Interview: Julie Weston

The director of human resources at the British Heart Foundation tells Femke Colborne its leadership training programme has honed the skills not only of managers but also of staff across the organisation

Julie Weston
Julie Weston

Julie Weston, director of human resources at the British Heart Foundation, believes leadership is not just for managers. For the past two years, the charity has offered training in leadership skills not only to its senior employees, but also to staff at all levels.

"We felt strongly that we wanted to build leadership qualities throughout the organisation, not just among our managers," says Weston, who will host a seminar on the charity's leadership programme at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development annual conference in Manchester later this month.

"We have management development programmes for our senior staff, but we wanted to create an environment in which people could deepen their awareness of their own working style and the impact their behaviour has on other people. We also wanted to focus on the talent we have and develop and build that, keeping people in the organisation."

Since February 2010, an external trainer has been working with groups of between 12 and 16 BHF staff across all disciplines including fundraising, policy, finance and IT. Each group works with the trainer for eight months, attending a workshop every three weeks and completing projects and personal coaching sessions in between the workshops.

Personal responsibility

According to Weston, the programme has also been about encouraging staff to take personal responsibility for helping the organisation to succeed. "We wanted to improve staff engagement across the organisation," she says. "Some of the people on the course manage staff, but everyone has to be able to manage relationships - with customers or colleagues.

"We are building on the skills people have to enable them to do that better and, more importantly, we are helping them to discover something about themselves, what they are like as a person and what they need to do to bring about change."

Acting on feedback from the first few sessions, the charity decided earlier this year that it wanted more involvement from the line managers of the people on the programme.

Clear goals

"We have tweaked the programme as we have gone through," says Weston. "It now has clear goals set with managers, building them in so people have more support outside the programme. They will provide mentoring throughout the programme."

Weston says the scheme accounts for "a sizeable proportion of our training budget" but is good value for money. "For the number of people who take part in it and the benefit we get out of it, the programme is exceptionally reasonable," she says. "I believe that developing people in this way has a direct impact on organisational performance."

Feedback from staff has been positive, she says. "People who have been on the programme have said they feel more in control of managing groups and conflicts, have a greater awareness of different leadership and learning styles and other people's behaviour, get more out of their appraisal discussions, feel they are more tolerant of others and have learned better communications skills.

"Everyone has to take personal responsibility for how they behave, and has to understand their style and the impact it has on other people. This programme is helping them to achieve that."

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