Improbable saved £250,000 by developing management talent internally.

Ian Whiteford, Improbable’s Head of People, shares how insight helped the company create its manager development programme with great success.

Identified management training as a business priority

Aligned the initiative with Improbable’s culture

Empowered managers to take ownership of their development

Tracked the impact of the initiative in real-time

Improbable is one of Europe’s most innovative and exciting businesses. The London-based tech firm, whose SpatialOS makes it possible to simulate hugely complex virtual worlds, recently announced a $502m funding round – one of the largest investments ever made in an early-stage European company.

In just four years, the organisation has grown from two founders to a team of nearly 200 employees in London and San Francisco. During this time, they have had to battle against the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google to attract and retain the world’s best tech talent.

“World-class talent is absolutely vital to our success”, says Ian Whiteford, Improbable’s Head of People. “As a result, we always knew that we’d have to build a strong, engaging company culture, and provide our employees with an environment that would allow them to excel in their careers.

“Since we started working with Workday Peakon Employee Voice, we’ve found the platform invaluable in breaking down the barriers to communication between the employees, leadership and the CEO.

The feedback and data we gather allow us to immediately identify issues, implement solutions and monitor the “ROI” of our initiatives in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

There are many ways in which Workday Peakon Employee Voice data can be used to drive people strategy. Below, Ian discusses how he and Improbable used Workday to implement a successful management development programme, and how this initiative saved the business £250,000 last year.

Here’s Ian’s story.

Identifying the need for manager development.

One mistake that many businesses make, especially in the early stages, is to place too much focus on hiring talent and delivering a product as quickly as possible. As a result, you can often end up neglecting the needs of the employees that you already have.

We suspected that we might have been guilty of this at Improbable, and when we rolled out Workday Peakon Employee Voice across the company, we immediately recognised it in our driver scores; Management Support and Growth showed room for improvement. This was our call to action.

Our first step as a People Operations team was to build a case for how and why we should invest in our managers. Fortunately, Workday made it easy for us to demonstrate to the Executive team exactly where we needed to focus our attention, and why.

While it’s fine to use external research to provide argument and direction for your people strategies, it’s never going to be as impactful as using your own data.

Head of People

Devising the right development programme.

If we wanted the development programme to be a success, then we needed to correctly identify which management skills to nurture.

To do this, we asked everyone in the business which qualities they felt embodied management at Improbable. Then we distilled this down to a shortlist of manager traits that we believed promoted our culture and would guide our teams most effectively.

Once this list had been established, we asked all of our employees to score their manager against the traits, so that we could assess how well each manager was aligned to our ideal. When we cross-referenced these scores against each manager’s Workday Peakon Employee Voice data, we noticed a very significant correlation – the most “Improbable” managers had the most engaged teams.

Since the Executive team understood that the most engaged teams delivered the best work, and were at the least risk of regrettable departures, it was easy to get the go-ahead on the initiative.

Workday had confirmed that our training programme was on the right track, and had also demonstrated to everyone involved there is a very real relationship between management quality and team engagement.

Head of People

Implementing and evaluating the initiative.

Once we had established the importance of investing in manager development, and the areas that we needed to focus on, we began to implement the training programme.

The first aspect of this was a monthly group session with every manager in the business, in which we would ask those who had scored highest in a particular management trait or Workday Peakon Employee Voice driver to lead a workshop to educate and elevate their peers.

Alongside this, the People Operations team would sit down regularly with each manager to review their scores one-on-one. We would walk through the dashboard, discussing their personal strengths and priorities, and establish a long-term development plan with clear and well-defined goals.

Our managers responded particularly well to this as they recognised that their development plan was based on actual data. This resulted in a greater buy-in from everyone, and a greater sense of ownership over their own progress.

Best of all, Workday allowed us to track the impact of the initiative and it has shown that our focus on managers has paid dividends; the Management Support, Growth and overall Engagement scores across the business have all significantly improved since its implementation.

The return on investment.

There is no doubt in my mind that leveraging Workday Peakon Employee Voice to build and measure the success of our manager training programme has saved Improbable at least £250,000 in the last year.

When we looked at bringing in an external provider to host this type of training, the quotes we received were in excess of €27,500 and we would have been running these sessions quarterly.

Developing our management internally has also allowed us to prioritise and preserve the traits that make Improbable managers special. Furthermore, it saved us the expense of hiring five new managers in the last year at around €32,000 per hire in recruitment costs.

The management training programme is just one of the initiatives we have identified and implemented with the help of Workday. 

As we keep scaling, the platform will continue to be instrumental to our success.

Head of People


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