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Organisation Development Capability Building at Virgin Media - a Case Study

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Adrian Clarke - Head of Organisation Development at Virgin Media O2 talks about their experience of our OD Capability Building Programme.
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As head of Organisation Development at Virgin Media, (now Virgin Media O2), Adrian Clarke commissioned 3 cohorts of our Organisation Development (OD) capability building programme a couple of years ago.

We are very grateful that Adrian took time out recently to chat to our Principal Consultant Carolyn Norgate in this podcast. To talk about the programme, how it enhanced practice at multiple levels: individual, team and wider, plus the long term impact he is seeing.

They also talk about the role of OD, especially in times of major organisational change, as this programme took place during the pandemic and just before a large merger with O2.


Carolyn Norgate  01:30

So hi, everyone. I'm Carolyn Norgate, one of the principal consultants at Mayvin. And a couple of years ago, I got to be faculty on one of our OD capability building programmes with Virgin Media. So really happy to welcome Adrian Clarke from Virgin Media, Adrian do you want to say hi and a bit about you?

Adrian Clarke  01:50

Yeah, and hi Carolyn lovely to see you again. And thank you for allowing me to be part of this. So I'm Adrian Clarke, head of organisation development at Virgin Media O2, which is a bit of a new bit because when we were first doing the programme, together, we would have been Virgin Media. So that's one big change we've had, we've had since my job as part of Virgin Media O2 is to look at how we do org development across the business. Building that as a as a capability, building that as a way of approaching looking at the organisation as a as a complete system.

Carolyn Norgate  02:25

Lovely. Thank you so much. So and those of you listening to this, you know a bit about Mayvin, you'll know that we're we work around leadership, organisational development, and we have a particular specialism around developing OD and D, org development and design capability. And we've done that a lot in the public sector for many years now. And we've grown it into a master's programme. But this this isn't the first but it was one of the bigger programmes that we've done in a private sector organisation. So from your point of view, Adrian, how did it come about? How did we get to how do you know how did you end up talking with us? And what were you looking for?

Adrian Clarke  03:03

I guess I had the benefit that I've been on a programme myself, and experience the value of really developing the or development practice. And having that opportunity to spend time really engaging deeply in that in that topic, as well as actually being part of previously delivering certain types of learning and opportunities around this space in previous organisations. So when I kind of arrived at Virgin Media, as we were pre joint venture, and one of the things that I was asked to do and keen to do was look at, well, how are we going to build up this thing that we've we've set up and, and created from, from a relative kind of standing start called organisation development. And so a starting point for looking at why might we look at bringing in a programme of practice development was with a few things, firstly, just wanting to build general skills and capabilities in this space. So wanting to equip people with not just tools, templates, things that you can search for in your own time and kind of find a multitude of different approaches and models, in fact, probably far too many, just to kind of confuse yourself and actually really kind of think about what is it we want people to have in terms of that real skill, value set and mindset that comes from the practice and the art as well as the skill of organisation development. So that was really important. And having had the opportunity of experiencing that myself. I knew that it would be it'd be quite challenging but actually the value would be greater than the off the shelf kind of training that you could easily kind of go and get from a multitude of other other suppliers providers. The other thing that's really nice dimension is we wanted to demystify what is organisation development as well. And that that is very much for me and applied practice. So actually the ability to demystify not by a long theoretical session around what it is and what it isn't, and getting ourselves wrapped up in that, that, that debate which can go on for a long time, but actually just getting to experience well, to learn what it is and demystify it, let's do it. And let's learn by actually doing some of this. And actually, we'll probably find that it's not hugely new to a lot of people or to put it another way, but it's very complementary to what people should be doing, particularly in our people team, which is where we targeted this programme. And so we really wanted to bring some of the skills and capabilities demystify, and also give people a different experience. So we were we were, we tried to be clear on I think, that it only sinks in when you start in a programme of this type, that when we say it's a development programme over time, and it's not a training programme, I think when you start it, that's when the penny really starts to drop along the way, but this is really about developing self, not about learning a, an off the shelf tool.

Carolyn Norgate  06:11

Yeah, which goes to the heart of what we've talked about in other podcasts around practice, you know, who am I and what am I doing? How am I doing it? Particularly? And this being, you know, exactly in that that space of practice based learning. So practice, practice, followed by theory for us, it was there was something about what's the practice of this, as you said, relatively new function? And where are some of the areas that it's going to be helpful to focus on bringing content and theory, but also, let's get people thinking about their existing practice? And where that, that fits in the in the OD lexicon? and challenge them around the mindset around that which well, yeah, but I mean, from your perspective, what were some of the challenges and that that sense of this thing, use a word a bit of a different experience of people.

Adrian Clarke  07:06

I think one of them is, because we're very used to in in corporate life. And I think I can say that as a kind of a bit of a broad generalisation to receiving training very much as there is a better as a specialist who understands the skill, or the the method or the product or what they're training on, and they're bestowing that wisdom upon others to, to be able to then learn and take away and often more often than not, it's in the form of some kind of PowerPoint or, or handouts or textbook. And so I think we just become used to receiving that as what we would label a kind of a training experience or a learning experience. So I think there's there's partly there's the ability to change the thinking around learning and development, as my learning and development colleagues would would say, as well, that is very much of that ability to apply that and build that up. And actually, that comes from a change kind of coming from within as well. So I think that what you're one of the challenges was just the expectations between turning up to classroom based training, and what a programme of his type is doing around really putting the focus on on you and your learning. I think with that, and it's really interesting to us that you have that great phrase, it's good practice first, and then theory is because there was a big element of the programme, which was around, people actually taking time for themselves. I think for some people, it was almost a bit of a bit of a luxury. And I think particularly the type of people we have, working in our business doing the type of roles they do, very often really serving and enabling others. And so actually, that, that, that sense of they're going to be taking real time to enjoy themselves and to invest in themselves. And that was okay, but also an ability to find that time and not feel guilty about actually taking that that time that moments to really develop self, which is probably the other one, in terms of a bit of a challenge is around it becomes very revealing of self and it does require you to go relatively deep into your own into your own self, your own practice. And that requires people to to actually be really brave and to be really comfortable with that sense of vulnerability, particularly in front of of work colleagues, who are often friends but they're also work colleagues as well. And I think that is something which once people kind of step over that that that boundary should we say gets so much more than out of that experience. But it does take a real level of moving past that sense of just how vulnerable and exposing and going inside myself to look at was formed me, which then shows up in my practice and the way I interact with others event does require people to really take sometimes a bit of a leap of faith in a way that they may not ordinarily be used to, in fact, might almost be working to protect in, in a kind of everyday work and lives in the type of roles they do. So a number of a number of key elements, which really required people to take time for themselves, and then put the time in, and realise that the learning was as much about for them with them by them. But then facilitated brilliantly by those who can really draw that out and make it a safe and comfortable place for that to happen.

Carolyn Norgate  11:02

Thank you. Yes. And just to sort of give people a bit of a sense of the architecture of the programme to sort of put some sort of flesh on that outline, Adrian's just give them so people on the programme had a practice based question. So how can I develop? So these are  OD / HR practitioners, so one of the concepts that we we talk about is self as instrument, so, for example, being you know, using yourself as an instrument like being noticing, in a meeting, the energy has really shifted, and thinking about, Okay, what do I meant? Do I talk about that? Because that's data about how we are right now? Or? Or do you know, that doesn't feel appropriate? Do I do suddenly try and shift the energy to help this conversation go along? So that that's what I mean by self as instruments? So someone's question might be, how can I develop myself as an instrument in service of shifting to a more consultancy, dial as I support this transformation, or the merger, or the whatever? Whatever the business that is? So there's always two parts of those questions? How can I in service of people working on those through the programme, so they had to write a bit about why they chosen that question and what it would be and then they did experiments in their practice. So this is where when you were talking about the applied nature of the programme earlier, Adrian, they're doing experiments to try if I try doing a bit of that, what's it like? What do I notice in myself going back to them that feeling quite vulnerable? What do I notice in myself? What do I notice in my clients? Is that is that having a different impact? What if I did a little bit more of it? What about it and tried it that way? So this constant iteration process of practice, reflection, and practice and reflection, and the group were working both as a large group, but there was three cohorts, each cohort was about 12 or so. And then they were in two learning sets. So they met both as a large group and as two learning sets. And it was in learning sets where there was opportunity for smaller groups, so six ish people, and a chance to reflect on those experiments, get feedback from each other, and encourage each other to challenge each other. And that's where I think that that felt very different to people, as you were saying earlier about the the the input of expertise versus I've really got to look at myself here and my practice and think about the kind of practitioner I am, and I want to be and what the organisation needs me to be. So there was a lot, I was challenges coming from lots of different areas that felt like in terms of how much challenging themselves, what their colleagues were asking of them, but also the organisation was asking for from them in this development and for something quite new. And I just wanted to ask a bit more about that about what we talked about the participants and the sort of paradigm of learning, I suppose. But how was this sort of selling this into the organisation? And I use that phrase?

Adrian Clarke  13:57

Yeah, it's a it's a good question. There was definitely a bit of a cultural rub, shall we say, in terms of there is very much a design, I don't think I'd be describing something which would be unfamiliar to many large organisations around a desire for action activity results, you know, these are all things that we were in business for, as businesses. So there was definitely a perhaps, wouldn't quite describe it as a nervousness, but definitely a sense of work. How will we describe the tangible outputs or outcomes from this, which if I was, I suppose, speaking in pure financial terms would be so what's the return on investment? And when will we see this and what will it look like which was hard and to a degree, that was a level of trust and faith that we know the returns we will get from this will show up in these ways, or that we know that the impact will be created through this will be, will be worth the investment, because it's an investment as much of time and effort from the people within it. And that's the return that they will be able to get as a result of it. So I had great support from, from my leadership team within the people team around this being something that people believed in recognised was important to us, as a team, and as a business, and also a high degree of trust. For me around my experience, both personally and professionally around around this type of activity and programme, but for sure, there was along the way, I think the participants would all be describing, what can I go, What do I go back to my business area, or my manager, and my leader, when they asked me, you know, what have you done? In that day you were in your action learning set? or what have you received in terms of your, your now your updated toolkit you now have, can you show us what you've learned, and particularly to begin with when a lot of the programme is around learning, understanding self, that can be quite hard to describe. And I know along the way we have to, I absolutely have a few conversations with people around. That's, that's normal. Yeah, this is a this is a normal part of the process. This is an expected part of the process. Stay with it, because the learning develops, as you go through this is why the programme is a number of months, not two workshops, and you're done. So there was definitely a bit of a cultural challenge around how quickly will we see, you know, tangible returns and outcomes from this as a programme which we're investing in. And the sense of, we're very action orientated business. So the time to pause, reflect, iterate, come back to share, learn, collectively, learn with others, and take a huge amount of actually self responsibility for learning those things which weren't necessarily absolute norms, or they weren't, they were things that we had to be mindful of, we need to create some of those conditions. And I'm not saying we're always usually successful, it will, it was often down to the individuals as part of that, plus your facilitation, in helping to guide people and actually us as a business through the stages of the process. I think it helped once we started getting into the cohorts, because I think once we've got a couple of cohorts up and running, and it started to show almost in real time, how the how the difference was being kind of felt. And also just seeing those different experiences that was happening between the different groups and cohorts, which was actually powerful learning for us.

Carolyn Norgate  18:05

So maybe, let's come back to that second point. But tell us a bit about that. Starting to see the difference being experienced and felt by by the business by those on the programme.

Adrian Clarke  18:17

I would one of my favourite ways of looking at this. And again, this is not set as from a from a as a finance person. This is set as an as an org development person. It's the questions that people were asking. And the booth, people are, firstly, the the asking of questions. So hearing more questions being asked, which I always take as a positive sign that we're really now starting to see people being more curious, being more inquisitive, being wanting to get under root cause wanting to understand real needs, not just the presenting needs, wanting to understand as a form of diagnosis and a form of gathering data through asking really good, inquisitive powerful questions, and then using that to shape form, what response or intervention they might choose to have. So I think both seeing the number of questions going up. Now, I don't have a harder metric, which I can say it's X percent or y number of those. But I could I could see if out through the conversations I was involved in the types of questions that people were asking. Both in conversations I was in that but also elsewhere. People were asking me lots of questions around well, how do you do it then? Or how have you gone about this type of thing or asking each other questions around? Well, you're really good at doing this. How do you do that? Or, or you've experienced this what happened when you tried that? So was just for me a sense of shared experience as well and, and shared learning. And actually, ultimately for the business. Where I think there isn't that kind of a tangible impact is when that is received as people who are able to positively challenge in a way, which is putting the needs of, of the kind of a customer in this instance of outcome of our business customer, in terms of what's going to be most service for them, and with them, in order to help to realise some of the business challenges. And if I can give, perhaps an example of that, the client days that we set up as part of a process where we get both internally and externally, some of our, our kind of business leads to come in, who've got some really quite pointed challenges, and they were very willing to share their views perspectives and, and are keen to really get a lot from it. And we have some really, really good feedback from people who said, actually, that group we were with, or the individuals that we were with, like, wow, they've really asked some really great prompting questions, or the other great one was,  they've made us think about this in a slightly different way. So amazing. And an even cooler, actually, it's really helped me unlock something, but I wasn't sure what to do. And sometimes it was, we've, they've helped me get my thinking into shape. Or now they've actually given me assurance that what I'm thinking of doing does feel like the right thing to do. So for things like well, that's, that's fantastic, because that is operating at that coaching level or trusted advisor level, where they've been able to positively challenge not because I want to ask intelligent questions for the sake of showing kind of an academic ability or a level of intelligence, but because there's a real curiosity or interest there in wanting to help to find good interventions, good answers, good solutions. And so those to me were the low test cases, and we'd have people then come up as we go, can we get that again? Can we come back to this group? Can we keep working with? Or can we get this experience because we see the value of this style of, of kind of way of working. So those were great signs that there were positive experiences, and really valuable outcomes being achieved through what people were. were experiencing, learning from and putting into practice.

Carolyn Norgate  22:45

Yeah, luckily, stories. And a real nice example of that practitioner, as you said, trusted advisor, collaborative partner, have you want to talk about it, but who's working in inquiry mode, helping through asking powerful questions, helping people think better, giving them confidence, coming to different solutions, I think you said earlier kind of getting underneath the skin of things. Whereas I think often, as I remember, in my first job was a I was an HR VP, not that we call back Back in my day, but you know, a lot of what you're valued for is bringing in expertise. And what you're asked to do is that advocate, advocate position advocate, what I should do, give people answers. And it's a quite a transactional, not a not a partnering way of working. And it speaks to the action orientation that many organisations have, but it doesn't necessarily speak to the quality of the thinking and the leadership that's needed in in complex organisations in a complex ever changing world with the customer. In your example, customer needs shifting and changing, etc, etc. So yeah, there's a really nice sense of how that shift was happening to inquiry and to go back to the programme architecture. What are the what we're modelling is an inquiry in the way in which we're working, as you were saying earlier on, it's it's not input based advocacy. You know, here's, here's, here's things you need to know and do. It's an offering of different models and ways of thinking, and then asking people lots of questions. And then it's one of the learning set, the learning set is all inquiry, but a lot of the main sessions were as well. So there's something that they're having modelled to them when they're on the programme, as well as working on their own through their own questions. What about sort of a bit a bit sort of further on you mentioned it was a newish function when when you set these cohorts up, what are you seeing now in terms of maturity?

Adrian Clarke  24:47

Well, we've had the interesting experience then of not long after starting the programme. We then announced going into a joint venture with Virgin Media O2 which then meant on On the one hand, people had an enormous opportunity now right in front of them to, to apply a number of the challenges that they were working through or the learnings and developments that they were building. The flip side of that, to be totally honest, is it also put real pressure on people in terms of the time the activity that was happening. Yeah. And it did lead to some some people having to make real kind of balanced judgments and decisions around where their time was being spent, as well as the reality of everyone was experience, large scale change in ambiguity, which is one thing when you're, when you're developing your skills in those things, and supporting others through ambiguity. And uncertainty, it's another thing we have a whole system you're working within is now going through a process of ambiguity and uncertainty. And that's impacting you on a personal level, it's impacting you in terms of like the relationships with other people you're working with. It's impacting in terms of the type of role you're doing, how you're doing it and who you're doing it with. And it's also bringing you into bringing you into conversations with another organisation, which we're coming together to become united with. And there's all that experience of then the kind of coming together process, but get back to your question of how to receive a kind of the maturity of that build. That was that was quite a challenge, then to be to be managing in in the moment, while also finding the time to keep building the skills, the experiences, those mindsets. I think I would continue with, I can definitely recognise that there's been a strong desire in that applied practice of learning and development from a number of those who've experienced the programme. And what I mean by that is particularly the type of action learning set style of, of collaboration of sharing is something that has has worked well. And we've tried to continue as much as possible. While also recognising that a lot of the a lot of the people has kind of changed and moved around as we've gone through this whole, this whole process, which again, I could flip around to Being Well, that's another great opportunity, because actually to apply a number of these key aspects and components of organisation development is the ability to constantly shape form reform evolve. And actually, if we can apply it to ourselves and our own teams, then that's a great ability to have as well as it is to apply it to the business areas that we may be be working with the leaders, we may be working with the leadership teams, all the teams we may be working with. So I think that that's definitely helped. And that continued demystification that a lot of what and someone who is labelled as org development might come in and do is very complimentary to actually the skills and capabilities that people partners HR business partners have. And actually, both things become brilliant complementary partners or complementary skill sets, which then allows some common language to be used, again, just brings down perhaps some of the others, otherwise barriers it might be seen as this this odd thing is a is a specialism that only certain people are, are bestowed with or that it's completely different. Standalone specialism or capability that only a select few are qualified to talk about and actually demonstrating. It's actually quite human skill, and quite a human capability. Nevermind it being HR or people, team skill and capability. That's a small example of that, which is not necessarily maturity in the business, but I think it's a wonderful sign of maturity. I've also heard people describe, I use this with my partner, or I found this has actually helped in some of the conversations I'm having outside of work as much as anything because it's that ability to kind of see whole different perspectives seek a common understanding. And again, the use of powerful questions in order to actually just find the common ground between between what could otherwise be competing tensions or pressures that I think is the if we can have a legacy from this. It would be for me rooted in that ability to find common ground common areas at surface differences in a way which embraces that diversity, and enables us to find a way of then moving forward together. And it's an ongoing learning journey. For sure. Particularly a number of moving parts I think most organisations are grappling with. We didn't mention the pandemic we're also dealing with through this. So it was all

Carolyn Norgate  30:30

virtual, wasn't it? Yeah.

Adrian Clarke  30:33

So we, it was a virtual learning, virtual development, and a virtual joint venture. Exercise, that's tough, tough on people. So if we've helped to equip people with some of those skills of, of working together, and that, to me is one of the, the, the real key outcomes or outputs which we were seeking, but also, which we were seeing and experiencing. The only other thing I just add to that is, it's still an individual process. So how that learning you have an experience, and the level of that difference it may have made to different people, can be quite, can be quite extreme. But everyone has taken something, because everyone had a different thing that they were focusing on. So actually, the impact it's made, isn't kind of a one size fits all, kind of consistent, it's a single metric we use to measure. Actually, some of that is in the difference it's made to those individuals and then added up to the cumulative impact that those individuals have been making in terms of what they're able to intervene in, across our organisation.

Carolyn Norgate  31:53

Yeah, I do think there's something that's interesting to you that I was thinking as first person impacts in terms of me as a practitioner, the second person in terms of us in this team and function and how we're now working with each other and how we're, you know, how we're holding ourselves as a function. And then the confidence that we have, collectively and in each other, and then the organisational benefit in terms of the different kinds of conversations that you described earlier. So yeah, that third person, piece as well. And yeah, it's amazing that we've not mentioned the fact that this was all virtual, and it was in the second big lockdown, I think that we were doing it. And I guess what I'd hope is that, that enabled people to see the depth of learning and the depth of conversations, the ability to be vulnerable, that can happen in a virtual space. But given you are going into the virtual, huge change process, you're you know, you're going through a huge change process and doing it virtually being able to see what's possible in the virtual space, I think was was quite eye opening for a number of people.

Adrian Clarke  33:01

Yeah, I think it's the first time but I do use the phrase of multipliers of ambiguity in that any one of these things would be a massive piece of ambiguity to be dealing with, but you're going through a joint venture, multiplied by the experience of a pandemic in our lives, multiplied by some of the changes that might be happening for people and via this programme of development. And this will be multipliers that added together. I think, the everyone who, who went through the programme, yeah, hats off to them for for throwing themselves into it, dealing with some of the all of those challenges that were happening at potentially individual, social, organisational layers, all at the same time. And still being committed to kind of going through that. Yeah, of course, you're very well supported, in terms of that, in terms of that whole process, and with the ability to, to learn from role models, such as yourselves in how to do this, not just not just how to learn it, and not just kind of how to hear about how it's done, but actually how to see it being done with, with with what you and your team did in terms of role modelling that throughout the process.

Carolyn Norgate  34:34

Yeah, yeah. And it was, thank you, and I am a we, you talked earlier about the personal impact, but I mean, I also remember at the time, you know, schools were in and out through that process. So there were people homeschooling, and that you know, so it was they were turning up to the programme online with often you know, kids at home, who's got what bit of tech today to do, I'm doing this they're doing a classroom thing, you know, partners also Uh, you know, real challenges for people, you know, right at right at the kind of core of the home. Nevermind as you say those multipliers are complexity and ambiguity that were going on so much to talk about. But is there anything we've not talked about you think we should have done?

Adrian Clarke  35:16

I think I covered everything and just scanning through notes. And we've covered it.

Carolyn Norgate  35:22

Lovely, okay, it's just been wonderful to hear and reconnect with the programme and the longer term impact of it the legacy but also just to kind of go back and talk about how it was at the time as well. And, and you know, why you want to do that. Why you set it up, So, thank you so much for the conversation, really enjoyed discussing it.

Adrian Clarke 35:44

Absolutely. It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

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