Case Studies

Beating A Downward Trend By Shifting Intent

Aug 2021

To beat an extended downturn in the economy, and to go against the downward trend in its most significant market – that was what biotechnology company Deltamune had to do in order to stay operating. It knew it had to do something different in order to survive and thrive.

The company had numerous new business and project opportunities, but it was unable to bring them to fruition. With the help of the Legitimate Leadership framework, the “people” reasons “why” the goals were not being achieved, and what needed to change in order to achieve them were clarified. What was asked of leaders in Deltamune was not only a change in behaviour, but more importantly a change in intent. Diagnostic data collected for all senior leaders showed that while there was impressive respect for management, employees didn’t feel that management was really committed to their personal wellbeing – the latter being the single strongest determinant of support for management by employees.

There were also problems with the amount of time and support employees were receiving, as well as significant challenges with information sharing. Employees felt they were “out of the loop” and leaders had not engaged, or fully understood, their collective contribution. There was limited true accountability for what people were putting in, and arguably too much accountability for things outside of people’s direct control.

These were the challenges above which the Deltamune senior leadership team had to rise. And in partnership with Legitimate Leadership they did so. After the 18-month intervention, the improvement was confirmed by a repeat survey of leaders which reflected higher scores individually and on average. Deltamune is once again on a strong footing with significant growth aspirations over the next five years.

Rising to the challenge

The purpose of the 2-day Introduction to the Legitimate Leadership Framework at Deltamune was two-fold. Firstly, to establish CARE and GROWTH as the criteria for legitimacy in leadership; secondly, to give senior leaders in the organisation the opportunity to either commit to a process of change, or pull out before the going got too tough.

The team decided they were “all-in”. The hard work could begin.

Looking at the evidence

All senior leaders at Deltamune participated in a leadership audit. The purpose of the audit was to gain an understanding of how leaders were experienced both individually and collectively by those who they were leading (or managing, as was often the case). The results weren’t terrible, but they weren’t good either. Category averages for CARE, MEANS, ABILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY all fell in the range 0 to 5 on a scale that goes from -10 to +10. Implication: attention was needed in all categories.

Drilling down into the individual questions showed something interesting. The highest score (out of 42 statements) was “I respect my manager” – 7.4. Yet questions about dealing with personal problems, employee welfare, and consultation hovered around the 3.0 mark. Whilst management was respected, there was evidently still a CARE issue. People were managing, not leading.

Further, scores regarding workload, time and coaching were even lower – around the 2.0 mark. And scores relating to feedback, sharing of information, discussions about the future, and reward were all below 2.0. Not only did employees not really feel cared for, they also weren’t being sufficiently supported by management in actually making the value-adding contribution they were employed to make.

Armed with the information above, we set about putting a plan in place.

Getting the fundamentals right

A plan was developed jointly with Deltamune, and included five Application Workshops and corresponding Application Review sessions for senior and executive management. The Deltamune leadership also undertook to revise the organisation’s values – bringing them to life and aligning them with the contribution mindset we were trying to cultivate.

Application Workshop 1: Care and the Issue of Time and Attention

In the first application workshop we started exploring what CARE really means in a professional context. All too often CARE is interpreted as “providing for people’s material needs” and this was evident, for example, in a number of inappropriate policies aimed at appeasing people rather than encouraging excellence (these were later aligned and updated). We started the shift towards giving people what they really need: time, attention, support in doing their jobs, and a genuine concern for their wellbeing.

Application Workshop 2: Clarifying Contribution

Many people have the belief that making a contribution is all about executing against a job description. The problem is that while your job description stays static, what is required of people to implement business strategy is constantly changing. Your job description answers the questions “what do you do?” and “what are you responsible for?”, when what you really need to clarify is “what specifically are you committing to deliver, which will contribute to our strategic goals in this period?”. The Deltamune “Contribution Charter” was born and remains a core reference for providing clarity for managers and employees.

Application Workshop 3: Assessing, Reviewing and Rewarding Contribution

Effective assessment and review of contribution requires that managers are aware of what contribution is being made. This means more than simply looking at results – it means “watching the game”. At Deltamune this shift meant less doing and more coaching, less telling and more listening. It also meant holding people accountable for their “leadership” contribution – not just the results on the scoreboard.

Application Workshop 4: Growth by Handing Over Control

If we don’t hand over control our people don’t grow, and if we’re not willing to hold people accountable, then we can’t hand over control. Therefore, without accountability, there is no growth. Some of the implications for Deltamune: stop stepping in and doing it yourself when the test results are out of specification; spend more time coaching; once you are sure people have the means and ability, empower them by recognising and rewarding good performance; confront poor performance.

Application Workshop 5: Matching Leadership Action to Employee Contribution

For every contribution an employee makes, there is an appropriate leadership action. Deltamune managers used this workshop as an opportunity to agree what is appropriate and build consistency. The importance of the Contribution Charter was reinforced and leaders left with a better understanding of how to help their people make the contribution they’d agreed to make.

Actions are stronger than words

For Deltamune, the interventions mentioned above were simply a catalyst for the real changes that took place in the organisation. Understanding the importance of getting Legitimate Leadership out of the classroom and into the business, Deltamune leaders made sure that they aligned their day-to-day behaviour with their intent to manage less and lead more. The diagram below shows some the practical changes that ultimately led to an improved business outcome.


Figure 1: Linking Care and Growth contribution to business outcomes


A shift has taken place

18 months after the initial Leadership Audit, we repeated the process of gathering feedback for senior leaders at Deltamune. One of the reasons for running a repeat Leadership Audit is to determine progress against desired shifts – both at an individual and collective level. The data gathered at Deltamune is summarised below:

  • Average scores improved in all categories, with the most significant improvements in Ability and Accountability.
  • I believe that my manager takes a personal interest in my welfare – 5.2 (from 3.5)*.
  • My manager spends sufficient time with me – 4.5(from 1.9).
  • I have grown and developed over the last six months – 5.7 (from 2.5).
  • My manager has helped me understand the company’s goals and strategy for achieving them – 5.5 (from 2.7)
  • My manager does not tolerate anything other than the best from me – 6.4(from 4.2)
  • My manager does not display prejudice / favouritism – 4.7 (from 2.4)

*Green scores indicate “Good (5-10)”. Orange scores indicate “Attention is needed (0-5)”.

~There was a smaller sample size in the repeat audit as some leaders had changed roles or had left the business.

The overall shifts in category scores from 2015 to 2017 are shown below.

Figure 2: Category shifts between the initial and repeat senior manager Leadership Audit at Deltamune.


Extending the impact

Seeing the benefits of improved legitimacy, trust, accountability and contribution at senior levels, the Deltamune executive has chosen to extend the transformation process further into the organisation – starting with the next layer of (up-and-coming) managers. The diagram below shows Deltamune’s commitment to sustaining and building on the significant intent shifts that have already been delivered by the senior leadership team.

Figure 3: Extending the shift from TAKING to GIVING within Deltamune


While it is often sensible to start with management, the Deltamune team understands that the shift from TAKING to GIVING needs to be experienced by everyone: senior leaders, middle management, supervisors, teams, direct contributors and, ultimately, CUSTOMERS!


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