Northern Gas Networks: seeking alignment with a partner

Northern Gas Networks first asked Oakland to look at its processes to help employees develop their business plan over the following year.  The chief executive liked the personal style of Oakland – facilitating improvement rather than producing large reports.

Managing Partner, Mike Turner led the project:  “It was important for the leadership team to own the business planning process – most of all so they could deliver what was agreed but also develop their skills for the longer term.”

“It quickly became clear that there was a major issue with their biggest sub-contractor – systems weren’t aligned.  It was going to become a bigger problem as time went on and be disruptive to teams below them.”

At that time, Northern Gas Networks was adopting an innovative model for operations whereby the majority of the operations delivery work was outsourced to a third-party provider. They were concerned that this contractor delivered the plan with improved efficiency, customer satisfaction and safety to all those involved. At the same time, they were aware that contractors were using their branded vehicles and workwear. In short, they needed “quality at arms length”

Outsourcing arrangements so often rely on formal contracts to regulate behaviour but many situations require judgements that cannot be fully defined in a legal document. Oakland brought the NGN and contractor teams together and, within the structure of the existing service contract, to develop an improved model for relationships. This helped the teams to confirm a common aim, focus on the end customer, develop better communications, agree on areas for joint investment & improvement and agree how to make key operational decisions. The relationships with sub-contractors improved to such an extent, that a major one asked Oakland to implement the same project with their own sub-contractors.

Mike explains that for both of these projects leaders collected their own data and were then helped to make sense of it:  “This keeps the consultancy costs reasonable but is also a good learning process.  We created a structure to make sense of data which they could use every day in the business.  It created clarity and transparency and made it clear what the two companies needed to do.”

There were two aspects of the project that worked particularly well:  the relationship with the senior team and quickly getting to the heart of a critical business issue.

Mike added:  “The most rewarding part of this project was helping the client to improve the relationship with their sub-contractor and together deliver faster and better service.”