The cover story in July 2011’s Human Resources magazine focuses on innovative leadership that creates waves. The perfect case study? Asda’s leadership framework, co-created with Cirrus.

New CEO, new leadership style, new leadership code needed. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but neither was it knee-jerk – often a criticism of ‘new’ leadership programmes. When Andy Clarke took over as Asda’s boss in 2010, he saw a leadership structure (managers and above – some 10,000 staff) that had become task- and metric-focused, but was inspiring neither staff nor customers. What has now been developed, and is just rolling out, is a leadership framework that has growing internal capability at its heart, but which has been mapped out against the requirements of a five-year corporate plan.

“By mapping the skills we needed in the next three to five years, we found we needed to see leadership more broadly than just managing people,” says its head of learning, Amanda Cox. “Working with partner Cirrus, we developed three main themes: leading people; leading to win; and leading with passion. Each of these then has three unique behaviours – such as good judgement or spotting and acting on business opportunities.”

Cox adds: “The real departure is that we are operating against a set of written values and principles – what Cirrus senior partner Simon Hayward calls “a heads, hearts and guts” concept. Before, stores went off in all different directions, but this is probably the first new style of leadership since Archie Norman launched his ‘Gung-Ho!’ programme ten years ago.”

Day-long launch workshops for the first 300 leaders have just been run, and in time the project will be supported by a Leadership Academy and a toolkit around desired behaviours. Individual development plans will be created for leaders out of each one-day workshop and performance will be judged against them. Although Asda already hires for attitude rather than skills, the programme will also be embedded into recruitment practices too, although significantly, the project is not going to be accredited by bodies such as the Institute of Leadership and Management.

Cox adds: “Leadership attrition was already just 5%, and it could be argued we didn’t need to do this. But what became clear was that we couldn’t just have bumbled along with our five-year plan so much at the forefront of our future plans. We are now identifying what people do in their day jobs and drawing the link between how their behaviour is relevant to putting customers back at the heart of the business.”

This case study is part of a comprehensive feature, The bland leading the bland? Time to get radical.

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