Alliance Manchester Business School - AMBS
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Alliance MBS

Alliance Manchester Business School

Developing agile leaders

AMBS is gaining national recognition for its work around Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

The work of our Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) are gaining national recognition.

Alliance MBS has begun one of its first ever Management Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (MKTP) with business consultancy firm Cirrus.

Unlike a more general Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) where business and academia usually join forces to develop a specific product or service, a MKTP is built around identifying strategic management-based initiatives to increase business effectiveness and improve management practices.

Cirrus works with major organisations on leadership development and employee engagement, and the MKTP will help it embed and transfer knowledge of agile leadership and team agility to support new ways of working.

The partnership will also look at how to develop and adapt training materials to address challenges brought by the pandemic. In particular, because of the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19, organisations now need to be much more agile and need to work and lead people virtually.

Virtual working

David Holman, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Alliance MBS, said the crisis had accelerated the need for agile and virtual ways of working. "This includes the need to deliver consultancy services virtually. Indeed, the corporate training and development market has switched almost completely to virtual delivery."

He said the MKTP had arisen out of previous research into team agility, and that it had significant impact potential. "Because Cirrus is a consultancy it can then apply the knowledge not only within its own organisation but cascade this information through to clients too. That is potentially very exciting.

"From the academic point of view it offers a unique opportunity for us to develop and apply new theoretical and practical insights on agile leadership and team working, areas which have largely been unexplored with academic rigour."

The MKTP provides an exciting opportunity for us to enhance our management structures and practices.

Agile research

Simon Hayward, CEO at Cirrus, said the company’s vision was to be a trusted transformation partner for clients and in order to meet that vision - and adapt to the changes brought about by the pandemic - it was imperative that the company embedded agile working across the organisation.

"The MKTP provides an exciting opportunity for us to enhance our management structures and practices to adopt robust, scalable, agile management systems to respond to the new challenges and opportunities of virtual delivery in a growing market. The partnership will support this change by driving leading-edge agile research and turning it into practical solutions. Together we will establish robust, innovative services to deliver that agility to clients.

"We are looking forward to testing these services internally and embedding them in our leadership, talent management and employee engagement programmes. So this partnership will give us robust insight into how to make appropriate changes to create agile, scalable brilliance."

Professor Holman added that the project would also enable synergies to be created with the recently launched Productivity Institute at Alliance MBS.

"The MKTP will not only be able to contribute to the agenda of the Productivity Institute, as it will provide new insights on organisational productivity, but it will also enable the MKTP team to influence and work with associated policy makers and businesses, thereby increasing the impact of the MKTP."

Other academics from Alliance MBS involved in the partnership include Robin Martin, Professor of Organisational Psychology, and Dr Kara Ng, Presidential Fellow in Organisational Psychology.

The project has three specific key aims:

  • Develop new and systematic knowledge about how effective leadership practices foster team agility, and feed these unique insights into the design of a new agile leadership programme.
  • Show how contemporary understandings of leadership can be used to help manage the challenges of leading agile teams.
  • Develop a process evaluation tool kit, suitable for use by a range of organisations including SMEs, that will help them assess the impact of agile leadership and team development programmes.

Legal collaboration

Alliance MBS has completed a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with global legal business DWF which has led to the launch of an insurance intelligence tool.

The tool, named Ivy, draws on historic data to approximate the recommended value of an insurance claim and tailor an approach for how best to achieve an optimal outcome for clients.

Dr Nadia Papamichail, Senior Lecturer in Information and Decision Systems at Alliance MBS, said the tool augmented fee earners’ ability to make quicker and more accurate decisions by integrating current and historical data to optimise settlement cases both in terms of value and time.

As she explained: "The project contributed to DWF’s operational performance internally by improving claims handling efficiency and effectiveness, while enhancing the company’s value proposition to clients externally. Most importantly, the benefits of utilising good quality data and shifting DWF towards a data-empowered culture are expected to be long-lasting."

Seizing opportunities

DWF is one of the first legal businesses to partner with a university on such a KTP scheme, which is part-funded by Innovate UK. Professor Ian Miles from Alliance MBS, who was also an academic lead on the project, said it showed how professional services firms in general are now seeking to seize emerging opportunities around artificial intelligence (AI), big data and data analytics.

He added: "This project simultaneously explored the technical and organisational elements of establishing new types of support for a particular set of activities within a legal services firm. The results are now of relevance to other activities of the firm, and also to professional services more generally, as emerging AI applications and evolving demands from clients continue to foster digital and cultural change. In fact I see this as just the beginning of a tide of activity in this area."


Dr Mayowa Ayodele, Data Process & Application Scientist, was the KTP Associate on the project. She added: "This project demonstrated the value of collaboration between domain experts and data science professionals. We therefore worked very closely with domain experts for data understanding, and with IT professionals to achieve seamless integration with the existing infrastructure."

Professor Miles said the project was as much about "augmenting" as "automating". "If you talk about automation then you are talking about machines making decisions. But augmentation is about gaining insights from what data is saying has happened in the past. With this particular project DWF was keen to access data from a number of different platforms and then synthesise that data."

But he stressed that the KTP was not just about developing a system. "It was also very much about shifting the culture of the firm too. It is all very well developing a system but you have to persuade people to use it. So we got line managers involved from an early stage and identified people within the firm who could really champion the project too."


David Robinson, Operations Director for Insurance at DWF, added: "We all hear references to big data and the insights it can give us and this is a real example of partnership between our people and the data science expertise. Our partnership allowed us to shape a tool that will drive the best settlements for our clients and also return even further value so our clients can then go on to further shape their own strategies. It's been a hugely exciting project for DWF, and it has now come full circle in getting great outcomes for our clients."

The project also linked to Dr Papamichail’s work on AI explainability at the Alan Turing Institute, the leading national Institute of data science and Artificial Intelligence, where she is a Turing Fellow.

As she added: "Developing decision algorithms and decision aiding tools with interpretable and understandable outputs and recommendations is crucial. With Ivy, we adopted a human-centric design and placed users and their needs at the centre of the system development process."

The Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme provides a grant contribution of up to two thirds of eligible costs to support academic and industrial collaborations. If you are interested in exploring a KTP with Alliance MBS or would like more information please contact

British Salt project wins

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between Alliance MBS and British Salt has won the Business Collaboration and Partnerships Award at the recent Educate North Awards.

In 2019, British Salt (a subsidiary of Indian-owned Tata Chemicals) called on academics at Alliance MBS to help launch a salt product, fortified with iodine in the UK. Recent Alliance MBS Masters in Marketing graduate Elle Perschke, who works as Brand Development Manager at Tata Chemicals Europe, led the KTP from the industry side. Elle worked closely with a team of academics at Alliance MBS, led by Professor Hongwei He.

The KTP, completed in April 2020, has successfully laid the groundwork for British Salt’s ambitions to transition into the B2C market in the country. The Alliance MBS team carried out market research including focus groups, to understand consumer attitudes and identify the opportunities and challenges associated with bringing the product to market.

The Business Collaboration and Partnerships Award for the University Sector recognises an 'exceptional institution or academic team engaging with one or more businesses for commercial success'.

Professor He said: "It is really gratifying to receive more accolades for this KTP project after it was rated outstanding and awarded Finalist at the KTP Best of the Best Awards last year. It was an exciting and rewarding project which saw Alliance MBS offer a total package of knowledge on marketing and strategy to British Salt, including new product development, branding, marketing segmentation, pricing, marketing communications, distribution channels and social media."

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