Archive for June, 2013

Talent Management

As someone who always thought that a “stakeholder” was a person who held the stick whilst the vampire met their maker, I have held a long-standing aversion to “management-speak”. I guess it probably started when I was first told that it was “time to pick the low-hanging fruit” and it reached its height when a colleague suggested that we adjourn a meeting for a “bio break” (sadly, I kid you not!).

So when the term “Talent Management” first started to creep into the management lexicon a decade ago, my antennae were bristling. Surely this was just new jargon to cover a set of processes which any decent HR function had been following since they morphed from being the Personnel Department. However, if that was bad enough, the situation soon became far worse when software companies started jumping on the new bandwagon and convincing us that the only effective way to manage talent was through the purchase of a “System”. And thus were a range of incredibly expensive and complex “Talent Management Systems” inflicted on organisations across the Western World.

Why Has the TMS Failed to Deliver?

Sadly, the “TMS” is now being revealed for the dinosaur which I always believed it to be. I think there are two key reasons for this.

Firstly, the dreaded “Annual Performance Review” is a central plank of most TMS’s and the structure around which “talent development” plans are hung. The concept of Annual Appraisals is now being challenged across the whole HR sector. I would go further and suggest that not only has it failed totally to raise individual performance, it has probably done untold damage to both individuals and their organisations. Invariably, both parties enter an Appraisal poorly prepared and hoping it can be completed as quickly as possible. The result is a mediocre box-ticking exercise which leaves everyone unsatisfied and rarely if ever results in behavioural change. The fact that Michael Gove now appears to want to introduce this anachronism into the teaching profession fills me with dread.

What of course we really need is effective and continuous “Performance Management”, a much more informal and less rigid practice which enables people to develop their skills through a wide range of different processes of which manager feedback is just one small component. Unfortunately, most TMS’s are far too rigid to track employee progress in this way.

Secondly, the TMS fails to deal with the very rapid changes which are taking place in the way in which we learn. The TMS tends to point employees in the direction of formal training programmes which will supposedly assist in their “development”. However, recent surveys suggest that less than 20% of workplace learning is now acquired through formal (whether classroom-based or eLearning) programmes. People now learn socially, informally or collaboratively and there are far more flexible and effective ways of capturing and tracking this learning than via a rigid TMS.

Is Talent Management Still Important?

So I believe we need to forget about Talent Management Systems and revert to thinking about what Talent Management really means. If it’s about recruiting the very best people, providing them with the appropriate skills and opportunities to learn and retaining them in the business, then of course it is more important than ever. Globally, we face a huge skills crisis and the task of finding and retaining talented people has become critical for most organisations.
I don’t believe we will achieve that by investing in Talent Management Systems. Instead, we need to focus on the drivers which persuade Generation Y (who will soon make up the majority of the workforce) to join and stay in a business. That’s about values and culture, genuine engagement and empowerment and satisfying and rewarding work. Does anyone know of a TMS which is based around that concept? if not, then let’s start thinking outside of the box and adopt a different approach to the way we manage our talent.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills


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A century ago, more than 1.5 m people in the UK were employed as Domestic Servants or were, to use the expression of the day “In Service”. It was an incredibly tough life for very low wages and unlike the Downton Abbey vision of maids combing their ladies’ hair all day, most servants led a grim and thankless life.

I was reminded of the old concept of “In Service” when I read last week that the UK economy is now 70% service-based. Sadly, with a few notable exceptions, we no longer make products in the UK, we simply provide a service for those products. So from call-centres to banks, from retail and hospitality to Care, we are all now “in service”. Of course, at the same time, we are all recipients of that service and our expectations of service levels we require are constantly rising. So whilst workers in the service industries may no longer work 12 hour days and live “Below The Stairs”, they are still expected to provide ever-increasing levels of care to their customers.

New Economy – New Skills

The move towards a service-based economy has a profound impact on the skill requirements of our workforce. Thirty years ago, school leavers with low academic qualifications, could still find jobs in shipbuilding, coal, steel or manufacturing. Conditions may have been awful and the work mind-numbingly boring, but they were often jobs for life and were the heart of many working-class communities. Now that those jobs have vanished forever, opportunities for low-skilled workers are almost non-existent and as I have argued many times before, unless we recognise that and address the issue, we are in real danger of creating a generation of young people who won’t just be unemployed – they will be unemployable.

That is why I always use the term “crisis” rather than the preferred government term “problem”, when referring to workforce skills. And in my opinion, it is not just about giving people the skills that will make them employable, it’s about giving them the confidence that will make them believe that they can move on from a low-paid service job and build a genuine career. Last week, I was talking about Functional Skills at an excellent Apprenticeships 4 England funding conference and I told delegates of a comment that had been made to me a few months ago, when an Apprenticeship provider told me that they only worked with hairdressers and that hairdressers did not require Functional maths and English skills to cut hair. Apart from finding the comment incredibly patronising, my response was that surely the purpose of the Apprenticeship wasn’t simply to assess someone’s ability to cut hair but to provide a young adult with the skills which would make them believe they could go on to become a salon manager or even open their own hairdressing salon one day.

Of course, Maths and English are not the only skill areas that we need to address. There are a whole range of “employability” skills where young adults need additional help and we desperately need more extensive careers advice. But at the end of the day, without the ability to communicate effectively and not just simply remember numerical facts, but understand their meaning and their use in different situations, then everything else becomes meaningless. Whilst young adults need no longer bow and scrape to Lord Grantham, they do need to be able to meet and exceed the expectations of their “service” customers. That is why I believe that successive governments have got it just about right in putting Functional Skills at the heart of both Apprenticeship and Traineeship programmes.

Funding is Critical

However, the programmes will only succeed with the right level of funding. The next government Spending Review is published at the end of June and I am fearful that Further Education and workplace funding will be cut again. Of course, there will always be spending limits and priorities, but the skills crisis in the UK is acute and needs to be addressed now, not as part of some long-term plan for the future. If the government wants the UK workforce to be trained to Level 2 in Functional Maths and English, then it has to provide funding at a level that will ensure that high quality providers will be able to deliver the qualifications.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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The phrase “Flipped Classroom” is rapidly becoming a standard term within the educational dictionary. Just in case you are still out of the loop, here is a brief resume of the concept. In olden times, the “teacher” was the fountain of all knowledge and the channel through which this was imparted to students. That knowledge was then embedded (hopefully!) in homework.

But the birth of the Internet meant that knowledge was now available from many different sources from Google Search to Khan Academy videos. So more and more teachers are now “flipping “the process. Old-style“Teaching” is done out of school hours and the classroom is used for one to one support and to check and assess understanding. More importantly, flipping the classroom gives teachers the opportunity to move learners from lower-level thinking (remembering ) to higher levels (Analysing, evaluating, creating)

The concept makes so much sense that it seems relevant to ask whether it is being mirrored in the workplace. The answer I am afraid is that sadly that is often not the case. Despite the fact that numerous surveys show that workers now prefer informal and social learning , the workplace is still dominated by “trainers” clinging bravely to their powerpoint decks and standalone e-learning courses often used to tick compliance boxes. I am not denying the ability of individual trainers to impart knowledge effectively nor am I denigrating the use of e-learning material to effect the same result. My concern is that this invariably becomes the end of the learning process rather than the beginning. As such, I believe we are missing out on a huge opportunity to tap into the potential which exists within the workforce.

So I believe it is time to “Flip The Workplace” and for L&D professionals to rethink their whole approach to people development. Of course the process starts with some sort of knowledge transfer. But there are so many different ways in which that can be achieved. These range from a chat with a colleague, via becoming a member of a project team, through to e-learning, You Tube, Google and dozens of other pathways.

Once that basic knowledge is in place, the real learning can start. Trainers are transformed from knowledge experts into coaches, mentors and facilitators. Learners start to understand how the knowledge they have acquired can be used in different situations. They can now learn to think at a higher level, analysing issues more effectively and creating new solutions to existing problems.

Let’s just use an example to make my point. Nowadays, most Health & Safety training is carried out using e-learning. Course done, box ticked, compliance achieved, employer happy. But think of the value to customers, employer and employee if, when a problem occurred, the first response of the employee wasn’t “Oops!” but instead to work out the reasons for the problem and to propose new solutions.

That, I believe, is where we should be seeking to take workplace learning. At Creative Learning Partners, we genuinely try to adopt this approach in our delivery of Functional Skills. We use e-learning, but purely for imparting knowledge – not as the whole solution. We would argue that the real value of our approach comes afterwards when we work with learners to adapt and functionalise that knowledge to meet different situations. There is still a lot more we want to do in this area and we don’t for one minute, believe that we yet have all the answers, but we are convinced that by “flipping the workplace” , our learners are achieving far more and are much better prepared to make a genuine contribution to their organisations.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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