helpline.
    • 360º appraisals.

Organisational benefits

  • A structured capability framework.
  • A clearer understanding of where important skills gaps are and how best to tackle them.
  • A commitment from National Grid staff to the development process.
  • People development forums that provide a structured review of competence and plans for development and succession.
  • Improved and commercially aligned succession planning.
  • Enhanced individual and organisational effectiveness.
  • Ongoing transformation of National Grid’s capabilities.
  • A greater ability, in house, to assess and tackle development needs in the future.
  • A further 'Staff Pulse Survey' recently revealed that the number of staff that felt they had a meaningful development plan had improved from 19 per cent to 61 per cent.