Louise Leonard-Cross is an occupational psychologist and currently head of organisational development and learning for Home Group, responsible for the group-wide design and implementation of organisational development activities and learning programmes for leaders and colleagues across the UK.
Having worked with public and private sectors, Elouise uses psychologically grounded approaches to develop and deliver sustainable people change, OD and learning programmes, the success of which has resulted in achieving awards including Employee Engagement – Culture Change Programme of the Year and the TJ OD Programme of the Year in 2015. Elouise believes that learning should have elements of fun and needs to be unique to be memorable, and has led teams in designing a wide and blended range of successful learning programmes.
With a passion for her profession, Elouise has undertaken a range of additional voluntary roles, including head of research for the Association for Coaching and currently as chair of the North East of England branch of CIPD and part of the CIPD Council. With a love of learning, she is currently completing a professional doctorate in occupational psychology, focusing on how organisations can more effectively use data to understand team engagement and performance.
Why training and how did you start?
My first training role was in retail. I worked for a small start-up fashion retailer and delivered training to new concession managers. It was a young company so I got lots of opportunity to get stuck in and shape how I could train others. I learnt the basics around investing in the preparation of content of what others needed to learn, documenting simple supporting processes and using scenarios and examples to bring things to life. I loved that I was able to support others in their success as retail managers and I got bitten by the bug of training and learning!
What's been your lowest moment and what your noblest hour?
I was ill with ME for many years as a teenager which meant I couldn’t go to school and I studied and sat my GCSE’s at home. However, I found it difficult to concentrate, read and make notes. To help my learning, I used visual approaches and storytelling to get information to stick, which has really shaped how I continue to learn today. I returned to school at sixth-form but was only able to study three A-Levels. I managed to get the grades to study psychology – those years were tough in terms of energy and keeping up with my peers but I was so proud to graduate with my degree.
The experience has helped me support others through coaching and mentoring in managing their learning and career, looking at doing things in different ways to achieve a goal, accepting certain barriers but ultimately being solutions focused.
Volunteering takes up a good deal of my time outside work. I have tried to find places where my knowledge or experiences can add value, and I have personally developed lots of new skills through volunteering. In addition to a range of short term volunteering, I have undertaken longer term voluntary roles including working as a case advocate, mentoring unemployed young job-seekers through the CIPD Steps Ahead mentoring programme, holding roles on the CIPD North East of England Committee and being an external Trustee for Northumbria University students’ union.
As an L&D professional, I think that volunteering can often be overlooked as a high impact and cost effective learning strategy. At Home Group, we use things such as National Volunteer Week to match colleagues to volunteering opportunities and have built it in to our leadership development. Having an approach where people take time to reflect after the event is key, so many colleagues have said they learnt new skills but also had greater appreciation for skills and knowledge of their team – skills development and team building in one – win/win!
Who or what inspires you?
My family inspires me and has supported me to achieve my education and career goals – my grandfather moved to the North East in the 1950s to take on the role of personnel manager for the new Rowntree’s factory. The stories he shared of how Rowntree’s cared for their employees while being commercially minded shaped my view of good businesses and made me want to work in HR.
One of my favourite places to visit is Walt Disney World and this inspires my approach as an L&D practitioner. Walt Disney was a real visionary – I love seeing the information on the ideas then experiencing the final products in the theme parks. Walt’s trailblazing perseverance, optimism, innovation, risk-taking and ability to turn ideas into reality is inspiring. Despite challenges and adversity, he wasn’t swayed from his ideas. He had a vision of Disney World, this super rich picture of what he wanted to create. I love that he started out with a big goal that so many people saw as impossible and he just worked around issues and obstacles to make it happen. I use many of the Disney techniques in my OD and learning strategies.
I was lucky enough to undertake training with the Disney Institute – graduating with my ‘ears’ was a very proud moment.
What and when was your career turning point?
I loved working in the NHS and, due to staffing restrictions and limited resources, I was given so many opportunities to take on additional responsibilities and try out new things. Although I was undertaking a training role in the NHS, I hadn’t realised the power of qualifications – I thought experience was the most important thing. I worked with a great colleague who encouraged me to complete an ILM Level 3 in Management and NVQ in L&D. Both of these gave me confidence and firm foundations for my practice – as a people manager, I still refer back to some of the things I learnt on my ILM course 15 years ago!
Describe your best learning and development experience?
One of the benefits available to me in the NHS was to apply for part-funding of a qualification. I felt that I could enhance my L&D skills by using my psychology background more and saw that the local university offered an MSc in occupational psychology. The modules were highly applied and developed to add value to practitioners working with organisations, so the route felt like the perfect option. I had a great operations manager who encouraged me to apply for the course and supported my funding application, and I was lucky to be accepted for both.
I studied part time and was able to bring my learning back to the organisation quickly – introducing talent programmes, new approaches to recruiting and enhancing leadership development. I loved the qualification, I was so inspired by the learning and the variety of experiences of the team teaching. I think what made it my best learning experience was that it could be applied so easily in my work role but was also full of things I could share with others, including as part of management development.
What's next in your career?
I am very excited to be moving on to a new role as director of learning and OD for NCG in September. NCG is one of the largest not-for-profit education and training groups in the UK, with four colleges, two national training providers and a long distance learning service. The purpose of the organisation really resonated with my values and experiences, aiming to unlock potential through learning.
Find Elouise on LinkedIn at elouiseleonard-cross and Twitter @ElouiseL_C
Elouise on the #TJwow webinar