Skills Development in Manufacturing: Addressing the COVID Crisis and Beyond

Skills Development in Manufacturing: Addressing the COVID Crisis and Beyond

Wickland Westcott has worked with a wide variety of manufacturing businesses over the last 40years and remains a flag bearer for the sector. We recently spent time with Colin Gordon, a senior director with extensive experience within education and manufacturing, talking about the impact of COVID-19 on training and skills development in industry, and the importance of manufacturing to the UK’s long-term prosperity.

Colin began by expressing concern that the manufacturing sector has been seen as the ‘poor relation’ in the UK over recent times, impacting its attractiveness to entry level workers. Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating and terrible impact on people’s lives, one positive thing has been the enhanced profile manufacturing now has in the UK. People increasingly see the value of having domestic capability and the ability to not only manufacture and assemble in the UK but also to have our own local supply chain. Colin sees this as the silver lining to the current pandemic that could kick-start both support from the government and also interest from young people to join the sector, leading to the resurgence of manufacturing as a vital part of our economy in the years ahead.

However, whilst recognition of the importance of local manufacturing is positive, the impact of the current crisis on training and skills development is not. Many manufacturers are struggling to pay their staff and keep their heads above water: indeed, for many businesses just being around when things go back to ‘normal’ is the over-riding priority. As such, the emphasis has moved from longer term training and staff development to reducing costs, preserving cash and generating revenue in line with short term demand.

Companies have stopped taking on apprentices, and Colin pointed out recent statistics showing that there has already been an 80% reduction in apprentices being engaged. This is despite a raft of Government initiatives – i.e. furloughed apprentices can carry on training as long as they don’t generate income or carry out other work.

As we emerge from the crisis, organisations will be considering how they can take advantage of new situations and operate in different ways. This will include adopting new technologies to improve efficiencies and, in some cases, supplying such technologies to other organisations and new markets.

But changes have also had to be made to training delivery. Training delivery within manufacturing was poorly prepared for the impact of the virus and had previously not seriously considered alternatives to classroom training. As such, there will undoubtedly be an increase in the use of technology-driven training including digital and online delivery as well as incorporating emerging learning opportunities through AI and augmented and virtual reality moving forward.

So, does that mean the end to classroom-based training? Colin thinks not and that it still has an important part to play in providing an effective blended training experience. There has been, and will continue to be, a need to look at how individuals learn most effectively and the most reliable delivery method of achieving this. Some learning is best carried out in a physical group, where peer-to-peer learning through interactivity, discussion, and group exercises are important. Additionally, it can be challenging to continue to be fully engaged in technology-based training as it requires more intense concentration and focus, and you miss the social interaction and engagement with your tutor and fellow learners.

There is also a risk that the way a lot of training has been delivered during the pandemic (often last minute and via video conferencing tools such as Zoom) will have an impact on its long-term effectiveness. Whilst this was a needs-must approach, and very welcome due to the circumstances, it ought to be considered when looking at longer term skills development strategies. Technology-led training can be effective, but it needs to be thought through, planned, and delivered with the same level of detail and attention as has previously been the case with more traditional methods.

If the recession is as bad as some forecasts are predicting, this could have a long-term detrimental impact on investment in training. Companies that survive will then need to look at their market, what they are selling, and how they will be manufacturing it before they can determine the skills they need to do so effectively.

So, what role can the Government play in this? Manufacturing covers a relatively small part of the UK economy but it has been shown throughout the pandemic to be really important. If we want a more robust and long-term sustainable UK manufacturing sector, we need to invest in it so that we are better prepared both for any future economic challenges and as a basis for sector growth and subsequent career pathways and opportunities. We also need to look at areas such as how technology in different sectors can be utilised in manufacturing to reduce costs and improve efficiency, and then look at the skills required and the most effective ways people can be trained.

Areas we need to look at from a macro level include:

  • How do we make sure that career opportunities in manufacturing are shown to be exciting and valuable, and remove the traditional view and perspective?
  • How do we address the challenges of reliance on overseas suppliers and transportation infrastructures and create a viable home-based supply chain?
  • How can technology be used effectively? How can we find better ways of showcasing and cascading manufacturing innovations to all parts of the sector and raise everyone’s level at the same time?

Now that the country is taking steps to move out of lockdown we are seeing further pressure on the government to support skills and sectors that have been identified as critical over the past few months, with many MPs lobbying the government to support the manufacturing sector. On 15th July, a cross party group of MPs and business leaders published an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to back manufacturers to lead Britain’s economic recovery and to ask him to ensure that a significant amount of the £600 billion pledged by the government on major infrastructure contracts is awarded to British firms, something they feel should be easier post-Brexit.

Added to this is the fact that the recent mini-budget introduced initiatives to help stimulate manufacturing jobs and skills, including a £2bn Kickstart job creation scheme aimed at encouraging 16-24 year olds into work. The Chancellor is also investing £111m to triple the number of traineeships, with businesses offered £1,000 for each trainee they take on (although the grant will be capped at 10 jobs per business). Additionally, businesses will receive up to £2,000 for every new apprentice under 25 they hire and £1,500 for every new apprentice above 25, along with an extra £32m in funding for the National Careers Service (which is expected to benefit around a quarter of a million young people).

These initiatives are very welcome in enticing young people to enter and remain in the sector through training and apprenticeships and can certainly deliver longer term benefits. We need to be mindful, however, of other issues such as reskilling of older workers or developing skills pathways to help prepare our young people with the skills for future jobs which may not yet have been defined.

In conclusion, the crisis has demonstrated to the wider public how exposed we might be if the manufacturing sector declines any further. If we want to be able to stand on our own feet, we need a new manufacturing sector based on effective deployment of technology, with a continuous stream of exciting young talent equipped with the mindset and skills to deliver the future.

If you are in a business looking at how to put together and implement a training or skills development strategy or review your current plans, please contact Keith Butler at Wickland Westcott at or Colin Gordon.

Gordon is a highly experienced senior executive, having worked within the U.K.’s education sector for many years. He has worked and consulted with a wide range of education providers and businesses across many sectors and private sector, public sector, not-for-profit Trustee, and Private Equity Funded businesses. He is passionate about improving opportunities for learners and the success of U.K. Business plc.

Climbing the Servitisation Ladder – The Leadership Challenge

Climbing the Servitisation Ladder – The Leadership Challenge

Wickland Westcott recently engaged Alec Gilbert, a Business & Services Growth Consultant – – to explore the organisational and leadership challenges associated with evolving from supplying products to a service-led model.

Servitisation refers to the shift from supplying products to the delivery of service-based outcomes – i.e. product as a service – a growing trend across many manufacturing businesses. Good examples include Rolls-Royce who contract with the airlines on a ‘power by the hour’ basis and Xerox who adopt a ‘pay per use’ model. Both organisations realised the value of providing through-life support, which generates significant income through aftermarket services whilst enabling them to form deeper, more strategic relationships with customers. Benefits to customers include increased reliability, lower overall cost/total cost of ownership (TCO), reduced operational complexity and improved cash flow.

Modern day equivalents include streaming services – i.e. Netflix and Spotify – enabling customers to access services previously delivered in product form, and servitisation is now being widely adopted by a variety of critical equipment suppliers.

Alec, who has developed a proprietary change model, described how “most manufacturing organisations start with their products and climb the servitisation ladder: Product > Reactive > Preventative > Proactive solutions > Business optimisation”.

The evolution relies on digital technology to generate data and the systems/knowhow to leverage it for predictive/prescriptive purposes but this only represents a small part of the challenge; the ‘Disciplines of Market Leaders’ (Michael Treacy), suggests that successful businesses need to focus on one of 3 core disciplines:

  • Customer Intimacy – combining detailed customer knowledge with operational flexibility to create the best total solution for the customer
  • Operational Excellence – controlling processes to effectively deliver best total cost to the customer
  • Product Leadership – selling the best product on the market

However, servitisation suggests that you need to increase the focus on customer intimacy whilst retaining competence in both operational excellence and product leadership. Therefore, “the hardest part of the journey is the last 2 or 3 steps, which require a cultural shift as the focus of the business moves from ‘our product’ to ‘our customer’.

From a leadership perspective, Alec identified the creation of a clear vision and strategy, consistent communication and reinforcement, and leadership by example – ‘doing the right thing – as key considerations. The strategy needs to place significant emphasis on:

  • Aligning the organisation around the customers’ needs, creating a customer-centric culture
  • Upskilling the organisation capability to deliver a whole life solution and focusing on the customer benefits of the solutions
  • Integrating the organisation to deliver a consistent solution to customers, not just fragmented silos of manufacturing and services

“This cultural shift requires organisations to develop new capabilities it may not have developed as a manufacturer. Successful outcomes also vary according to the strength of the customer relationship; deep trust, aligned goals and a basis for managing risk are important considerations here”.

Alec highlighted the following types of skills that need to be developed as an organisation moves up the servitisation ladder:

  • Customer focus: seeing the world from the customer’s perspective; having a deep understanding of the customer’s business and being able to innovate improvements
  • Teamworking: the ability to work across internal silos to create new solutions. Also, the ability to create effective teamworking with key customers in order to build trust and understand their business needs deeply
  • Entrepreneurial curiosity to seek new opportunities that are driven by customer needs, not just the ‘internally focused’ approach of selling what is made
  • Planning: moving closer to customers offers better visibility of their pipeline, which can reduce the demand ‘surprises’ that might catch out the business. However, the service offered will get more complex and ambiguous, and the customer pipeline timing cannot be fixed with certainty
  • Proactivity: not being satisfied with the current performance; seeking ways to improve the business either for customers or internally; co-creating long-term plans with customers to drive shared value
  • Digital Competence: All the servitisation pioneers have used information and connected technology to achieve a higher level of service delivery, tailored to the customer’s individual product needs. This is an important, emerging skillset.

Therefore, the real challenge is to deliver a business-wide cultural shift from a siloed, internally focused manufacturing organisation, into an externally focused, customer-centric integrated organisation that can use information better than its competitors or customers to deliver unique, value-adding solutions. Whilst data is an important enabler for the approach, creating new capabilities and behaviours in the organisation, in addition to new services and solutions, are the biggest hurdles to success”.

If you are in a business embracing servitisation or undergoing similar digital change, please contact Jerome Bull, Director & Head of Search or Alec Gilbert to learn more.

COVID-19 Crisis is Accelerating Boardroom Changes

COVID-19 Crisis is Accelerating Boardroom Changes

New Street Group research which shows how the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating the number of board changes is quoted in the Financial Times this morning.

You can read the FT article here.

Our analysis of announcements by UK stock market listed businesses shows that there were 232 board changes in April 2020, compared to a monthly average of 206 changes over the previous two years. We are also seeing a similar trend in May.

Major businesses like Royal Mail, easyJet, Aston Martin and Purplebricks are among those to change their CEOs and CFOs in just the last two weeks. The number of changes at the top in the real estate sector is particularly notable.

The economic impact of the “lockdown” has forced businesses to assess whether their boards have the right mix of skills to respond to the new challenges of the pandemic.

The challenges of leading a business during a time of crisis are often very different to the challenges of growing a business during more benign economic conditions. Our study shows that boards are bringing forward succession plans and accelerating the pace of change to make sure they are able to respond to the crisis.

We’re now seeing skills like restructuring, cost management, risk management and financial planning & analysis at a premium. Senior executives and non-executives who have experience of leading businesses through the last financial crisis are in great demand.

We’re even seeing some positive changes, like executives being released from their gardening leave clauses earlier than they would normally. This allows them to get to their new employer quicker to help fight fires.

If your business needs help in getting the right blend of skills and experience on the board to deal with the crisis and recovery, we’re here to help. Get in touch to discuss your requirements.

We’re excited to announce we’re rebranding…

We’re excited to announce we’re rebranding…

We will soon be New Street Consulting Group.

We’re excited to announce that New Street Group and its three businesses – Interim Partners, Wickland Westcott and BrightPool – will be rebranding this Summer. As part of our brand transformation strategy, our group name and brand identity will change from New Street Group to New Street Consulting Group. 

Why it’s time for a new name

We’re re-branding and consolidating our existing capabilities under one entity, to strengthen and differentiate our offer and provide intelligence-led solutions for both clients and professionals.  

As New Street Consulting Group, the heritage, expertise and decades of experience across our existing businesses come together as a unified proposition. We have diversified from our core offering to a range of complementary leadership and people solutions that enable clients to adapt, build and thrive in these challenging times. Our new name not only better describes what we do, but also how we add value.

Our vision is a talented future

Our vision is a talented future where people strategy and business goals are truly aligned: mission-critical teams have the agility and skills to achieve transformation faster, and the right leadership skills are in place to deliver in disrupted, dynamic sectors.     

As New Street Consulting Group, we will be offering clients smarter ways to solve their talent and business challenges, empowering them to think differently about senior, specialist talent, offering new ways to access, engage and develop high-performers. 

A new world of work is already here

The fast-emerging priority for businesses is the shaping of agile, upskilled teams that can achieve transformation fast.  

As New Street Consulting Group, we’re pioneering the ways in which employers can effectively measure the return on human capital investment, we’re creating new psychometric tools for talent assessment, and innovative services for total talent management. We are committed in helping both employers and professionals navigate the future world of work

You can expect the same superior service, and more

Interim Partners at New Street Consulting Group will continue to partner with its valued clients to provide interim management advisory services to support them through challenging periods, change and transformation. Wickland Westcott’s expertise in executive search, leadership assessment and development, and consulting will reform as New Street Consulting Group services. BrightPool, as a provider of solutions to help our clients solve their talent acquisition and resourcing strategies will change its name and provide agile talent solutions as part of New Street Consulting Group.  

Our new brand will be revealed this Summer…

We’re very much looking forward to revealing our new brand identity. Our new website, social presence and visual brand signature will portray our new image, communicate our purpose, vision and mission as a future-focussed leadership and agile talent solutions provider.

Our group rebrand marks a significant milestone in not only my personal journey with Interim Partners initially founded in 2003, but the journey of New Street Group and the growth and achievements of its collective businesses.  

As we start this process, I’d like to thank the professionals, clients, suppliers and other key stakeholders in our network. Without you, our transformation will not be possible and we look forward to a successful and talented future with all of you.

Doug Baird
Chief Executive Officer
New Street Consulting Group

Credit Where it’s Due – Tips for Appraising Teams

Credit Where it’s Due – Tips for Appraising Teams

By John Milsom

January is a common time for organisations to schedule annual appraisals into the Talent Calendar. As more work is completed in teams, this means that leaders are faced with the challenge of working out who has been responsible for the achievement of shared objectives (or otherwise). But doing this is not always easy, and raises the question of just how credit should be allocated on tasks requiring collaboration.

New research from Kellogg School of Management points towards systematic flaws in the way this is done and highlights practical takeaways to improve the accuracy of attributing responsibility for performance within teams.

The key finding from this research is that when reviewing the performance of teams there are systematic differences between the type of people who get the credit when things go well, and those who get the blame when things go wrong. Specifically, it seems that the contributions of more experienced and established team members who have developed a reputation over time are over-weighted when teams perform well, and under-weighted when teams underperform.

This means that, to coin a phrase, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, with experienced team members being rated positively as a result of team successes, and more junior team members unduly punished for failures. At the same time therefore, less established team members are less likely to have their contributions recognised when they contribute to successful teams, whilst their experienced colleagues escape without being held accountable when expectations are not met.

As well demotivating staff, this effect has the potential to reinforce the status quo (such as established hierarchies or ways of work), stifle talent and innovation, and reduce the potential of teams to develop over time. Senior individuals may not receive the challenge and honest feedback they need to address their own role in failures, while junior or new staff involved in team efforts that do not go to plan will find themselves held disproportionately accountable and their careers stalled as a result. There are implications here for the development of a performance culture, continuous improvement, engagement, talent management as well as developing inclusivity.

Practical takeouts from the research for leaders though focus on the need to avoid using experience and reputation as a proxy for responsibility when looking to evaluate the performance of individuals within teams. As they say, “awareness is curative”, and so being conscious of avoiding this trap and thinking more deeply about the role individuals actually played in team results will be crucial. In particular, when we find ourselves giving credit to senior team members or holding less established individuals responsible when targets are missed we should be particularly careful, challenge our own thinking, look for contradictory data and seek a devils advocate to check our thinking.

What are your experiences of working in a team, or attributing credit to individuals to shared objectives?

John Milsom is Client Service Director at Wickland Westcott. He specialises in the Assessment and Development of senior Leaders, and has a particular interest in the performance of Executive Teams. For a confidential conversation on useful tips and solutions call John on 01625 508100 or email

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How to break down silos

How to break down silos

By John Milsom

Just about every one of the clients I have worked with this year has been grappling with the challenge of breaking down silos in their organisation. Whether the silos are geographic, functional, market based or relate to business units, leaders seem to be struggling to achieve the collaboration they would like to see, or is needed to execute their strategies.

It seems as if while everyone understands the benefits of horizontal teamwork (innovation, engagement, client satisfaction – or within professional services: increased cross selling) the means of achieving this remains a mystery.

Reflecting on the research in this field and our own experiences, it seems that relationships lie at the heart of the challenge. After all, as human beings we all prefer to work with what we know and who we know. Beyond this here are ten practical steps that leaders should look to take to break down silos in their organisations:

  1. Recruit and develop individuals with diverse backgrounds and skill sets rather than those with narrow specialisms
  2. Recruit and develop individuals with a growth mindset (the desire to learn and be stretched by new challenges)
  3. Recruit and develop people with high EQ
  4. Facilitate cross functional/business moves and experiences
  5. Inspire, equip and reward staff who operate with curiosity (Developing the ability to ask high quality questions across boundaries)
  6. Ensure leaders show an interest in what others are seeing and thinking (e.g. by asking questions, and seeking help from others to solve important problems they are facing)
  7. Create internal networking opportunities and ensure they include room for two-way dialogue
  8. Encourage the practice of looking at problems through the eyes of others
  9. Set up cross silo teams to work on specific issues
  10. Encourage employees to explore and develop their external network into new and distant domains

We welcome your thoughts breaking down silos. Would you add anything to these? If you’d like to share your own experiences, or talk about current challenges please do get in touch. Email John Milsom at Wickland Westcott ( or call him on 01625 508100.

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Rainmaker vs CEO

Rainmaker vs CEO

By Colin Mercer

The stay or go dilemma 

Star performers sometimes have doubts about staying with their firm. CEOs worry about holding on to their big names. What causes these doubts? Sometimes it’s down to a personality clash. But more often it is due to a difference in perspective – there are two sides to every story. We’re used to advising on situations like this one. See if anything sounds familiar to you…


I am one of the biggest billers in our firm. I generate nearly 20% of our annual revenue. Every day I take on daunting, complex, high-profile assignments in order to help our firm succeed.

I often lie in bed at night genuinely fearful of what I have to do the following day. There is nothing lonelier than that moment when you step into the fray.

I work longer hours than most of my colleagues. I spend more nights away from home and I take more personal risk – putting myself in harm’s way. And I see less of my children. My spouse asks: “Does everyone work as hard as you? Why is it always our weekends that suffer?

I am very well paid – I earn more than I or my parents ever imagined. But in terms of sheer fairness, I should probably be paid more. Much of my fee income is spent paying the salaries of staff in our support functions.

Other professionals in the firm often want access to my contacts, and I am usually happy to oblige. But why are they not able to build their own contact base?

I love our firm, but should I stay here? I feel it is too slow, insufficiently client focused, and a little bloated. Mediocrity is commonplace, and we have lots of back-office resource not focused on sales or delivery.

My boss is competent. She understands the professional life and undoubtedly has credibility having won her spurs out in the market, where it matters. But as CEO she tolerates under-performance and has lost some of her commercial edge.

Is this the right place for me, or should I move somewhere where the ambition matches my own? I do love this firm though, and especially the people in it. Maybe I just need to stop moaning.


Maya is a star performer. Brave, tireless, commercial, and sharp as a tack. She built a book of business, and then a whole department, based upon her ceaseless effort, industry and entrepreneurialism.

She drives a significant portion of our revenue. More than that, her business area is strategically important – a growth market that our firm should be known for. She is not the only show in town – we have a few other big-hitters. But we do need her.

She is quite a character. Quick-witted and straight-talking, sometimes intolerant of those around her. She burns though admin support like no tomorrow. She inspires enormous admiration across the firm but is not a great manager. Perhaps because she is so self-sufficient she assumes her people need little support, or even time with her.

We have made repeated attempts to keep her engaged. I asked her to join my executive team and this worked for a while, but she found it frustrating. She is not always respectful of colleagues. She does not really role-model our values. I have to manage my own behaviour to ensure Maya’s views carry due weight, but not too much. I can’t be seen to be beholden to the big-billers.

She believes she should be paid more. She does drive enormous value. But whilst her clients undoubtedly value her, they also value our brand and the broader infrastructure that sits behind her.

Maya (and other partners) have been vocal about the relative weakness of our brand, the lack of talent coming through, and our ‘appalling’ systems. We therefore invested significantly (but carefully) in our marketing, HR and IT functions – the very people she sometimes describes as ‘overheads’.

Maybe I am being unfairly critical of her. I like her a lot. She is wonderful company, an incredible talent, and a real asset for the firm. But I can feel we are reaching a cross-road. How do we keep her in the firm, whilst satisfying her and also remaining true to our values?

Do you think Maya should stay? Should the CEO flex to accommodate her, or hold the line? Should they meet half-way to provide what they both want?

Dilemmas like this are commonplace in professional service firms. For a confidential conversation on useful tips and solutions call Colin Mercer on 01625 508100 or email

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Blinkers Off – The Case for Recruiting from Outside your Sector

Blinkers Off – The Case for Recruiting from Outside your Sector

By Jerome Bull

For many employers, recruiting from within their industry is preferable to appointing a candidate from outside the sector. They believe that this specific knowledge is a prerequisite for success, and that candidates without this insight present an unnecessary risk.

In Wickland Westcott’s Industrial Practice however, our experience is that certain Managing Directors, General Managers and senior operations executives are able to successfully switch sectors, and that these individuals often bring a fresh perspective along with the ability to add value beyond the application of existing industry knowledge.

Those able to make the transition, however, do come with a specific set of skills and characteristics, and Wickland Westcott has recently completed a research project to identify them:

An aptitude for learning – In order to successfully switch sectors, individuals need to quickly familiarise themselves with new products, processes and industry terminology. This learning may also extend to specific regulatory and marketplace requirements.  The ability to make sense of a new environment at both a conceptual and operational level is, therefore, critical to establishing credibility and making an early impact.  According to Duncan Martin who has worked at senior level in fmcg, waste management, nuclear energy and multi-sector private equity-backed manufacturing environments: “this requires a logical mind and the ability to acquire and assimilate new information“. It is not about becoming an expert in everything, but rather having the ability to grasp the fundamentals by simplifying complexity.

A developed understanding of manufacturing systems technology – Participants in our research consistently reported that, in order to shift from one industry to another, it is essential to have a reliable operating framework to work from, and to understand the key principles of manufacturing.

Stephen Forbes, MD Explore Manufacturing (part of the Laing O’Rourke Group) explains the need for: “a set of appropriate KPIs, typically including safety, productivity, cost, quality and customer service, via which you manage performance.  When moving industry you need the ability to interpret KPIs and to adapt them to the environment that you are working in“.

High levels of performance are also underlined through the adaptation and application of continuous improvement tools and techniques. Keith Broadbent, an Operations Director who has worked in the automotive, telecoms, luxury yacht and electronics sectors, commented: “You need to break down the principles of manufacturing – structures, KPIs and good people; the building blocks are common. The overall manufacturing process is essentially made up of a linear sequence of activities which can be measured, manipulated and improved“.

Leadership capability – Success in any senior role is largely dependent on the ability to gain the support and commitment of the team. This requirement is intensified when moving into a new sector where a lack of market knowledge, and the absence of an installed base of contacts, has the potential to undermine credibility in the short term. The key to gaining respect in the first instance is a willingness to show humility, demonstrate interest in other people and to listen and learn. Credibility is also likely to be achieved by correctly identifying and addressing the priority issues.

Beyond this, the attainment of results is based on an ability to get the best out of other people. This is characterised by a visionary outlook and the capacity to align others behind a common set of goals. Specific attributes contributing to success in this area include an open and participative approach, enough courage to make and act on tough decisions and a willingness to manage performance, both good and bad. Communication is also vital here.

Business skills – The ability of senior managers to anchor their efforts back to the goals and objectives of the broader business is obviously key. Tom Carpenter, a CEO who has worked in the electronics, pharma and cable manufacturing sectors, comments: “you will not survive without good business skills; commercial acumen is therefore a prerequisite“.

Tenacity – Many participants in our research identified determination and tenacity as crucial to achieving success. There is much talk in modern management literature about the need for innovation – at Wickland Westcott we believe that perseverance and discipline are at least as important. More than this, success is about having a well thought-through plan and being prepared to work to it.

Contributors in this area commented on the importance of:

  • “Remaining focused in your efforts…identifying the priorities and using your metrics to guide you”
  • “Having a clear plan to work to”
  • “Being able to cope with setbacks”
  • “Having a level of determination that enables you to deal with opposition and adversity”

Adaptability – Individuals that fail to make the leap from one sector to another were consistently reported as being too rigid or inflexible in the way they applied their tools and techniques. Typically, they were too prescriptive and kept trying to do what they have always done, rigidly implementing what had worked for them in the past. Julian Allen, a senior executive in the fmcg and building products sectors observed: “you cannot afford to be too slavish to one particular style.”

In short, the above capabilities can go a long way towards mitigating the risks of appointing an unsuitable candidate from outside (or indeed inside) of the sector. Organisations should be encouraged to remove sector-specific blinkers and bring in fresh, paradigm-shifting executives, as long as the candidate they are looking for has the above skills.

Building on this research, Wickland Westcott has developed an assessment toolkit to support recruiting companies in their decision making in this area. To find out more contact Jerome Bull on 01625 508100 or email him at

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Digital Manufacturing – stripped back and made simple

Digital Manufacturing – stripped back and made simple

By Keith Butler

The media love to promote Industry 4.0 or I4.0 or even I4 as the next “silver bullet” solution for manufacturing companies; and often in doing so create an unhealthy expectation which has the effect of alienating exactly those organisations that should be excited about such things. At a recent industry dinner event hosted by Wickland Westcott and Barclays the collective 32 leaders representing the sector expressed their dislike of the term I4.0, preferring the more accurate descriptor of “Digital Manufacturing”.

Brian Holliday, MD of Siemens Digital Industries, explained that as more automated tools and computer systems have become used in manufacturing plants it has become necessary to model, simulate, and analyse all of the machines, tooling, and input materials in order to optimize the manufacturing process. Overall, digital manufacturing can be seen sharing the same goals as computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), flexible manufacturing, lean manufacturing, and design for manufacturability (DFM). The main difference is that digital manufacturing was evolved for use in the computerized world. That said, this is not just something for large scale operations to consider.

On the evening many examples were shared of how digital manufacturing can add cash returns to small and large companies alike, one being a small “metal bashing” company on the Wirral. With £5m sales and employing 50 staff, the company improved their operating efficiency from 30% to 70% by tapping into government backed initiatives, like Made Smarter that offer funding and insight. On this occasion they largely provided knowledge and were able to advise the company on how they could improve machine utilisation, with little / no investment, and benefit from government subsidies to encourage the adoption of digital manufacturing, resulting in the delivery of £500k of cash profit.

Interestingly, the conversation on the night also acknowledged that key to success when adopting digital manufacturing is agile learning and agile working along with cultural change and is the subject of another of this month’s pieces. (Lack of Trust and Leadership – the Biggest Barrier to Flexible Working).

The event was held at the 1830 station warehouse, part of the Science and Industry museum in Manchester and home to the worlds’ first inter-city passenger railway. Back in 1830 representatives from other cities visited and then copied this approach and a new era dawned. Seeing something working in practice helps to crystalize the potential, therefore, following on from this event we are arranging a digital factory tour for clients to help further their understanding.

If you are interested in understanding more about digital manufacturing or joining the tour please contact Keith Butler on 01625 508100 or email him at

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Lack of Trust and Leadership – the Biggest Barrier to Flexible Working

Lack of Trust and Leadership – the Biggest Barrier to Flexible Working

By Liz Lawson

Flexible working is becoming the norm, with the rise of globalisation, enabled by advances in technology, it now means that people can work pretty much anywhere. This has a big appeal for employees wanting the flexibility and freedom to work when and where they choose so that they can more easily juggle work and personal commitments. It also offers benefits to employers which include greater talent attraction and retention, access to expanded talent pools, increased productivity and performance, and reduced estate costs. In addition to the well documented benefits of flexible working the competition for talent means it is evidently a growing trend that more and more organisations are feeling pressure to adopt. Yet according to research by the CIPD in January 2019, a significant proportion of the workforce are not being given the option to work flexibly.

Therefore, do all employers really believe the reported benefits? The truth is that many don’t. Many organisations report operational pressures, industry sector and the nature of their work as barriers to adopting flexible working. Add to this that many managers simply want their workforce where they can see them and able to get hold of them when they want. However, the trend towards virtual teams and remote working presents ever increasing challenges to such managers, especially when under pressure themselves to deliver against stretching targets. Given the competitive imperative, organisations should challenge such paradigms and seek to evolve rather than risk becoming obsolete. Whilst we acknowledge that there are some sectors and job roles that are less suited to flexible working e.g. manufacturing or health service workers, there are a growing number of sectors where more flexible approaches are working effectively. Indeed, our experience tells us it is not sector being the largest blocker it is often more about a lack of trust and the need to equip leaders with the appropriate skills to manage such teams.

To remain competitive, there may be no choice but to embrace flexible working. Therefore, for businesses and employees to truly realise the benefits that it can bring, and be leaders in their field, it requires fundamental culture change, starting at the top. In our experience the following components are key to successfully building a flexible and remote working culture:

  1. Root it in the strategy: Identify and communicate the ‘why’ i.e. the business drivers for adopting a flexible way of working. This could be to support growth without increased establishment costs, to better meet the changing needs of customers and employees or to expand the talent pool outside of office locations, for instance.
  2. Senior leadership sponsorship: Like with any culture change, proactive support for remote/flexible working and role modelling of the right behaviours from the most senior people within the organisation is vital to engaging the wider organisation. There is no point in senior leaders saying that they are onboard and then placing demands on employees which make it impossible for them to work flexibly.
  3. Leadership training: Managing virtual and flexible working teams will require a bigger shift in attitude, skills and behaviours for some leaders more than others. Fundamentally a trust-based leadership approach needs to be adopted with clarity on objectives and deliverables yet greater emphasis on outcomes rather than when and where work is completed. Providing greater autonomy to teams and enabling them to self-manage, engage and stay connected is another important shift. This includes being sensitive to cultural differences within a team and being the mediator in balancing corporate and local needs.
  4. Self-managed teams: Empowering teams to take greater ownership for their collective learning and delivery of outcomes is essential when working remotely. Encouraging collective rather than single responsibility combats issues with supervising trainees when work patterns don’t match. It also enables leaders themselves to work the hours they want to work, helping organisations to retain and access all good leaders rather than just those willing to work 24/7.
  5. Embrace technology: Choosing the right technology and training on how to use this is critical to enable virtual teams to interact in a different way, without people feeling isolated or disconnected to their colleagues. Instant messaging and video conferencing platforms, such as WhatsApp and Skype, are growing rapidly in popularity due to this new way of working.

Like many aspects of business change there is no silver bullet and each business should start with what they are trying to achieve and why. There is no point treating this as a “tick box” exercise, to appease one or two key individuals or to try and give the impression of a business which is forward thinking, when the underlying culture does not support it. In the world of social media and connected networks the illusion will be short lived. That said, with a clear purpose and rationale, it is possible to make small changes to start along the path towards a longer term goal – since demonstrating an aspiration to become more flexible and to embrace the benefits associated with flexible working will send positive signals across your organisation and into the market place.

Wickland Westcott provides support to organisations grappling with the challenges of leading virtual and flexible teams. Whether it is simply advice you are looking for or leadership training and development, please contact Liz Lawson for more information on 07970 377481 or email

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