Nurturing talent and leadership in a globally mobile industry

Marianne Curphey talks to Paul Williamson from the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), and finds out how strategies developed in the theatre world can be applied to other business sectors.

Paul Williamson, Head of Talent Development, Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG)
How do you spot and nurture the managers and leaders of tomorrow, and how do you give staff valuable international experience to enhance their skill set?That’s the question for many professionals working in the global mobility sector and one that Paul Williamson from Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) addressed at the Festival of Global People in London. Mr Williamson, who is Head of Talent Development at ATG, is a chartered member of the CIPD, an experienced presenter and facilitator and an AoEC qualified executive coach.

Leadership development programmes

He has developed ‘Leading Lights’, a leadership development programme for senior leaders, which includes strategy and purpose, emotional intelligence, coaching skills, resilience, managing and motivating teams, presentation skills and trust. He also developed ‘Rising Stars’, a two-year development programme for emerging leaders. This programme provides high-level support through executive coaching and psychometric personality assessment for leaders within the business to enhance their performance and meet their strategic objectives.

Watch a short interview with Paul Williamson:

A global live-entertainment business

ATG is the world’s largest live theatre Group with 50 venues in Britain, the USA and Germany and international sales of £155.8 million. This year it was one of the Sunday Times International Track 200 companies, with 4,400 employees and a 62 per cent annual international sales growth per annum over two years. ATG is an internationally recognised and award-winning producer and operates a market leading theatre ticketing business. Mr Williamson is an HR professional with experience devising and implementing learning and development strategy for a global live-entertainment business. He has worked in the theatre industry for over 20 years, enjoying leadership roles in sales and ticketing prior to moving into HR. 
“I have spent all my life in the theatre and a lot of language we use in the theatre also gets used in business,” he says. “The language of performing at our best is at the heart of our business – our business is about getting fantastic performances on stage. It’s about inspiring people – if actors are not performing to their very best, the audience know about it.”

Read an overview of Day 1 and Day 2 at the Festival of Global People


Experiencing different working environments

That commitment to inspiration and excellence is echoed across the globe, with staff from ATG moving between venues and experiencing different working environments as part of their personal and professional development.“We are asking that of people in organisations all over the world,” he says. “We are asking them to perform at their best all of the time. I am interested in how that works in terms of being creative and innovative, something that many businesses are now having to embrace. There is so much change going on, and the need to adapt and develop. It’s about how to create an environment where we can innovate.”

Watch highlights from the Festival:

Exploring new ways to lead

One of his particular interests is on new ways to lead, and what leadership means in the 21st century.“In terms of leadership, the culture of an organisation can be affected, for good or bad, by how receptive its leaders are to new ideas,” he says. “Leaders are having to become more like coaches – the ‘hero’ style of leadership is becoming quite outdated.”For example, if the most powerful person in the room expresses their ideas first, that shuts down other ideas and stifles creativity. Today’s leaders should be looking at how to take inspiration and ideas from all the staff – including those lower down in the organisation.“Leadership is evolving,” he says. “How do you get the best thinking – in a meeting of ten people how do you make sure that you don’t shut out people’s creativity?”Part of the ‘Leading Lights’ senior leadership programme looks at how to create more of a culture of coaching within the organisation.“It’s looking at how to get people to contribute openly and honestly,” he says. “How we use the idea of creating a performance and learning from that.”

Spotting and nurturing talent

Global mobility is also a very important part of spotting, nurturing and placing talent in the right venues.“As a business we are global and growing and we have international participation in the ‘Leading Lights’ programme,” he says. “US staff come on that programme and come to the UK to experience how we work here.”He cites the example of Hayley Sharples, now General Manager of The Lyric Theatre in New York, who started in the organisation as an usher.“People go on interesting journeys in our organisation,” he says. “Hayley started as an usher, then was delivering customer service training when she was an usher, and then she moved into management.“It’s about spotting talent early on and developing it,” he says. “We evolve as a business and that opens up opportunities for our people. We only acquire venues when they become available and so you can’t always plan for these opportunities – you just need to make the most of them when they come up.”For example, a recent graduate had an opportunity to work in Germany, while there are fruitful exchanges between the US and UK.At the heart of Mr Williamson’s success has been his development of the coaching programme.

Coaching as part of staff development

“Coaching is also a big part of development and talent spotting, and in terms of global mobility, staff can move around within the organisation and experience different working environments,” he says. “It’s about matching people to coaches and finding the chemistry. Sometimes the best coach can be someone who is very different from you, or someone who will encourage you to step outside your own comfort zone.”The benefits can be two-way – with many participants on the ‘Rising Stars’ programme being willing to take on greater challenges.“There is a parallel between theatre and coaching,” he says. “Whatever happens between two people in a coaching session happens in the moment, like great moments of theatre.”Relocate’s Festival of Global People, which took place in London on May 14 and 15 2019, was a unique opportunity to connect with the fast-growing global mobility sector that supports international talent to flourish and international markets.

Learn more about the 2019 Festival of Global People and the Relocate Awards

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