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Case Study: E-Learning for the Elite


Security giants G4S have made e-learning work for them by cleverly using it to add value to all manner of leadership development initiatives within the business.

In July 2004 rivals Securicor and Group 4 Falck, merged into G4S plc - the largest ever security solutions provider, operating in over 110 countries, on six continents.

The new company transports and processes more than £300 billion in cash each year, monitors more than 11,000 offenders every day in the US & UK and provides a wide range of security solutions to organisations and governments in different sectors.

When the dust from the impact of the merger had died down, one of the key challenges identified was to ensure that G4S would have high performing management in place throughout the organisation.

Introducing the ‘Global Leadership Programme’
So where could a unique company like G4S look for new executives? The company decided to be proactive, and develop the next generation leaders from the elite members of its 500,000 strong workforce.

In many cases management had already spotted high potential individuals, but often their potential was not enough to qualify them for senior management - there were inevitably gaps in their experience, attitude, skills and knowledge.

Building the G4S ‘Global Leadership Programme’
During 2005, Mike Alsop, head of Executive Development at G4S Plc, set about creating the G4S ‘Global Leadership Programme’ with the objective of broadening the knowledge, skills and capability of the company’s ‘high potential’ business leaders, 18 at a time.

It was imperative that delegates developed their talent within the context of real G4S operations. The range of regional operations was pretty extensive as the business operated in 110 countries.

The programme combined group training, offline activities and pre-event learning based around a structure of five one-week residential events spread over the course of two years, each in a different region of the world and each having a distinct theme:

  • Markets, customers & strategy development

  • People, organisation & leadership

  • Finance, acquisitions & margin improvement

  • Marketing, communication & public affairs

  • Strategy implementation & execution
  • The events combined ‘academic input’ (provided by Manchester Business School) with G4S-specific input. To add strategic perspective , ‘engagement sessions’ were provided by the appropriate senior executives for each region in which the residential courses were held. For example, one cohort went to Peru to experience what it was like to run a security business in South America. As Mike puts it: “It’s all about exposure, exposure to as many facets of the business as possible.”

    To bridge the gaps between residential events, the learners undertook a variety of activities such as research projects. These projects focused on finding real solutions to real issues.

    In advance of each residential event the participants were required to prepare themselves by reading specific articles from the Harvard Business School Article Library (supplied through LMMatters).

    During the event these articles would then be discussed in the context of real situations in G4S.
    All but one of the 14 members of the first cohort have now successfully graduated from the programme. This, in itself is an achievement because the programme lasts for two years. Out of the 13 who have so far graduated, 11 have now received substantial promotions.

    In July 2006 the Programme won the “Best Executive Development Programme” category at the UK’s HR Excellence Awards ceremony.

    Three Online Portals
    Having experienced the Harvard Business School Article Library, Mike then wanted to turn his attention to more than just the 34 people who attended the Global Leadership Programme. Following discussion with LMMaters, Mike selected the Harvard ManageMentor™ materials.

    Rather than just offer courses as they were, it was essential to put the materials in the context of the company’s competency framework. The difficulty here was that, although the competency framework stayed the same in structure between levels of seniority, the level of understanding varied. Each level therefore needed a different view of the Harvard Business School Publishing (HBSP) materials. This meant LMMatters and G4S plc needed to create three ‘online learning portals’:
    - Leadership and Senior Management
    - Management
    Support Roles

    As some people want online learning, whereas others just want articles, there is a choice of routes in the search and browsing options. A typical route in would involve visiting via the intranet, then selecting a course or article based on a specific competency.

    These portals have been ‘live and fully functional’ since 1 January 2007 on the G4S global intranet. Up to 5,000 people per year (ie anyone in G4S with intranet access) now have full access, wherever and whenever they want it.

    Senior Executives and Their PDPs
    The Harvard ManageMentor™ materials were undoubtedly of value to the business, but as is often the case with e‑learning, maximising take-up can be a challenge. It was therefore decided that the best strategy for encouraging take-up involved using the content to add value to ‘business as usual’.

    One of the first uses has been in the area of developing the existing senior executives. Mike’s team within G4S conduct one-to-one work with senior executives around the world using a toolkit of development ‘diagnostic’ instruments including:

  • The G4S “Leadership Competency Framework”

  • The LPA psychometric questionnaire

  • The G4S “360-degree feedback instrument”
  • The output of this process for each senior executive is a Personal Development Plan (PDP), and for each development area options are included,such as:
    Suggested Harvard Business Review Articles
    Relevant online learning courses within the Leadership and Senior Management portal
    External coaching
    Internal mentoring
    Public programmes (at business schools etc)
    Secondments and visits to other business units

    These executives are inevitably busy and learning could easily be pushed to the back of their “to do” list. To ensure this doesn’t happen there are regular review sessions to ensure PDPs are implemented.

    Using the Materials for Performance Support
    The G4S Group HR team is very small, so often the best way to encourage people to learn is through influence (and ‘evangelism’) rather than coercion. A great example of this is offering the material as ‘performance support’ or 'refresher' information to support everyday work.

    A good example of how courses are presented this way is the G4S internal communications bulletins which are sent out electronically to the Top 300 managers every few months.

    Using Online Learning to Support Other Residential Courses
    Occasionally online courses can be used to replace residential courses, but more often they are used to prepare people for residential courses.

    This approach has proven extremely effective. People do not like to be the only one attending a course who hasn’t completed the pre-work, so the take-up of online learning in this context is very high.

    What next?
    Mike has a whole host of initiatives in the pipeline that will embed HBSP materials within G4S. These include:

  • Group HR is building a comprehensive ‘development toolkit’ on the G4S intranet, and the Learning Portals will form a key element within this.

  • In UK Cash Services all managers above a level now have a personal ‘client workbook’. This is filled with lists of links to the portal and promotes both refresher courses & pre-course training materials.

  • All Service Managers, Section Managers, Branch Managers and other functional managers will receive Continuous Personal Development Workbooks.
  • The Group HR function is building an increasingly capable network of HR professionals around the world that meet to share best practice twice per year at the G4S HR Forum. Martin Baker and Mike Alsop ran a workshop session on the Learning Portals at the first 2007 one in Luxembourg.


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