Creating Performance Breakthrough

Bolster worked closely alongside Network Rail to create an approach for performance breakthrough for the high-output train which renews the track. We spoke to Steve Featherstone, programme sponsor at the time, about his key takeaways from working with Bolster.

1)​The importance of creating alignment

High performance in many large companies relies on complex environments with interlinked stakeholder groups working together. This can be made even more challenging when these stakeholders have, what appear to be, conflicting needs and goals. What was crucial in this programme was to align the different stakeholders in a common goal.

“Bolster specializes in big companies with different functions having to work together to achieve corporate goals…What Bolster helped us with was, if we wanted to succeed, we needed lots of different functions to realize they were part of this supply chain and to realize that they were part of something bigger.”

By working together with Steve and his team to fully understand all the different functional dependencies that were in the company, we were able to create a bespoke plan to align on a common ambition, what we at Bolster call ‘The North Star’. “We realized it came down to 7 or 8 teams that would allow us to succeed or not.”

2)​Dutch Directness

We often hear from our clients that having an external facilitator helps to gain clarity and perspective. Our ambition at Bolster is to always be a trusted partner who can help to challenge and who dare to ask the tough questions.

“The directness of Bolster team created an honesty in terms of fronting up issues, but still doing it in a nice way.” recalls Steve “They can really confront issues but in a way that people still feel comfortable.”


Picture: Steve with one of the High Output Systems.

3)​Setting ambitious targets and delivering on them.

When working on a performance programme there needs to be a concrete end deliverable. Together with Steve we set an ambitious target; “At the time of seeking Bolster’s help we were losing about 50% of our volume. There is potentially always going to be a percentage of volume that you lose due to external circumstances that you have no control over. So success was going to be halving that, and only losing 25% volume. In Scotland we actually did considerably better than that, and it was the best campaign we had ever undertaken. Bolster were so confident in their ability to help us that they offered to put their entire fee at risk against performance improvement milestones.

Steve notes “In the business that I ran, we turned around from running at a 90 million pound loss to a 40 million pound profit. A lot of the stuff we did with Bolster provided a significant contribution on that journey. A couple of years on, we were delivering 103% of our volume commitments.”

4)​Legacy of best practices

Delivering results is one thing, but in order for a programme to be successful you want to be able to deliver those results time and again. This involves figuring out what it is that works well and seeing if you can replicate and share those best practices.

“In Scotland we actually did considerably better than the set targets, and it was the best campaign we have ever undertaken. We’ve taken the lessons from that to other parts of the country. Simple things that we introduced are still there now, and they make a big difference.”



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