Northern Care Alliance.

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About NCA

Serving the health and care needs of 1.2 million people across Greater Manchester with 21,000 employees, Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust (NCA) is one of the largest and most influential healthcare organisations in the UK. The team is committed to leadership at all levels of the organisation and prioritise leadership skills alongside clinical skills.


The challege

The Trust has faced significant cultural challenges in recent times, stemming from a number of reasons including post-covid impacts.

We knew we needed to bring about real change to organisational leadership culture at all levels, using the tools and technology available to us. Our goal was to create a stronger ecosystem as part of our culture change, a mission we called, ‘Leadership by All; Development for All’.

In order to shift from ‘hero leaders’ to high performing teams, we recognised the need to define leader responsibilities and behaviours, and cascade these to all our leaders and managers through a high-impact culture change programme which we call the Accelerated Leadership Development Programme (ALDP).

With an ambitious, initial target of developing 4,000 leaders, we needed to create a solution that would support our mission and achieve results at scale and pace.


The solution

The NCA Talent & Organisational Development team have a huge amount of experience in creating effective culture change and leadership development programmes. The Accelerated Leader Development Programme and corresponding tools were designed and co-created through stakeholder engagement and robust needs analysis.

Our education expertise was enhanced by two other key ingredients: Totara’s powerful TXP toolkit and Think Learning’s consultative partnership approach; we spent lots of time collaborating with Think’s development team to create and test our tailored technology solution, which we call the Virtual Campus.

northern care alliance

We were very familiar with blended learning theories, but Totara TXP gave us the functionality to really bring it to life in our LMS. The programme includes digital enrichment of face-to-face learning, self-directed learner controls, and high levels of learner engagement.

The programme comprises formal and assessed learning activities alongside performance and talent conversation-based processes. These elements are underpinned by reflective self-assessment, expert coaching, a collection of pledges and principles, plus a community of discussion boards with a resource library.

Pre-Event Tasks include a self-assessed ‘NCA Quest psychometric tool’, and a Quest Profile review. In addition, learners must have an up-to-date appraisal conversation and a live Personal Development Plan.

The 2-day, in-person learning event is administered, booked and managed in Virtual Campus, and culminates in a knowledge check assessment and ‘Leader Pledge’.

A key post-event task involves delegates collating work-based evidence in Virtual Campus for a regular ‘Leader Revalidation’ process. This is supported with access to digital tools and resources in Virtual Campus.

Cascaded leadership support and coaching is provided by our Organisational Development consultants.

Alongside this, sits a Totara Engage Workspace, styled as a ‘Learning Community’, blending digital and tutor-led learning activities linked from the Course page, providing learners with powerful opportunities to share and network.

NCA Engage

We also use the ‘Learning Community’ Workspace within Totara Engage to host curated libraries of key content which help learners to refresh, develop and explore their new knowledge.

Our Totara Virtual Campus gives us a powerful, but unobtrusive platform to signpost, track, assess, and support our leaders. And it complements and enhances the work of our expert facilitators, OD consultants, coaches and mentors.


The results

Prior to kickstarting this mission, we were nervous about what impact it might have, But the results have already exceeded our expectations as we’re incredibly proud to have achieved University accreditation for our Accelerated Leader Development Programme.

A key objective was to make career development a bigger priority for our leadership teams, and we have seen a steady incremental increase in compliance of My Time appraisal and PDP conversations which is now at 75% across the NCA, an increase from an organisational post-covid rate of 52% in April 2021.

So not only is our compliance increasing, but so is our employee satisfaction as staff are having better conversations with their managers on a more regular basis. And this is reflected in our recent NHS Staff Survey results, which shows a significant improvement in the ‘We are always Learning’ metric.

Evaluation data shows us that leaders report significant positive impacts of the programme:

  • Clarity about leadership responsibilities – 91% agree or strongly agree
  • How to access resources and tools – 90% agree or strongly agree
  • Committed to taking action following the programme – 89% agree or strongly agree
  • A higher level of completed appraisals (82%) and personal development plans (75%)

In just 6 months, our team of 7 expert facilitators have put 1,800 delegates through the programme. So, we’re well on course to meet our 4,000-person target, and in fact we’re expanding that goal to 7,000 learners to include all service managers as well as people managers.

The programme began as a pilot in July 2022 and within just 4 weeks, the full programme was fully set up in our Totara Learn LMS.

In parallel with the intense work to build the Programme in Virtual Campus, we were absolutely delighted when Salford University accredited it, providing us with very valuable validation of the robustness and educational rigour of the Programme.

Creating a hub of content with Totara Engage allowed our team to save time on learning administration too. Our ‘Leader Revalidation’ is now digitally enabled at scale via the Virtual Campus and our eco-learning system offers online learning communities, self-access to resources and additional leader development including follow-on micro-sessions.

But more than all of this, this project has had a huge impact on our culture. Staff are invigorated, engaged and developing. The benefits of this will continue to be seen in the years to come.


Think Learning and Northern Care Alliance won Best Use of Blended Learning for their work on this project