The Client is a is a global consultancy and construction firm headquartered in London, operating across five global hubs in Europe, Middle East and North Africa, the Americas, Sub Saharan Africa and Asia Pacific. Announced as one of Glassdoor’s Top 20 Best Places to Work 2021 – the only construction company to appear in this list – Mace’s commitment to early career development and providing an excellent employment experience is widely recognised.
The Project Context
The Client runs an excellent Graduate Scheme which supports the growth and development of around 60 individuals a year. ASK has worked in partnership with the Client for several years, providing high quality learning experiences – led by experienced facilitators who understand the needs and challenges of the target audience – to help the graduates to navigate their careers and achieve their potential for more senior roles within the business.
The Client has a significant graduate intake every year and are fully committed to the development and growth of their emerging talent. The Client works with a range of providers to support their graduates with high-quality learning and development experiences, to help them navigate the challenges of working in the construction industry, providing them with a range of skills (e.g., influencing, leadership, emotional intelligence and career management) to enable success. ASK has been one of those partners since 2011, chosen for our ability to provide engaging experiential workshops and facilitators who can relate to the challenges faced by younger talent in this environment.
With much success coming from our partnership over the past 10 years, the Client’s Emerging Talent Lead, approached ASK in 2020 to expand the workshops offered to address current priorities and challenges and to shift delivery into the virtual environment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
ASK were already well-positioned to switch to virtual delivery mode; we run a large number of virtual events for participants across the globe and have facilitators who are highly experienced in remote delivery. We expanded the facilitator pool to provide greater flexibility and resilience in the team, bringing in more experts in personal impact and effectiveness and consultants who were experienced in working with early careers.
The Graduate Programme’s core modules (Induction and Influential Leadership) were quickly adapted to work online yet still provide a high degree of participation and interaction, and a quality learning experiencing encompassing peer coaching, feedback, self-reflection and expert input. The content was also refreshed to include some contemporary models and emerging thinking around influencing and leadership (such as Joseph Grenny et al’s Influencer Model, Robert Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion and David Rock’s SCARF model, derived from neuroscience research). We also introduced a new emphasis on ‘impact in a virtual world’ and developing your presence and visibility when working remotely from other stakeholders. In response to the Client’s request for further workshops covering more aspects of personal effectiveness, we also developed and ran modules on Leading Yourself, Working Remotely, Resilience, Assertiveness and Career Management.
In redesigning the programmes to work virtually, we had to rethink the way that people engaged in discussions and how energy, focus and attention was maintained.
Rethinking the Client’s graduate programmes and developing new workshops, involved applying our core design principles:
- Clearly identified aims and objectives, aligned with the Client’s values, Behaviours for Success, strategy and measurable outcomes
- Solid instructional design, based on research into how people learn, develop and grow at work
- Experiential, participative, fun and engaging learning experiences
- Relevant work-based examples, case studies, exercises and discussions, providing real-world relevance and as much ‘face validity’ as possible
- Small group, breakout and pair-work, including peer to peer coaching, feedback, brainstorming, problem-solving and sharing learning
- Focusing on behavioural change, helping people to shift, learn and adapt in the areas where it will make the biggest difference for them
- A blend of different delivery modes, methods and materials (e.g., participant materials and resources, tutor input, facilitated discussions, practical exercises, self-reflection activities)
- A balance between theory and practice, with the emphasis on the latter; wherever theories or models are used, combining this with exercises which help participants see how they can use them at work, in practice
- Embedding the learning; encouraging participants to set out how they will apply the learning, detailed action planning, creating learning transfer plans, providing post-course work, creating action learning sets, peer support networks or delegate cohorts etc.
For the shift to virtual delivery, we also took the following principles to heart:
- Maximising the time for people to engage, explore, understand and immerse themselves in the programme and its content. Where more than 90 minutes per session are required or recommended, we included formal breaks as well as varying the delivery format and experience so people are not just ‘watching a screen’ which helps to maintain learner engagement, interest and energy levels.
- Taking a ‘modular’ approach which chunks up the content and provides reflective space in-between, where delegates can continue and further their learning with other activities and content (e.g., videos, reading, online courses, coaching, individual reflection, questionnaires, etc.).
- Making use of a range of online features and methodologies that help learners focus, interact, reflect and explore, including the chat bar, breakout rooms, pair-work, group discussions, individual exercises from an online participant workbook, surveys, ‘how are you feeling?’ check-ins, video content and quizzes.
- Understanding that people have very different experiences of remote working, different challenges and different needs. Being flexible (e.g., with timings, sizes of groups) to accommodate people whilst also being clear on what is expected of participants to help the sessions run smoothly.
- Acknowledging that there are some things that simply do not translate to the virtual world, and being clear on what can and can’t be done. Finding other ways to support those who need additional help and access to other experiences where needed.
The benefits we anticipated from the refresh of the programme, creation of new modules and the switch to a virtual alternative were mostly relating to flexibility, cost effectiveness and improved career outcomes for the graduate cohorts.
Evaluation and Results
The graduate events that ASK run for the Client receive positive feedback, with average evaluation scores from the last three years (5-point scale):
- This workshop was a valuable experience – 4.8
- This workshop has given me more confidence in my abilities – 4.6
- This workshop will enable me to improve my performance – 4.5
Our aim was to maintain these high ratings, on migrating to a virtual delivery platform, and the evaluations show average scores of between 4.5 and 4.9.
Responding to the feedback as the programmes progressed, we realised that by introducing a degree of pre-work and preparation (so as to make the most of the time spent with the tutor and limit the time that the graduates needed to be ‘on screen’), this expectation had not been made clear enough to delegates and so more time was invested in briefing participants upfront and ensuring they had the participant workbook and understood what they could do to get the most benefit from the event.
Delivering all workshops virtually throughout this year also resulted in a cost saving for the Client; with constant pressure on meeting room space, all graduate events were previously held at external venues and required those based in the global hubs to travel to London. Moving forward, there will be some shift back to face-to-face events as there is significant value for the participants (particularly in terms of networking, relationship building and visibility) in getting together in person at key points in their graduate journey. Indeed, the most common constructive comment in the participants’ feedback was “it would have been great had we done this face-to-face”. The Client as a business has also recently achieved carbon net zero, and greater flexibility in how training is offered and delivered can help them to maintain and build on this.
The overarching intended outcome for the Graduate Programme events, is to support the attendees in their work journey, helping them to realise their potential and move eventually into senior leadership roles within the organisation, which is part of a much broader internal evaluation effort. Providing an engaging, interactive and valuable learning experience through our workshops is an integral part of this journey, perhaps best evidenced through the comments of stakeholders and learners.
“This has been one of the best training sessions to date. Interesting and informative. What I’ve learnt over the past 2 days will help me progress my career”
“Just a big thank you for all your help. Appreciate it’s not the easiest given the current circumstances but it was still a very well delivered course which has really taught me a lot and will allow me to tap into my higher potential both at home and work.”
“Very interactive and allowed for in depth discussions in the breakout rooms. Very good energy and I felt everyone was appreciative of the sessions.”
“The 360 Peer Review was an amazing exercise that put a lot of my career to date in perspective. I feel that I am now more self-aware and affirmed to take on the feedback provided and progress my career.”
“Great session, the facilitator was fantastic! I’d recommend every one of my colleagues take this course.”
“This is the most interactive course I’ve been on that was held on Zoom and I was impressed at how well it worked despite not being in person.”
“My favourite graduate scheme session to date.”