CIPD Podcast 19 - Learning and development - equipping people for change

Date: 30/04/08 Duration: 00:19:27

In this podcast we discuss how learning and coaching add value and contribute to business performance, especially in the current economic climate. We also look at the latest annual CIPD Learning and Development survey. Discussing the issues with Philippa Lamb are Max Mckeown, strategic adviser for four of the five most admired companies in the world, Mark Wilcox, founder of the UK-based consulting firm, RedThread, Detective Chief Inspector Jacqueline Keddy - Leadership Academy Met Police, Marion Fanthorpe, Head of HR Development for the London Borough of Camden and Caroline Darker, Head of Learning and Development at Selfridges.


Philippa Lamb : Welcome to the latest CIPD podcast. This time we’ll be looking at learning and development, an area that can find itself squeezed during times of economical turmoil. In this programme our focus is on the link between learning and business performance. We’ll be paying particular attention to the value that learning delivers and the ways it can contribute to current and future performance, even in tighter economic times. 
We’ve chatted with learning and development professionals from three very different organisations, each offering their insights in theme packed coaching and cultural change initiatives where they work. But, to begin with, I talked to leadership strategy and innovation consultation Max McKeown about learning and development in the current climate. 

PL: One of the big worries facing HR practitioners at the moment is that they’re hearing on every news programme about the economic downturn, they’re seeing before their very eyes their training and development budgets getting smaller and smaller or disappearing entirely. How do they tackle that? How do they continue to work on inspiring people and combating indifference when they just don’t have a lot of money to play with? 

Max McKeown: Well the obvious answer on perhaps tackling organisational or senior managements’ reluctance to spend, there are two answers I think. First is to show that the organisations that spend wisely in this period come out better after every recession, so I would have said create one graph that shows this dramatically, with all the references and show it to as many people as you can in the organisation. 

PL: And demonstrate the value of the investment. 

MM: And just demonstrate it and say time and time again, the iPod was invented in the recession and so on and so forth. So, first of all, that’s the time when your competitors are weakest because they’re scared and being scared is not conducive to innovation. The second one is that, but why not be the first one to actually say hey we can do more with less, that’s alright, but so can you and if we’re going to take cuts you can too. It’s a little bit machiavellian but the HR profession is viewed as the soft profession, it’s viewed as the one that will stick their hand up and say, “Oh we’ve got to save those poor little people and the training budgets” and then you just slap them about and they cut anyway. If HR at this point is saying some counter intuitive things then it grabs the agenda from those other people who say the answer is always cutting. 

PL: So if you were an HR practitioner within an organisation and you had your training budget, what would you be spending it on right now? Would you be allocating it specifically to the people you perceive to be your real winners over the next few years or would you be spreading it across the board in order to motivate and enthuse people? 

MM: I would save some money for getting my top team to open up their eyes to things, I think that’s still important and coaching usually doesn’t happen at the top level, it happens at just below the top level and just breeds resentment and frustration with all the bad things the big boss is doing, so I would spend some money there. I would also take a chunk of it, if I have sufficient money, and allow the staff to allocate where it is spent. 

PL: Would you? 

MM: Indeed because they know what they need. 

PL: An interesting approach to allocating spending budgets there. Next, I caught up with Mark Wilcox, he’s Director and founder of RedThread Consulting and he shared his views on the role of learning and development in leading and motivating people at work. 
Mark Wilcox: People don’t follow out of duty and respect any more, they follow people because there’s something in it for them, the cycle of ((?)) contracts is definitely changing and it’s between leaders and individuals now. People join organisations but they need leaders, they need managers – that’s well researched and known – and it’s the treatment between individual leaders and people in the team, people who are working to deliver change that matters. Within that there’s ‘What am I going to get out of this? So I come to work, I give you my efforts, if you get it right and I get engaged you get my discretionary effort, you get that level of performance beyond average but what do I get in return?’ and that’s often not just money. It’s often about opportunity, it’s often about skills development, it’s often about visibility in the organisation in terms of peoples careers. The agenda for HR professionals is trying to get leaders to develop a style of leadership that is not one size fits all, that it’s very much personalised and very much replaces what used to be the corporate contract with individuals with an individual contract; leader and team member. 

PL: As you say, it’s all about the numbers isn’t it? One can readily see how you can deal with individuals as individuals within a small organisation or a small team. How do you do this if you’re actually dealing with a lot of people? Is it really practical? 
MW: Well it’s only practical in the sense if it gets results and the absence of it gets mediocre results. If you want exemplary performance from everybody in your team then you have to treat everybody as individuals and work towards what’s exemplary for them. That’s about different levels of skill, different levels of motivation and will. The match isn’t always the same. If you want average then treat people average. If you want exemplary performance, treat people as individuals and help them excel, and yeah, that puts the pressure on the leader. That puts the pressure on anybody who’s managing people but hey! Not everybody should step into that space if they can’t do it. 

PL: Making the best use of time, be it for learning, creativity or day to day operational work is certainly a heightened challenge in tougher times. Max McKeown gave me his thoughts on how to do that. 

MM: First of all do your inventory, find out what you’ve got not what you need. First of all you take a list and you say how much time do I have over a week? How much money do I already have? What buildings, materials and how can I re-jig the use of those activities to make it more likely that people will be creative and satisfied at work or dissatisfied and move towards something better? Meetings, in good times and bad, managers increase the number of meetings that they have – you may have noticed. 

PL: Because they feel the need for activity? 

MM: Well in a boom you need more meetings to increase performance, are we making the most of our opportunities? In bad times you have meetings to check up on everybody and make sure they’re not wasting any money. Both of those tend to clog the arteries and lead to some kind of heart condition. Rather than saying, ‘Hey, I’m the boss of my people, I can’t do anything about my boss but what I can do is look at their calendar and take out whole swathes of responsibilities and say what can you do with that amount of time?’ So Google time, they give people a day a week, it’s entirely possible to create half a day a week for your people to do something else. 

PL: You say that lightly but I think most managers would throw their hands up in horror that they would devote half a day of their peoples’ time every week to not doing the job they’re paying them for. 

MM: I’m not entirely certain if I agree. I think people say they want efficiency but they know they need time to think. Some people convince themselves that pressure brings the best in them but that’s really just us making the best of a bad situation; we’ve got to so we do it. I think you would actually find that most people, certainly the middle managers, know they need more time. They know by extension their people need more time to think and solve things and talk to customers and figure out a better way and lack perhaps the courage of those convictions that if I do it nothing’s going to go wrong, and really nothing is. 

PL: We’ve heard some interesting reflections there on how to find the time and the money needed to maintain learning when circumstances mean both resources are in short supply. There certainly is compelling evidence that organisations that do are the ones that thrive when better times return. 
Our latest Annual Learning and Development Survey has much more on the approaches organisations are taking right now. You can find the report at The survey highlights a continued growth in the use of coaching. It’s certainly grown in popularity since the last time we saw a downturn in the economy and it’s an intervention that can boost individual and organisational performance, without necessarily suffering if budgets tighten, particularly if you’ve done the groundwork already. 

Philippa Lamb: One of the UK’s largest public sector organisations, The Metropolitan Police, employing some 60,000 people, took, what was for them, a step in a new direction when they introduced coaching. I asked Jackie Keddy, the Met’s lead consultant for coaching and action learning, about where they began. 

Jacqueline Keddy: Where we started was with 12 individuals that were initially coached, who began to coach three coaches each, which is 36, from three boroughs and one crime directorate and it just mushroomed. The evaluation was extremely robust. It would be because it’s public money we’re talking about and I’m very cost conscious and I run this really on a shoestring. But, the benefits that we’re beginning to see emerge through coaching, and the feedback we’re getting from the coachees and the coaches are worth their weight in gold really as far as the organisation is concerned. 

PL: So what sort of benefits are you actually seeing? 

JK: Some of the feedback from individuals has been don’t ask why we’re coaching but why not. One newly promoted officer that was given coaching during the first 100 days said it’s reaffirmed my commitment to the organisation, it’s made me feel valued, it’s made me feel really supported. The benefits that I’m seeing is that it’s breaking down some of those concepts of hierarchical leadership and it’s getting the best out of your team. We’ve gone on from coaching as per se as this bolt-on and from it being seen a bit pink and a fluffy and a bit sort of tree huggy, into really delivering performance, and everybody within the Met knows about coaching. 

PL: Marion Fanthorpe is head of HR Development at The London Borough of Camden, a well performing council with around 8,000 staff and a budget of £245m. She’s been focused on delivering cultural change within the organisation and I asked her what Camden were trying to achieve when they brought her in. 

Marion Fanthorpe: I think they were trying to identify how to move the organisation forward and I think the Chief Executive had come in and fairly new and she began to realise that what had made her successful wasn’t going to continue to make her successful, but I think she realised that before we started to slip down. We were about changing and one of the key drivers was cost. She coined the phrase that we were living beyond our means, so the way the whole programme started was actually a much more belt and braces traditional kind of management efficiency programme, which could have kind of taken its course and we’d have taken costs out but actually we said hang on, no, let’s think about this and do something that might change the attitudes and the behaviours in the organisation so we don’t get in this situation again but we build something that’s going to sustain change in the longer term. 

PL: As you say, this is a local authority, you were working within an environment where budgets were tightening, presumably you didn’t have an unlimited pot of money to throw at this process, so how did you work within those constraints? 

MF: No we had very small budgets, we spent very little money on the process. A little bit of money on producing some cards and handouts and a bit of money on some conferences and events but we didn’t essentially use a large budget. We worked with groups of managers and worked with existing structures and got out and did as much face to face work as we could, put some simple tools on the Intranet for managers to use, used our existing internal communications so if we’d have wanted to do a re-branding exercise we wouldn’t have been able to afford it. 

PL: How did the people working within Camden respond to this as time went on? 

MF: There was an instant hit with the values because they did really resonate with people. We framed them in little phrases that said ‘this does mean’ and ‘this doesn’t mean’ and people really latched onto that, but also, well it wasn’t luck but there was a sense in which these values were really working for us and they were really hitting the spot. That was a very good start really. 

PL: Next, I caught up with an organisation quite different from the Met or Camden, the prominent retailer Selfridges, but like the Met, they found that coaching conversations really suited how they wanted their organisation and people to develop. I asked Caroline Darker, who’s their Learning and Development Manager, how they introduced coaching and why it worked for them? 
Caroline Darker: We’ve introduced some coaching training, we have also really thought about how do we want learning to happen at Selfridges. Now Selfridges is, as everybody knows, a fast-paced retailer, incredibly fast-paced. The decision makers are there all the time, it’s not like a multi site retailer where you have to wait for things to drip through a thousand stores. If we make a decision it can quite often be out on the floor that day, that hour whatever, so we needed something that enable people to do those jobs very quickly. What we didn’t want was to take people offline for huge chunks of time, either in a training room or in conversations away from the action, away from the floor. We wanted to work with an organisation that enabled us to give people those skills to coach whilst also enabling people to do their jobs and I think that’s where we’ve got to. One of the key things that we do is talk about response or curb side coaching. What we talk about there is not about going off into the room to have grand coaching conversations or even grand development conversations (although those do happen), but just to have a coach it response to everyday matters. 

PL: Give me an example. 

CD: An example would be you’ve got a new delivery coming in, you know it’s going to hit the floor at 12 o’clock so the initial reaction would be to your manager “What am I going to do with this?” and in typical times they would say, “Right, I want you to take that, I want you to arrange it like this and you need to do that by 12.30 because it needs to be done by peak trade”, and what we’re encouraging people to say is, “Okay, well what do you think you could do? What are your options? What are the types of things you need to think about? What are the things that are going to hinder you?” and get them to come up with their own solution and self manage, in the hope that the next time a delivery comes in or after three times of going through that approach they might say, ‘Oh delivery coming in, okay, what could I do? I could this, I’m going to do that, I’m going to check in with my manager to say I’m going to do that, is this okay?’ and then you go and do it. In the end it saves time, it makes people more empowered, it hopefully makes them more motivated and passionate about their roles and also it enables us to release some potential in what is the huge numbers of people that we have working particularly on the shop floor. 

PL: All three of the organisations we spoke to are using learning and development interventions to help deliver cultural change. I asked Camden’s Marion Fanthorpe if there were any tricks to adopt when you’ve been charged with delivering cultural change in your organisation. 

MF: I think you’ve just got to have some real confidence in yourself. The key piece of advice is it’s long term stuff and to avoid big bangs and quick hits because they can, I suspect, cause more damage. It’s about taking it more slowly and enabling it to be embedded and to persist, and to do what you think is right for the organisation and resist all the nay sayers and to resist some of the traditional ways of doing it and to have confidence to stay with it. 

PL: I finished up by asking Mark Wilcox about the importance to organisations of targeting the right learning at the right people. 

MW: What we find is that the companies that really embrace wanting to be an excellent organisation recognise that that means different levels of output from different people, different levels of input and that even the research is supporting it now, that single reward systems, single policies, single sets of benefits, single ways of doing peoples appraisals, spread out across a company, all they do is reduce everything to the average so you become a mediocre copy of a mediocre copy of another company. Whereas, if you actually differentiate and you look at what it is that it takes to get an individual to perform really well then you start to get really positive output from everybody. You add all that up and you get the classic synergy, 2+2=7.5. 

PL: So you’re talking about really highly tailored solutions for every individual within an organisation. It’s a lot of input isn’t it? 

MW: I’m talking about highly tailored individual solutions for the right people in the organisation. 

PL: Okay, so it’s talent management. 

MW: It’s talent management and it’s of the critical few. There’ll be somewhere between ten and 200 people in your organisation that if you get the deal right for them will significantly effect the performance of your organisation. 

PL: In the particular economic climate we’re dealing at the moment, the question of budgets is going to be a very key one for everyone in the area of learning and development, as indeed in every other area of corporate and employment life. Presumably you would argue that as peoples’ budgets get tighter this is even more the way to go forward, to really target very tightly where you put your resources because the link between where the money goes and the results you’re getting is going to be focused on even more closely than it has been before. 
MW: It’s going to be even more visible and even more critical to the organisation. The other thing you’ve got to look at is, if you’ve got smart people and you don’t work with them, in terms of their development, then they’ll leave. So you can have a veneer thin, you know, one size fits everybody approach and lose the people that you should really retain, and that’s what I think is focused development is a far more productive output for an organisation. 

PL: No matter how you go about it, getting the right learning and development interventions in place can be crucial to sustaining performance. It may be a bigger challenge to get this message across when the economy is giving people the jitters, but our guests in this podcast certainly do believe that investing rather than cutting back is the best way to ride out any storm that may be heading our way. 
If you’d like to know more about our guests or the issues explored in this podcast, you can find the notes that accompany the programme at 
Next time, we’ll be talking about the global challenges faces HR, with a panel of international experts from Europe, America and India. Until then, goodbye. 
You’ve been listening to the CIPD podcast series.


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