Making the difference
through people

Case studies

  • Merlin - Leadership and Management Development Programme

    The organisation

    Merlin specialises in health, saving lives in times of crisis and helping to rebuild shattered health services. Each year, Merlin helps more than 15 million people in up to 20 countries.

    The need

    Merlin wanted to build a stronger and more effective management culture at head office and country programme level to deliver organisational growth and its strategic objectives. Investment in management development was seen as key to achieving this. The main areas of focus for development had been identified and Merlin wanted to create a framework with individual training modules targeted at different management levels. The approach needed to be flexible to take into account the ever-changing environment in which Merlin works and the impact of that environment on the needs and availability of staff.

    What we did

    Along with Merlin's Learning & Development Manager, our team included Michèle Dennison from MD Management Development, who has experience of working with Merlin and a background in the management development within the INGO sector, and Jacqueline Hill from J Hill Associates who is experienced in leadership development. We ran an initial workshop with the steering group to visualise how Merlin leaders would be operating differently as a result of a successful leadership development programme. Consolidating this information with the key areas of focus already identified enabled us to develop the Merlin Leadership and Management Development Programme (LMDP). The LMDP framework identifies key development modules across a range of disciplines such as finance, HR, leadership, security and project management at three different levels Awareness, Threshold and Advanced. Once the overall framework was agreed, we developed pilot training modules for Performance Management, Building High Performing Teams, Developing Strategy, and Emotional Intelligence covering the different management levels. (The other modules will be sourced externally or developed over time as funding and other resources allow.) Each pilot module ended with the participants committing to an action plan that would help them embed their learning immediately following the course and 1:1 telephone coaching was built in between each module so that participants could develop their ideas further and discuss any implementation difficulties with the consultants. Finally an evaluation workshop was held to review LMPD, the pilot modules, and decide how to develop LMDP further.


    By starting with a vision of what successful leaders in Merlin will look like we were able to tailor the LMDP to Merlin's needs rather than 'off-the-shelf' solutions.
    Leadership development activity in Merlin is positioned within a coherent development framework that will be integrated into the Performance Management process.
    By piloting the courses, a range of managers could be involved and give their input on the appropriateness to Merlin of the material covered.
    Merlin now has a flexible framework into which they can build new modules as and when funding and other resources allow.

    A year later Merlin developed a third dimension to the Merlin LMDP: different ways of delivering the learning. Merlin commissioned MDMD to develop Distance Learning Packs for each of the existing modules plus new modules on 'Managing Remotely', 'Cross-Cultural Teamworking', 'Managing Conflict' and 'Managing Change'.

    Bryony Glenn, HR Director at Merlin commented, 'MDMD were able to help us to clearly identify the impacts that a successful leadership development programme could have on the leadership effectiveness of our managers in a variety of contexts, and to develop a flexible approach and delivery methodology which could be tailored to meet the particular development needs of each manager.'

    The CIPD were so impressed with our approach to developing a flexible, three dimensional leadership and management development framework they featured the Merlin experience as a case study in the text book and supporting online materials 'Introduction to Organisational Development' published in 2011. This includes a practitioner interview in which we describe the work that we did.

  • Oxfam - Country Reward Harmonisation

    The organisation

    Oxfam is an international confederation of 14 organizations working together in 98 countries and with partners and allies around the world to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. Oxfam works directly with communities and seeks to influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them.

    The need

    Each affiliate in the Oxfam confederation has a rich history of work in multiple countries - as a result, in many countries there is more than one Oxfam engaged in program work. The confederation is working to have even greater impact by bringing the activities of all the affiliates together under a single strategy and management structure in each country. This will also increase cost efficiency and strengthen the confederation's identity and constituency of support.

    The single management structure (SMS) covers all aspects of the Oxfam international program and its delivery including employment and management of Oxfam staff in the countries where it works. MD Management Development was asked to coordinate the planning and design of the in-country reward harmonisation element of the SMS process.

    What we did

    MDMD's Michèle Dennison provided an externalproject management and coordination role for the first phase of the in-country reward harmonisation project. Working closely with Oxfam Great Britain's Head of Reward and members of the Reward team she established a virtual working group made up of representatives of each of the ten 'early adopter' affiliates. She built strong distance relationships with the group members, provided one to one member support, led group teleconferences to agree plans and take decisions, and put in place coaching and support arrangements to help the group members put them into practice.

    The working group's purpose was to develop approaches to deliver reward harmonisation which were flexible enough to meet the needs of different affiliates and operating contexts whilst reflecting the agreed principles and core Oxfam International reward framework. The first phase of the group's work focused on two distinct themes:

    • 1. Creation of a common Oxfam International grading structure to underpin reward harmonisation in-country by providing a means of determining which jobs are of broadly equivalent responsibility. The approach to grading also needed to be able to accommodate affiliates who wished to retain their own grading structures and provide a means to map them. The structure was based on an existing methodology which had been used successfully by one affiliate for over ten years involving a user-friendly job slotting approach to grading underpinned by a rigorous job evaluation of a set of benchmark jobs.
      Members of the working group were offered the opportunity to be trained in the methodology and senior evaluators were assigned to each affiliate to train, coach and supported them through the process. Therefore each affiliate took an active role in the process and had their jobs included in the master benchmark grid used for job slotting.
    • 2. Development of a route map which the working group will use to structure the work involved inthe planning and design needed to prepare for country reward harmonisation. This includes options for developing harmonised salary scales and pay arrangements and tools to support implementation of locally designed solutions.

    In addition to co-ordinating the delivery of these two work streams Michèle created a series of communications for different stakeholder groups including briefings and presentations, and developed a range of implementation support tools including guides to job evaluation and job slotting and supporting training sessions.

    Once complete the grading structure and supporting materials and the route map were handed over to Oxfam Great Britain's new Reward Project Manager who will lead the next phase of design and implementation of country reward harmonisation.


    Oxfam now has a strong underpinning grading infrastructure and process for developing harmonisation options that will support the SMS people management goals of:

    • positive employee relations
    • a 'one Oxfam' approach
    • attraction and retention of talented staff and cross-affiliate career development
    • flexibility and adaptability to accommodate a range of situations within an agreed framework
    • transparency and consistency towards decision making within and between affiliates

    The inclusive approach to designing, developing and implementing the grading structure and planning the route map encouraged buy-in and participation from all affiliates concerned. This provided assurance that the grading structure was robust and relevant to each organisation and its operating context.

    The collaborative nature of the virtual working group modelled in practice the SMS aspiration of greater cross-affiliate connectivity and collaboration to harness wider creativity and experience and provide impactful and cost effective ways forward.

    Participation in the working group represented a development opportunity for individual members via a chance to work with a new set of colleagues and influence the design and implementation of a major global people management solution with impact beyond their immediate affiliate.

    An additional project legacy is the creation of a dispersed global centre of reward expertise which is developing the capability to support the implementation of SMS country reward harmonisation and future reward requirements.

    Frances Richardson, Oxfam GB's Head of Reward commented: “Michèle brought great leadership and facilitation skills to the Oxfam International reward harmonization project. Creating a consensus way forward and shared ownership for a new grading structure across 14 diverse organizations called not only for strong technical reward skills, but also patience, an ability to overcome obstacles and achieve results. Michèle got the OI reward project off to an excellent start, for which the Oxfam HR team won plaudits across Oxfam International.”

  • People In Aid - Successful Distance Management in the Humanitarian Aid Sector

    The organisation

    People In Aid is a global network of development and humanitarian assistance agencies that helps organisations to enhance the impact they make through better management and support of staff and volunteers.

    The need

    As part of its ongoing programme of identifying and promoting good practice in people management, People In Aid held a membership seminar to identify the issues the sector is facing in managing people effectively at a distance. The seminar identified a need for learning resources for line managers and human resource practitioners to cover such issues as:

    • International NGOs having staff working in many different places, often remote
    • Evaluations continuing to emphasise the critical importance of sound people management for the truly effective delivery of aid and development assistance
    • Recent organisational trends, such as decentralisation and devolution, changing the way line managers need to work with their teams
    • Line Managers working in different regions to their teams, and often managing across different regions
    • Organisational structures with matrix and dotted line accountabilities adding to the complexities
    • Increasingly diverse teams, where different cultures, languages and genders work together
    • Managing non-traditional employment relationships, such as consultants, temps, emergency response staff, secondees, partners, and even those managed by others but to whom a duty of care is owed

    People In Aid commissioned MD Management Development, J Hill Associates and Decher Learning & Development to develop and facilitate a one day workshop, together with associated supporting materials, on the theme of managing people effectively at a distance. The workshop and materials were aimed at line managers of any function, including HR line managers, working in INGOs in the humanitarian relief and international development sector. The day would also benefit any managers managing teams and individuals across different regions and countries.

    What we did

    MD Management Development in association with J Hill Associates and Decher Learning & Development created a team consisting of consultants with expertise in distance management in both the international development and commercial sectors, and the HR Services Manager at People In Aid. As the workshop development team members were themselves diverse and geographically distant we set up an on-line project management tool to role-model this way of working. We conducted research into sector trends, academic findings on distance management, and developed case studies that highlighted the key issues. We then designed the workshop to use this research and also draw on participant's own experiences. Along with the workshop, we also created a stand-alone manual that can be downloaded from People In Aid's website and not only provides additional information for workshop participants but also guides those who are not able to attend a workshop through the same exercises and learning. In response to participant demand, and in order to model training at a distance we worked in association with Brandon Porter to convert the workshop into a teleseminar. This is offered worldwide on a modular basis which better fits this delivery medium and has been warmly welcomed by People in aid Members.


    People In Aid and its membership now have an approach to managing people effectively at a distance that will contribute to their aim of enhancing the impact they make through better management and support of staff and volunteers. A combination of workshop, manual and teleseminar delivery enables a flexible approach to learning for members. The first workshop in 2007 generated so much interest that further open workshops, tailored in-house versions for individual organisations, workshops run across the world by People In Aid international associates, and teleseminars have been delivered since.

    Participant comments include:

    Teleseminar participant from March 2011 said the [workshop helped with] “making relationship with organization staff and others, we are living in insecure area, it is important to have good relation with the relevant staff and beneficiaries.”

    Teleseminar participant from April 2010 said “Building effective relationship in distance and HR role elements was most useful for me as I am handling HR.”

    Teleseminar participant from April 2010 said “Hearing how others tackle certain challenges of distance management, and the workbook activities [was the most useful thing].”

    When asked how will you use the knowledge form this teleseminar one Teleseminar participant from April 2010 said “I have started using it as my boss sits in Germany. We have mapped out our expectations and had one skype call to clarify expectations. It was a good exercise.”

    “I have already formed a group with 3 other people who I met on the course to discuss distance management issues in a confidential environment. I also intend to use the expectation mapping with my team.”

    “All the topics learnt were extremely useful. Interactions and sharing views with like minded people has been very useful.“

    “Good to share and learn from each other and see the day in a many to many relationship rather than one to many.”

    “Really useful were the practical tools and the case studies - extremely useful as post workshop notes, at first glance a lot to take in but excellent point for discussion.”

    Maduri Moutou, HR Services Manager at People In Aid commented:

    “Trends such as re-structuring, decentralisation, delivering through partners and increased recruitment of national staff, not to mention security or access issues have led to a significant increase in the need to work across organisational, geographical and cultural boundaries. Managers who continue with their existing practices and processes using technology to try to overcome the difficulties of distance management have met with mixed results. Innovative approaches are needed.”

    “Jacqueline, Cornelia and Michèle have created a great workshop and teleseminar series for us to enable and encourage People In Aid member agency managers and HR professionals to be more pro-active in managing people effectively at a distance. Participants have gained a deeper understanding of the issues and learnt practical ways to improve their effectiveness when managing people at a distance.”

    “Through open workshops, teleseminar and in-house bespoke workshops, I have valued the contributions and commitment that Jacqueline, Cornelia and Michèle give. They bring expert knowledge of the topic from within the humanitarian and development sector as well as other sectors to develop and update a global programme.”

  • Re-engaging Individuals & Teams after Major Change - Identity and Passport Service

    The organisation

    The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) operates as an Executive Agency of the Home Office. IPS's responsibilities, on behalf of the Home Secretary, are to provide passport services in the UK and abroad andcarry out the statutory functions of the Registrar General for England & Wales.

    The need

    In 2010/11 IPS underwent a major reorganisation of the way its services are provided, moving from a functionally based structure to a geographical one. This resulted in the closure of some offices while others refocused their activities to include both areas of the IPS remit. The change process involved the loss of 176 staff through redeployment and redundancy and the creation of a new group of Area Office Managers (AOMs) from previous Regional and Office Managers.

    Such a major and significant change inevitably had an effect on individual, team and organisational energy levels as staff grappled with the immediate effects and longer term implications of loss of long-standing colleagues and the challenges of delivering high performance in new and different ways. IPS recognised the importance of putting a process in place to help the AOMs and their teams become as effective as possible in the new environment, and three months into the Passport Operations restructure we were commissioned by the Directors of Operations to develop and pilot a one-day event based on our 'Remotivating Teams after Major Change' workshop.

    What we did

    We met with one of the two Operations Directors, HR Business Partner and the IPS Head of Organisation Development to better understand the context of the recent changes and the environment within which the AOMs were now operating.

    IPS was attracted to our workshop's approach of helping individuals move through their emotional change journey to emerge feeling energised and motivated by future possibilities. They were keen to see the AOMs develop their self-knowledge and gain greater understanding of themselves and their personal reactions to change, along with those of their colleagues. IPS liked the way in which we use practical exercises based on the 'Solutions Focus' approach and were keen to provide a space in which the AOMs could start to create their individual futures, building on their strengths and qualities, and explore how these could contribute collectively to greater team effectiveness. They recognised that it was still too early for more traditional team building processes as the AOMs had not yet explicitly decided that they were a team, rather than a group of geographically dispersed individual contributors, and there was a legacy from the change process that needed to be worked through before everyone would be ready to move on collectively.

    Together we agreed the overall scope for the event and IPS specific objectives which were:

    • For the AOMs to get to know each other better
    • To enable the AOMs to become more aware of the impact of recent changes on themselves and their colleagues
    • To provide an opportunity for the AOMs to share knowledge, strengths and experience
    • To identify the actions and support required to become more effective as individuals and as a group

    We then developed an outline agenda and shared it with the IPS commissioning group, who in turn shared it with the AOMs to engage them in the development process. In addition to meeting the stated objectives, IPS were keen that the workshop design should provide the opportunity to spend dedicated time on shaping how the new AOM group would operate, their individual contributions to making that happen and the leadership support that would be required. We used their feedback to develop the detailed content for the day and a pre-workshop baseline questionnaire against which we could measure the workshop impact.

    The workshop itself was delivered in January 2012 with a group of nine AOMs. We tested its immediate effectiveness through written participant feedback at the end of the day followed-by a further 'check-in' after two months to measure the impact and sustainability of the shift in individual thinking and the actions that the team agreed to take.

    Benefits for IPS

    • The AOM group were able to take some time out at a critical point in the change journey to focus on themselves, individually and as a group, and contextualise the change process they had been through
    • They identified what their preferred futures will look like and the steps that will start to make these a reality
    • They got to know one another better at an individual level by learning more about each other's strengths and how they might better support one another in the future
    • They were able to have an informed and collective dialogue about how they wish to develop collectively and the support they felt they needed from their managers. They agreed a set of working principles around how they would work together
    • Individuals in the group reported that the day helped to lift their morale, sense of purpose and motivation
    • By the end of the workshop the AOM group agreed that they are actually a team and, most importantly, that they want to be a team
    • IPS can build on the synergies inherent in the individual AOMs coming together to work as a team, and the added value of having such an experienced group of managers working together to deliver high performance across the Operational function


    Shane Bryans, Director of Operations commented: “The workshop proved to be very useful in that it gave the AOMs the opportunity to reflect on: their own contribution; their working relationships as a group; and how they relate to the IPS senior leadership team. We have built on the outputs of the workshop and there has been a positive impact on the business.”

    Jacqui Barnes, Senior HR Business Partner said: “Often in large scale restructure we forget about those staff that remain, this intervention offered an opportunity for this group of individuals to sit back and reflect on changes and discuss and explore future ways of working.”

    Workshop participants commented:
    “You have provided a start to a process that we need to take responsibility for.”
    “Forced some much needed self-analysis - cathartic.”
    “Still a work in progress, the workshop has really helped.”
    “Can see a way forward, a stronger team voice and a stronger support structure.”
    “A real morale boost.”

    Five months later Shane reported that: “The AOMs have built on the discussion at the workshop. They are now operating in more of a collegiate manner and working relationships between them have developed. We have held a number of sessions with Directors and the feedback was very positive. Engagement is increasingly constructive and we have used the feedback from the workshop to shape the frequency and type of interactions between the groups. AOMs indicate that they feel more involved and consulted.”