Guest Opinion. Cultural alignment. By Irene Cowden, group HR director, Group 4 Securicor

Cultural alignment is always a big hurdle for merged entities, and providing opportunities for training and development is just one of many ways to help lock in senior managers and key staff.

All too often, employee development is seen as a right rather than a benefit but the reality is that good training programmes can play a key role in helping individuals build their career and their earning potential. These should be recognised as an integral part of employee reward packages.

While having a well-trained, skilled workforce is clearly beneficial for employers as well as employees, investing in development provides staff with significant personal, and transferable, skills.

Following the merger of the security services division of Group 4 Falck and Securicor to create Group 4 Securicor (G4S), the group was keen to find new ways to incentivise its management team and to unite staff from the two merged organisations.

Creating an aspirational and industry-leading global leadership programme was seen as a core component of this cultural integration. The result was the G4S Leadership Programme, designed to help high-potential employees develop their leadership skills and progress to senior group management positions.

While the programme needed to provide a solid, long-term training environment to identify and develop G4S global leaders for the future, it also needed to provide clear evidence of the career opportunities available via the enlarged group to help G4S attract and retain top talent. Furthermore, the programme needed to be clearly aspirational and be recognised as a benefit by those chosen to participate.

To achieve this, G4S was keen to include key elements of an executive MBA programme and to give participants the opportunity to learn from the global executive team. It also wanted to hold residential courses in different global locations to reflect the group’s multinational status.

Getting a place on the two-year scheme is challenging, which adds to the aspirational qualities of the programme. The course is structured as a high-level two-year development process for a select number of carefully-identified employees.

Participants in the scheme are nominated by their managers and attend a two-day assessment centre to confirm their suitability. In its first year, a quarter of those attending the assessment centres were deemed suitable for the executive development programme.

Those who are not selected receive an in-depth one-on-one debrief to explain why they were not chosen and receive a personal training and development plan created for them to improve core skills and competencies to enable them to increase their suitability for future entry.

Employees who are chosen to take part then enter into the two-year structured programme which uses a range of learning methods.

This includes the senior executives of G4S actively taking part in five residential sessions, during which leadership programme participants are provided with a forum to interrogate the executive team members and work with them to brainstorm new ideas.

Projects are then given to participants to develop and present to the board, with the potential to drive these through the organisation.

In addition, each of the participants is allocated their own mentor from the most senior population of leaders at G4S. They work with participants on an ongoing basis to discuss issues or problems and coach them through any leadership challenges.

This individual learning and progression is key and the course content has been designed to provide a strong foundation for on-the-job development which enables participants to put their learnings into practice in their existing roles.

Since the programme started in June 2005, many of the 14-strong initial intake have already been promoted and the majority have been given increased responsibilities. As a result, the number of senior managers asking to be nominated to attend the second course intake has been significantly increased. It has also demonstrated that a holistic approach to staff benefits, with training and skill development rightfully recognised as a core component of this, can work well within a global organisation like G4S.