The Phoenix Group

Find out how Phoenix embraced high impact MBTI development

The Phoenix Group is a closed life assurance fund specialising in the management and acquisition of life insurance and pensions. With over five million policy holders and assets of 68.6 billion pounds, the Group is the largest UK consolidator of closed life assurance funds. Phoenix was also recognised as one of Britain’s Top Employers in 2014 – for the third time in a row.

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As a company that prides itself on being recognised as one of Britain’s Top Employers, the Phoenix Group is constantly striving to provide top-notch development to its army of financial accountants, actuaries and legal professionals. The company outsources all of its admin and support functions, meaning that the working environment has a strong emphasis on professional services, and a workforce that has jumped through many professional hoops in the form of exams and qualifications.

In this context, Learning and Development Business Partner Tamar Hughes reiterates the importance of delivering hard-hitting, immediately applicable development that staff can put into practice as soon as they get back to their desks. The business was moving away from day-long management training sessions towards short, memorable HITS – high-impact training sessions for leaders.

Tamar and the team also faced the challenge of really selling the benefits of interpersonal skills to the workforce, establishing the value of what Tamar refuses to call "soft skills" – instead dubbing them "the really hard skills". Being able to communicate well and persuade others of your position are skills that are extremely difficult to acquire, she argues – but once people have, the L&D team has seen staff reap huge benefits from adding these skills to their toolkit.

As a qualified MBTI practitioner, Tamar was aware of the great personal insights the tool could bring, and wanted to build on the limited MBTI knowledge already in the business in a way that fitted with the programme of "HITS" that was being designed. To do this, she brought in The Myers-Briggs Company’s Consultancy team. Tamar says of the collaboration with The Myers-Briggs Company: "I knew [The Myers-Briggs Company, formerly OPP] were the MBTI specialists, but they also had a great reputation for designing the kind of bite-size, high-impact development sessions we were after. We needed a consultant who could design a series of workshops tailored to our needs, and who could then pass on their knowledge and expertise to our internal L&D team so that we could run the sessions ourselves."
The Myers-Briggs Company worked closely with Tamar and the team to find out exactly what they wanted Phoenix staff to get out of the HITS. This was done via a series of meetings, where they collectively bottomed out where Phoenix wanted to be, following which The Myers-Briggs Company’s consultant brought ideas, structures and facilitator guides to the table. The process was one of constant refinement, during which Tamar built up an exceptional working relationship with The Myers-Briggs Company’s lead consultant. She role-modelled the coaching relationship by giving constant advice and examples that resonated with the team and kept the ideas alive in their minds, and they were then equipped to do the same with their workshop participants. Tamar elaborates: "The process was incredibly rewarding. So often you are offered a partnership solution, but really it’s just a standard offering. The [...] consultant wasn’t only a designer, trainer or facilitator – she mentored us, and an unexpected side-benefit of this was that we got some team development from it ourselves. She was flexible, despite all the things we threw at her! It was a really productive relationship, and we felt she had become a member of our team."
The outcome was a programme of six MBTI and TKI-based HITS for six to ten people at a time, focusing on conflict, communication, change and decision-making. They last between 90 and 180 minutes, and were designed to give participants immediately workable strategies to improve their effectiveness. "We were constantly addressing the ‘so what?’ factor," says Tamar. "The sessions had to move very quickly from the theoretical interest of the tools to real-life application, especially for time-poor professionals who might be sceptical about this type of session. We couldn’t get carried away designing lots of theoretical material – people needed to walk out knowing instantly what they would do differently." This involved translating the insights from the MBTI and TKI frameworks into tangible actions, and getting the language and tone right so as to appeal to this audience.

Tamar speaks passionately about the advantages of the The Myers-Briggs Company-designed HITS, both for the immediate L&D team and the wider organisation. They have enabled much more productive coaching conversations to happen, as well as being a chance for teams to bond in a genuine sense – to see things they have casually observed about each other played out live via practical exercises, such as the zig-zag model of problem-solving. “People keep coming back to talk about the exercises and what they’ve reflected on as a result,” she explains. “One small example of this is in team meetings, where the extraverts are considering how to enable the introverts to speak and contribute, resulting in more sharing of information and expertise, and ultimately, better, more business-focused decisions."

Tamar and the team are now delivering a full programme of HITS, and adapt the content to be relevant to each team – avoiding the 'sheep dip approach' and ensuring that the sessions are genuinely meaningful for all taking part. There has been a huge uptake, including some events for big-hitting individuals in top management positions – people who Tamar admits are often hard to please! "When people start knocking on your door to tell you they’ve heard great things about the HITs and want to attend one, that’s when you know you’ve got it right!"

This feeling of ebullient enthusiasm for the MBTI ideas and the HITS is infectious – and there’s a desire to embed the MBTI framework at all levels in all departments. Over time, the team aims to add to the layers of understanding with further MBTI applications. Tamar concludes: "It’s been a wholly positive experience. We learnt so much, and now we’re passing on the benefits to the organisation. I would highly recommend it."

The collaboration with [The Myers-Briggs Company, formerly OPP] was really productive – we felt like [the] consultant had become a member of our team. She role-modelled the coaching relationship.

Tamar HughesLearning and Development Business Partner. Phoenix