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Impact Report: Marie Curie – A blended approach supporting managers to step up into management

Marie Curie are a national charity helping people and their families living with a terminal illness make the most of the time they have together. They provide the largest number of hospice beds outside the National Health Service and are the largest charity funder of palliative and end of life care research.

Marie Curie have staff based in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland delivering expert care, emotional support, research and guidance.

Since 2016 we have supported Marie Curie with Gateway to Management, a training programme for those looking to move into management roles. This tailored, practical and interactive programme enables participants to understand the roles and responsibilities of being a manager.

The Challenge

New managers are one part of the overall management population. Recognising these managers need skills and tools, to support them to be effective in their role, Marie Curie created a new programme in 2018 specifically for their first time line managers, people who are taking their first steps into management. The Step In Step Up programme aimed to support team leaders in developing their management capability.

Marie Curie is a large national charity, and managers are based in varied locations. Managers are also in busy, demanding roles.  The programme needed to be flexible and support people learning without training becoming onerous or divorced from their day-to-day reality. Marie Curie took a blended learning approach – which included face to face sessions as well as online learning.

Following the first cohort, Karen Evans, Learning & Development Manager, reviewed the impact the programme had delivered. Participants rated the programme highly, enjoying the interventions provided and flexible approach, and seeing changes to their approach to management.  Participants provided feedback that they wanted additional support with managing people with diverse skill sets and personalities. 

Marie Curie nurses

Marie Curie nurses in the community. Photo: Layton Thompson and Marie Curie

The Brief

Karen approached us to support her in further developing the programme, with a specific focus on developing teams and practical management skills. The full programme consists of 8 workshop days, 2 hours of online learning per week, and line manager engagement and support.  We were briefed to design two bespoke modules, that would support and inspire participants to Step In and get the very best from their teams and to Step Up as managers.

The modules had to be high quality and engage participants in self-directed learning outside of the workshops so that they could embed their learning in their work. They had to compliment the rest of the programme, so that participants had a consistent learning experience. The approach had to enable learning for managers who have very different roles – from nurses and researchers to fundraisers and central services. The programme content also needed to suit those managers who manage staff at a distance.

The =mcLearning modules needed to support participants to:

  • Be confident and consistent in their management approach, flexing styles effectively to support different individuals
  • Build and maintain positive, constructive working relationships
  • Promote high performance and develop others
  • Address poor performance successfully and hold effective difficult conversations
  • Use coaching to stretch others and create team sustainability

The Participant Journey

The programme is demanding, and requires commitment both in terms of time and energy. To get the most from this learning opportunity, participants need to make time to engage with every element of the programme and invest their energy to translate the learning back to the workplace. However, the Marie Curie L&D team also recognised that managers are under pressure to deliver and feel very busy.

Potential participants formally apply for a place in their programme outlining how they will make the necessary commitment to learning and need support for their application from their line manager. Their application is assessed, ensuring all dates are going to be attended and that the participant has thought through what the programme will mean for them. By doing this, the Marie Curie team have really helped to raise the value of learning internally and position the programme as a high-value and unique development opportunity.

Once their place on the programme is confirmed, participants form a cohort. Participants complete a series of preparatory activities, including online modules about management. Next, they attend Module 1, a two-day residential programme, called Essential Management Skills provided by =mc. The module starts with an introduction to the whole programme, participants start to get to know each other and share their commitments to the course. Participants are introduced to a range of tools and approaches and finish the module with action planning.

Following the residential module, participants attend a number of sessions provided by the Marie Curie team. These sessions include a number of workshops covering Marie Curie HR processes and best practice. Participants also form Action Learning Sets where they support each other on their individual challenges and how they are implementing their learning.

Participants then attend Module 2, Crucial Management Conversations provided by =mc. Here, participants learn to hold brave, honest, challenging, adult conversations. This crucial management skill is explored through tools, case studies and explore real-work challenges.

To support their learning in the workshops and modules, participants are also expected to complete a range of online training programmes. Marie Curie provide access to another 30 digital courses participants can complete to extend their learning.

Participants also learn from each other. The online portal enables them to discuss their learning, raise questions, share challenges and provide each other with support.

Recognising the energy and effort participants have made, cohorts finish the programme with a celebration event, run by Marie Curie and attended by the =mc trainers. This is a both a moment of reflection and a time to tell stories of success.  In this way, participants go on to become champions for the programme.

Working in partnership

We worked closely with the Marie Curie L&D team to co-create the =mc modules. It was vitally important that the =mcLearning modules connected to the rest of the development journey and participant experience. Rather than provide off-the-shelf training courses, we worked with Marie Curie to understand the specific context, values, and outcomes needed for the modules. In doing so, we were able to ensure that participants connected the learning from the modules to their real work challenges.

We work closely with the Marie Curie L&D team throughout each cohort, sharing information on progress and key themes to ensure participants experience a cohesive programme with each element building on and reinforcing previous content. Through this constant exchange, we create a feedback loop that enables us to flex and adapt the programme to suit the individual needs of each cohort.


“It’s really, really useful and answers all the management questions I’ve ever had” Participant 2019

The programme has been completed by six cohorts and cohort seven is underway in 2023. It has proven to be a hugely popular programme. People are so keen to join up that the programme is consistently oversubscribed. Participants have loved taking part in the face to face workshops and the action learning sessions, which have allowed people to develop relationships with managers from across the organisation.

These relationships have helped boost confidence by showing participants that other managers have similar questions and challenges. Participants are also able to share knowledge and information, and now have a network of colleagues they can receive support from.

The action learning sets have been a real success. Karen says:

“It is wonderful to hear participants refer to the tools and approaches from each module in their sets. They have found these ideas really useful to frame their thinking. Attending Action Learning Sets is a powerful process: they encourage the cohort to truly embed their learning, problem-solve, try new things and share their challenges and successes. I’m delighted with the progress the Sets have made”.

The online training elements have also gone down well. Participants report feeling that they are now encouraged to spend time learning and reflecting on their management practice whilst at work. This is not just something they have to fit in, learning is a valuable part of their role. They have also used the online portal to stay in touch with each other and share approaches in between the face to face workshops.

Overall the whole programme is viewed very positively, both by the participants and their managers. Participants recognise the real investment that Marie Curie is making in them, and in turn they are enthused and inspired to lead their teams in ever more effective ways.

“Absolutely fantastic course I really felt fully engaged and very interested in the context”
Participant 2019

“It has given me the tools to effectively people manage and understand the staff member’s perspective”
Participant 2019

Even years down the line the programme has had impact for those that have attended, Karen told us: “In conversations with participants from our pilot programme they tell me about the models they are still using to support the management of their teams. It’s encouraging to see the material we introduced to people proving to be so useful and most importantly, applied in practice, even years down the line”

Responding to the pandemic: flexible learning and the virtual classroom

With the launch of cohort four scheduled to start April 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent UK lockdown could have been meant holding off for a few months or even cancelling the modules.

However, knowing how valuable and established the programme is for managers, Marie Curie rose to the Covid challenge and decided to drive forward. There were several challenges that needed to be met to ensure that participants could still engage with the programme, whilst the charity experienced rapid change. Working the health sector means managers were facing even more demand on their time, whilst shifting to new ways of working under immense pressure. Nursing staff had their hands full, and office staff needed to find ways to manage teams now separated from them. In addition, many managers were also facing the same problems as the rest of the UK: caring responsibilities, concern for the wellbeing of others, shielding, furlough and all the rest.  Simply providing the same programme online, taking two full days out of busy schedules was not an option.  There needed to be an innovative solution to ensure that programme delivered the same impact and experience for participants as previous cohorts had enjoyed.

Working closely with Marie Curie we translated the face to face modules into eight 2-hour online bitesize sessions delivered over 3 months. The shorter sessions took place through our virtual classroom, allowing people to access them wherever they were – home or on site – and to fit them around their constantly shifting schedules.

Each session focused on a specific tool or approach, and was updated with practical application to the situations managers faced through the pandemic. Participants continued to build relationships and engage with each other in break out room discussions. They were able to share their experiences and hear what the pandemic meant for people across the organisation. In between each session the cohort complete self-directed learning activities to build on content introduced and to encourage reflective practice.  This ensured participants were applying the tools straight away.

Feedback from participants shows that they are seeing the benefits of these approaches and report the following impact:

  • higher quality one to one meetings
  • feeling more confident
  • being able to reflect on their management practice 

“I really enjoyed how interactive the session was online. Overall, the module has given me the confidence I need to lead my team through what has been a difficult time”
Participant, May 2020

What’s Next

Cohort seven will come to an end in July 2023 and we continue to work in partnership with Karen to adjust the content. For this year we have delivered the programme as a mixture of online and in person sessions. This has given opportunities for managers to network while still providing learning in an accessible way for managers based across the UK.

We continue to review the programme and take a flexible approach to ensure the programme continues to support managers in their role.

Find out More

The approach taken with this programme can be adapted for your organisation. We can provide ready-made Management Development programmes or create a bespoke programme which addresses the unique challenges you face. Contact us online or call us on 020 7978 1516 to discuss your needs. If you’d like to find out more about what online learning is like with us, take a tour of the virtual classroom here.

Or if you would like to know more about the programme, email the =mc module leader, Laura Slater (=mc Director) on

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Laura Slater

About Laura Slater

Laura specialises in project governance and management, as well as leadership and management development. Laura has 8 years’ experience in the charity sector, in particular developing and delivering regional...