Future-proofing the Audi UK dealership network

Electric mobility, driverless cars, automated factories, and ridesharing—these are just a few of the major disruptions that the automotive industry is facing. Maintaining a market position in the premium car market presents an ongoing challenge.

Automotive providers operate in an increasingly complex and volatile market, characterised by increasing competition from non-traditional new entrants, shifts in political and consumer attitudes towards climate change and the environment, increased urbanisation, rapid digital disruption and changing customer buying behaviour.

Partnering on development

Audi is part of the Volkswagen Group (VWG) and is one of the world’s leading producers of premium cars. The company controls sourcing, marketing and distribution of all Audi vehicles and parts in the UK and provides a host of support services to its dealers and customers.

Audi recognised that the evolving dynamics in the automotive sector provide both a threat and opportunity in maintaining the relevance and sustainable profitability of the brand and Audi Centre network in the future.

Audi also identified a number of internal management challenges that had the potential to restrict future business growth and sustainability. To address these internal challenges and respond to the broader challenge of maintaining and growing market position against the backdrop of rapid change, Audi recognised the need to develop the leadership capabilities of its frontline leader population – its Audi Centre “Heads of Business” and “Aspiring Leaders”. They recognised that, ultimately, it is these current and future frontline leader populations who face the challenge of continually adapting to change, driving innovation, and delivering long-term, sustainable Centre growth.

Like in any customised corporate education tender process (given the product is not developed until after contract award), the key challenge for Alliance MBS was to respond with a coherent and compelling conceptual programme definition to meet these requirements. The nature of Audi’s requirements and the detail of the desired design in the specification made this challenge more difficult (how we could add value to an already well-developed concept?).

To transform our conceptual design into a definitive, tangible programme, we followed the tried and tested “Manchester Approach” to design and development. Based on this process, our starting point was problem diagnosis. Following a typical needs analysis process, this involved: depth interviews with key organisational leaders, stakeholders and gatekeepers (to identify the diversity of perspectives on desired business outcomes and barriers to change); focus groups with a representative sample of delegates and their regional managers (to understand individual-level role challenges, expectations and desired learning outcomes), and; analysis of the Audi competency framework and in-house capability assessment against these competencies (to identify capability gaps and target learning objectives to address these gaps).

In line with our principles of co-creation and ensuring joint ownership of the final “product”, Audi lead sponsors and organisational subject matter experts were involved in reviews and design sign-off at each development phase. The programme design continually evolved as we progressed along the tendering, commissioning, and subsequent design and delivery journey. Audi and Alliance MBS developed a greater understanding of each other’s needs, capabilities and culture.

Delivery of the programme

To achieve the identified business and individual outcomes, Alliance MBS and Audi developed a highly customised and highly innovative 6 to 8 month “blended learning” programme, structured around three core modules and delivered through a combination of intensive face-to-face workshops (one for each module in a 2+2+2 day format) and a range of online work-based learning and applied project work before, during and after delivery. These modules followed the key content themes set out in the specification – “Business Leadership” (sense-making and strategy), “Personal Leadership”, and “Team Leadership”; to provide the necessary balance of strategic context setting, concept knowledge and behavioural skill development to meet identified objectives.

They were structured to take delegates on a logical “journey to application” – from understanding consumer change and the “big picture” dynamics and characteristics of the global automotive sector (and the Centre level and personal leadership challenges this presents); to acquiring the essential strategic business planning, innovation, personal and people management skills to address these challenges (to transform ourselves and our teams to support the long-term improvement and sustainable growth of our Audi Centres).

Our architecture was also based around a practical, blended learning approach to executive development which combined a range of learning approaches and focussed on the application of knowledge/skills/concepts to real-world business challenges at all stages of the learning process.

Key features included:

  • A programme virtual introduction and range of pre-programme start-up activities to build curiosity and engagement before formal delivery.
  • A dedicated half-day pre-programme “Immersion Event” and an end of programme “Graduation Event” to provide clear signposts and start and end-point milestones in the learning journey.
  • Individual Work-Based Challenge Projects to integrate key programme themes and facilitate post-programme application and impact at the Audi Centre level. These focused on developing creative solutions to real-life business problems and improvement priorities with each Audi Centre.
  • A Hogan psychometric leadership assessment diagnostic to enable delegates to better understand their innate leadership characteristics (their leadership DNA).
  • Individual and group coaching sessions. Individual sessions focused on personalising the learning and supporting individual development plans/action planning.
  • Award pathways to Chartered Management Institute (CMI) qualifications.
  • Debate space within module design to support knowledge sharing and peer-to-peer learning.
  • Online micro-topics webinars with theme experts to provide pre-work and priming content for each module and follow-up extended content on each theme.
  • A bespoke 360-degree “leadership competency” assessment to supplement Hogan profiling and assess pre and post programme leadership competencies against the programme objectives and Audi competency framework.
  • A dedicated, programme specific virtual learning environment platform (VLE) to support the entire learning journey and maintain delegate engagement outside of formal delivery.

The impact

Over the three years, the programme has equipped more than 100 managers across the Audi UK dealer network with “best in class” leadership capabilities – enabling them to improve the capability of the business to adapt to change, and ultimately, support the long-term sustainable growth of the Audi dealership network.

In terms of delegate satisfaction, the programme achieved ratings of 90% or above in every quarter across the delivery lifecycle and a cumulative (overall programme) satisfaction rating of 96.5%. On this measure, it performed significantly above the industry average (as defined by the FT customised executive education rankings) and made the Audi LEAD programme one of the best ever performing corporate education programmes at AMBS. The satisfaction ratings increased as the contract progressed. This was not an accident.

It was because: (1) we measured programme service quality performance across the full range of criteria in the FT Customised Executive Rankings (not just delegate satisfaction), and; (2) we used the outputs of this service quality monitoring as the inputs to our continuous improvement process. This allowed us to get a very detailed picture of ‘performance’ and continually make adjustments to content and delivery as we progressed through the contract.

Measures of learning effectiveness were derived from assessments of individual ABC projects, CMI assignments and online quizzes. Based on this measure, all KPI’s were achieved.

Indicators of business impact were derived by measuring the monetary value of ABC project outcomes. Although the collation of these outcomes is still in progress, to date, the direct sales revenue gains from these projects are estimated to be in excess of £2 million per annum.

In short, all impact indicators suggest that the programme performed extremely well. In line with the programme objectives, indicators suggest that the programme had a significant impact on individual delegate leadership capability (demonstrated by improvements in leadership competency and effectiveness), on organisational leadership processes and practice (demonstrated by improved cross-functional working) and on the broader Audi Centre level business change and business improvement objectives (demonstrated by the outputs of the integrated “work based challenge” projects).

In other words, both our quantitative data and qualitative, “human scale” feedback suggests the programme has proved to be genuinely transformational at both the individual, group and business levels. As such, both partners are extremely proud of the Audi LEAD programme and believe it represents a best practice benchmark in leadership development within the automotive industry and beyond.

Karen Boulton, Network People Business Partner at Audi UK, said, ‘The success of this development programme has been built on the foundations of a fantastic working relationship with Alliance Manchester Business School, who not only understood our brand strategy and values but the importance of developing our leaders in our retail network. It’s wonderful to see how our people have grown since taking part in the programme and the value they are delivering to their businesses and our brand’.

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