Harnessing the leadership talent among an organisation’s staff can help drive a winning business transformation, as Simon Large and Steve Keyes from Bradford District Care Trust explain.

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The search for a “leadership relationship” that fits with the needs of today’s complex world is a necessity given the current operating context for the public and third sectors.

By leadership we mean the responsibility that every employee in our organisation has to positively affect the quality of services through example and influence. By relationship we mean the emotional connection we make through a sharing of different perspectives and clarity of understanding with each other. 

Such exchanges lie at the heart of what we are here to do, the essence of caring for service users and supporting our colleagues. The key element that underpins our work here at Bradford District Care Trust is hope, the expression of fulfilment of the present and a sense of a positive future. 

It is this notion of a hopeful world and endless possibilities that is the mainstay of our talent programme.

Our leadership development programme Exciting Futures started in 2009 after we had taken a practical view of how we wanted to shape the organisation through our people. Making a clear alignment between business strategy and talent development to drive business transformation, QIPP and service redesign was essential. 

We used an analysis of current and desired leadership behaviours developed in conjunction with staff and service users to produce a unique set of leadership competencies reflecting our organisational values, goals and are applicable to all staff across the trust.

The BDCT competency framework was used as a starting point for refining an approach to appraisal and personal development planning that gives our executives, managers, and employees new power to drive performance in achieving immediate and longer-term strategic goals.

We applied the same competency-based approach to create a cost-effective plan for building a fully integrated talent management system tailored to the organisation’s unique culture, business processes and strategic goals.

Exciting Futures is a key tenet of our talent management system. The programme has an annual intake of 20 staff from a cross section of pay bands and disciplines from corporate and operational functions. Each participant has the support of their line manager and is expected to continue in their role with some release time for the programme.

Each participant completes an individual personal development plan built up from 360 feedback and psychometric instruments which are underpinned by our competency framework. Participants are then carefully selected for project teams (four to eight people) according to their competency development needs, personality strengths and preferences.

The whole programme is based around the delivery of projects that make connections to our service users through community and/or service redesign projects designed on the principle of “improving lives of people who use our services”.

Project ideas are put forward by service managers following local discussions with staff and users. The precise nature and scope of the project and the specific outcomes are determined by the programme participants through negotiation with sponsoring service managers and users.

A key requirement of each project is that it directly involves service users; it is this aspect that makes a lasting emotion connection and impact on our project teams and service users (a partnership and bond). 

Any funding requirement is self generated, it is outside the normal expectations of service delivery, it must be delivered within a six month period and it represents a considerable “stretch” beyond the usual role of the participant.

Participants personal development through the project delivery is then supported by development workshops, coaching (both personal and team based) and seminars. All participants at one point in the programme have a meeting with the chief executive who challenges and offers insight and networking opportunities.

The programme creates a sustainable pipeline of talent and a drive towards business and personal transformation. This is our third year of running this leadership programme and has seen a greater transfer of skills, behaviours and knowledge across the whole system underpinned and driven by our values.

Further benefits have been realised such as cross functional working, service improvement, creating improvements in the quality of care service users’ experience, greater career opportunities for participants and a ready supply of talented individuals who can work on projects outside of their normal remit.

We have now delivered eight strategic projects with three currently being developed with our current cohort. The leadership programme is an evidence based approach and uses applied psychological principles across the system to meet business objectives. What makes this programme unique is the alignment of the programme to business objectives, engagement of staff that is sustainable, measurable, outcome focussed, uses an understanding of psychology of teams of individuals and is centred on making a difference and inspiring hope.

Sixty individuals identified through the programme are ready to take on more challenges and be supported through our transformation activity and are now ready to help drive our transformation agenda; we call these “sticky leaders”.


  • Introduction of a fast-tracking programme to meet both short-term and long-term succession needs, identifying those staff with high potential/performance and make additional investment in their future
  • Implementation of eight service improvement projects resulting in raising over £60,000 in funds securing projects ranging from: “The Choir” made up of staff, service users and carers to raise money for a dementia project in partnership with Opera North.  To “Training” a learning disability team to cheerlead and enter a national competition and then entered the world cheerleading championship in Florida, US.
  • We have created a cadre of people with common, shared attributes, behaviours and values in line with organisational aims
  • Building networks between current, past and potential participants have enabled quite personal stories and connections to be shared first hand.
  • Collaboration of stakeholders across the business to define what good leadership looks like and how we are able to measure this
  • Development of a talent pipeline to ensure transformation of the business and ensure critical roles have successors in place
  • The development of individuals through the use of strategic business projects
  • Connection to service users, patients and carers though transformation projects that create efficiency, improve productivity and deliver on innovation

Key lessons:

  • Senior leader buy in – chief executive and directors need to understand how this can help the business and support it
  • Build in engagement at subtle levels in the organisation to gain momentum and understanding
  • Understand what it is you want to change and how this will be measured
  • Use behavioural science to understand your people, create a virus of engagement
  • Form a unique club that people on the programme belong to and feel proud to be part of.