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Challenge: How do you deliver a transformative leadership development programme virtually, with all the change and uncertainty that comes during a global pandemic?

Solution: An immersive virtual learning journey including 360 assessments, group sessions, 1:1 coaching, peer learning pods and an immersion week, that was as impactful, if not more, than in-person sessions.

Results: The programme enabled participants to think differently and truly step up. Which in turn led to one of the cohort of 18 being promoted to the Exec. Team, and continued growth and career progression for many of the participants.

To read the full details, see below.

How Ornua delivered a transformative global virtual leadership development programme

The challenge

Ornua is Ireland’s largest exporter of Irish dairy products, with family favourites such as Kerrygold butter and Pilgrim’s Choice cheese. Headquartered in Dublin, the dairy co-operative exports to 110 countries worldwide and has a global team of 2,400 employees.

Following a change in leadership and a strategy refresh, Ornua recognised an opportunity to enhance the leadership capabilities of their senior leaders. They wanted to empower them to become more autonomous in their decision making, step out of their comfort zones, build trust with the Executives, create a strong global network of closely connected hubs and teams, and ultimately strengthen the pipeline of high potential leaders as successors to Executive positions.

With a lean HR function and a team of senior leaders spread across three continents, Ornua sought to work with an external partner who could provide a challenging best practice viewpoint, align with their purpose-led culture, and co-create a talent development experience which would develop and transition the leadership from the inside-out. BRIDGE Partnership were selected to partner with Ornua.

But just as the programme kicked off, COVID-19 hit and the entire Ornua and BRIDGE teams had to pivot to remote working. Many questions were being asked; Could the programme work within a virtual setting? How would Ornua and BRIDGE need to be agile and reimagine the programme, at pace? Would it be as impactful as a face to face intervention? How would Ornua stakeholders and cohort participants engage, respond, and adapt to this new approach? Could this leadership development experience sit alongside or perhaps even deliver value for other critical change initiatives already live within the business.


The solution

Following diagnostics, key stakeholder interviews, and focus groups, the Ornua Global Leadership Programme (GLP) – an immersive and experiential leadership development journey – was developed. Together, BRIDGE and Ornua co-created the programme focussing in on three areas:

  1. Leading Self (ME): Developing the leaders’ self-awareness and emotional intelligence at a deeper level than ever before.
  2. Leading Together (US): Building the cohort’s ability to lead in partnership and in full support of each other, understand each other’s preferences, and show up authentically.
  3. Leading the Business (IT): Taking leaders out of their comfort zone to both provide a helpful disruption to the way they see the world and apply the learning in a real-world setting by working with a charity, Food Cloud, on their strategic challenge.

GLP is a blended learning journey, consisting of group sessions, 1:1 coaching, 360 assessments, peer learning pods and an immersion week. The immersion week requires the leaders to develop their ability to manage their resourcefulness, demonstrate empathy, surface key strategic insights (on Food Cloud’s challenge), practice holding challenging conversations, and communicate a story that mobilised others to act. This is in service of creating and sharing solutions to Food Cloud’s key strategic challenge, using a ‘Design Thinking’ process. The immersion week is a key component for this busy and dispersed group of senior leaders, allowing them to put into practice the tools and collaborative processes they learn, whilst complimenting Ornua’s purpose-driven culture by strengthening the existing partnership with Food Cloud.

“It’s not a training course, let’s be very clear. It is an experience that you’re put into that on the one hand gives you tools and a framework to think about things, but on the other allows you to hold a mirror up to yourself to say who am I within this framework? It’s really about ‘who am I as a person, leader, team member, and where do I fit in, where would I like to be, what do I need to do in terms of where I’m at on my journey?’ There is a lot of reflection back from colleagues.”
Programme Participant, Ornua

Within the context of the global pandemic, the entire programme design had to pivot to virtual delivery. Group calls, learning pods, and individual coaching sessions were facilitated on Zoom and the high degree of interaction and intimacy normally present during BRIDGE’s in-person programmes was maintained using Zoom breakout rooms and Mural, an online collaboration tool. The huge success of this shift demonstrated the high level of trust in the partnership between Ornua and BRIDGE.

“The BRIDGE team felt more like colleagues – we built a relationship very easily and quickly and trust was established from the beginning. It meant we built the programme together and it was great to have that level of collaboration and problem solving. The flexibility in the partnership helped when having to cope with COVID-19. Being able to change an already tough in-person immersion week into a meaningful experience for everyone in their own virtual environments – we were really impressed with the quality of the design.”
Ruanne Cowley, Global Talent Development Manager, Ornua


The impact

The programme has been transformative at several levels. The senior leaders gained a common language and understanding of their own resourcefulness, the tools to navigate the discomfort of a complex challenge, a global network of peers, and the ability to think differently and truly step up. It increased their ability to handle increasingly complex challenges, navigate the matrix and build relationships with key stakeholders.

Since the GLP, one of the cohort of 18 has been promoted to the Ornua Exec. Team and Ornua have completed their 2020 Employee Engagement Survey. From a sample of the programme participants, the 2020 Employee Engagement Survey showed a 57% average increase across the 10 people leader categories with a minimum increase of 12% (cares about me as a person) and a maximum increase of 150% (takes action on poor performance). In addition, both Recognition and Feedback and Coaching increased by more than 100%.

“The programme focussed on enhancing leadership capability, awareness, leading themselves and others, and then working on deliverables. It was then applied to a real business challenge. We can clearly see some of the tangible changes already, as well as strong learnings and behavioural changes [resulting from the programme].”
Lisa Melody, Head of Talent & HR Transformation, Ornua

Furthermore, the community partner, Food Cloud, received a set of recommendations around their culture, people, and stakeholders. Since the programme, an ongoing relationship between Food Cloud and the inspired and energised group of Ornua senior leaders has been established.

“We were grateful for the skills-based volunteering, professionalism and shared learnings that Ornua brought to our team. There were a number of things that were fantastic that we have taken on board into our strategy for 2023, for example, Ornua highlighted the importance of strategic Governmental partnerships. Additionally, having the overseas experience from an organisation like Ornua really helps us build our international credentials.”
Suzanne Delaney, Partnership Director, FoodCloud

Feedback from participants:

  • 71% said that the programme either exceeded or partly exceeded their expectations
  • 85% rated the programme 4 or 5 out of 5 in terms of it being an engaging facilitation experience
  • 100% said they would recommend the programme to a friend or colleague

“I think BRIDGE did everything they could to create a safe environment and you could feel the Ornua team believing that and opening up more and more each day.”
Programme Participant

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