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What gives Charity Managers a leading edge? Balancing commercial management with a social heart

Chris Chadford, Learning and Development Manager at the Calico Group

In this interview Chris Chadford, Learning and Development Manager at the Calico Group, shares his experience of developing managers so they have commercial, financial and innovation skills.

The Calico Group is a collection of social profit-for-purpose businesses, charities and services, that exist to make a difference to people’s lives. Whilst each area of the group has its own expertise and specialism, they work collaboratively and in doing so have even greater impact. With around 1,000 dedicated employees, Calico strives to provide social housing, employment support, refuge for survivors of domestic abuse, homelessness services, addiction recovery programs, and construction projects aimed at regeneration. Every action they take is driven by their mission to help people live their best lives. Greater social impact is very much in our hearts too, so we were delighted when Calico reached out to see how we could support their managers. Here we have a chat with Chris who shares his experience of the Leading Edge.

=mc: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us Chris, and for sharing your feedback. Tell us about what prompted you to commission training for your managers across the Calico Group? What changes were you aiming to see?

Chris: In my role, I’m responsible for the growth and development of our incredible team members. They work hard every day to deliver great services and outcomes for customers. My team provides a multitude of ways for managers to develop the skills they need now and for the future. In 2021 we recognised a need within our management teams who felt they lacked the business skills necessary to effectively run their areas. Our work is based in and around the communities we serve, helping those who need it most to live their best life.  Every penny matters, because by being efficient and effective it means we can support more and more people. We also need to re-invest so that we can keep on doing the amazing work we do which makes a difference to thousands of people.  So, one of the drivers for this programme was recognising the need to know that we are having an impact or making a return in our work whether socially or financially. Another challenge for us was that we tend to attract people during recruitment who have great values and behaviours. Thinking about impact, strategy and being commercial is an area we wanted to stetch people into. Ultimately, enhancing those skills means we can have even more impact. We set out to find an external partner who could bring in ideas that our managers could relate to, and who could complement our current in-house leadership offer. I’m really pleased that we found =mc Learning.

=mc: The programme is called the Leading Edge. What does that mean to you and what were your specific requirements?

Chris: The programme we implemented covered commercial thinking, finance skills, and innovation.  It supported our managers to feel confident and equipped in making decisions that are all about commercial effectiveness whilst retaining our values around customers and having a social heart. It was really important to me that we took a partnership approach; I didn’t want an off-the-shelf commercial or sales training course. We delivered the finance skills ourselves, which meant that, although different people were and are involved during the delivery, the programme needed to be coordinated connected across the different modules. It had to focus on the realities of our sector while being dedicated to our customers as people who need us. It also had to be practical so we took a toolkit approach. It’s been great to see how our managers applied their learning in real-life scenarios, from utilising tools like the Boston Matrix to customer mapping exercises.

=mc: How did you design and develop the Leading Edge?

Chris: We needed to take our time to get to know how each other work. Partnering with =mc Learning was an absolute pleasure. They took the time to truly understand what is unique about Calico in order to tailor the program to our specific needs. We are not an easy group to grasp, so I really valued Yvette’s diligent and inquisitive nature in getting under the skin of what we are about.  In designing a bespoke programme, our managers have been able to get to grips with the concepts and tools and then use them in their own context. We were also careful to evaluate the programme after a pilot cohort. We of course did the usual things like having feedback sheets from each participant, and I went on the course too, so I could see for myself what worked and what we needed to change. In addition, our first group gave presentations to our senior team, highlighting their learning and suggestions for improvement. A direct impact of that was moving to more face-to-face workshops rather than holding online sessions. The first cohort we piloted was delivered on a 60% virtual 40% face to face however following on from feedback from participants we changed this method to 60% in person to 40% virtual.  We also made changes to the handouts and supporting materials.

=mc: So you had a blended learning approach with workshops. What did that involve?

Chris: We found that having the programme start face-to-face meant the cohort bonded really well. They got to know each other and hear about different experiences – as well as similar challenges – from around the Calico Group. The sessions that were online were also great for engagement. This flexibility ensured that everyone was able to engage with the material effectively regardless of their schedule or commitments. We had great feedback from this blend, and although some people will always prefer one or the other, the majority found that the blended approach worked for them due to work or family commitments. The Leading Edge also involved follow-up challenges and buddy meetings. This means that participants make the commitment to applying their learning between sessions. This can be hard to implement, so we do all we can to encourage that.

=mc: What has the impact been for people who have completed the programme?

Chris: The impact of the Leading Edge program has been significant and I’m confident that it will continue to benefit our teams in the long run. Since completing the programme, I’ve been delighted to see a noticeable shift in our teams’ mindset. I love the fact that I often overhear people talking about the things they learned – whether this be a SWOT Analysis or using the Boston Matrix – people are genuinely using some of the tools to deliver impact in their teams and business areas.  Plus those who attended are definitely thinking more commercially, making better financial decisions and ultimately driving positive change within our organisation.

=mc: You should be really proud of this result! Great example of the impact that a development programme can have when you’re clear on the results are important to you. What one piece of advice would you give to other Learning and Development professionals about this kind of programme?

Chris: If you are working in charities or not-for-profit organisations, my advice is simple: start with your goals. Understand what you want to achieve and be specific: what are your outcomes or what are you wanting to see happen in your management teams?  Then seek out partners who can help you turn those goals into reality. They need to get your values and to be curious about your work. This will help you to develop an even deeper understanding.  At The Calico Group we linked this course with a people programme, the Leader’s Journey, so our leadership teams could see that we had equal focus on people and business because in our type of organisation it’s important not to lose focus on one or the other.  I’m excited to continue our journey of growth and development with these twin programmes side-by-side.

=mc: Thanks again Chris for sharing your experience. You’ve given your managers a fantastic opportunity and it’s great to see it making a real difference to your customers.

What’s next?

Curious to find out more about the Leading Edge programme? Read our full impact report where you’ll also find more interviews with participants.

If you’d like to talk to us about how we can support your managers with business skills in a not-for-profit, charity or social purpose context, contact us online or call 020 7978 1516 to speak to one of our consultants.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...