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Archive for the ‘Employee Engagement’ Category

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A few weeks ago, our local supermarket was taken over by Waitrose. The transformation was remarkable. Apart from the fact that the car park was now totally jammed, the whole experience of shopping suddenly became a pleasure. The huge display of flowers in the foyer, the array of fresh-baked bread as you walked through the door, happy smiling staff who genuinely seemed eager to help, the wide well-lit aisles and an astonishing range of fresh products which somehow seemed to be exactly what you were looking for. And yes, it was all more expensive than the previous occupants (who will remain nameless to protect the guilty), but clearly customers were prepared to accept that in return for quality and great service.
The secret of Waitose’s success is summed up in the series of adverts currently appearing in the glossy magazines. Next to a photo of the smiling Waitrose employee runs the tag line:

“Everyone who works at Waitrose owns Waitrose and when you own something you care a little more”

I hope that the opponents of the Reform programme which puts ownership of Apprenticeships into the hands of employers, will take note of the Waitrose success story because it is not an isolated case. In the many varied leadership roles which I have undertaken throughout my career, I learnt very quickly that people are engaged, not by telling them what to do, but by giving them full responsibility to deliver a successful task or project. That’s a philosophy which is shared almost universally and has been one of the most fundamental changes in management style over the last few decades.

Change Is Not An Easy Process

Of course, currently Apprenticeships are mainly “owned” by training providers and I think that much of the opposition to the proposed changes is based on their reluctance to let go of their baby. That of course is a perfectly natural reaction. Handing over control can be a scary process. “How will they cope without my direction and input?” you will ask and invariably the answer is “very well indeed” as they develop their own ideas and processes.
The challenge for us as training providers is to adapt to this new role. It will no longer be down to us to “run” or “own” Apprenticeship programmes. We become coaches, mentors and expert advisors, helping to facilitate a process rather than manage it directly. That role, whilst very different is if anything even more important and valuable than trying to run the whole Apprenticeship programme ourselves.
We have worked in this way with a number of different companies over the last few years and in all honesty, I can say that it is a far more rewarding and satisfying experience than trying to run an entire programme on behalf of an employer who has no real interest other than the opportunity to get some “free” training out of the government.

Trailblazers Are Showing The Way

Over 400 companies of all sizes have already signed up to the Trailblazers scheme which will lead the Reform programme and in September, hundreds more will join them. Many of those companies will be new to the Apprenticeship project and many more will be new to the whole concept of “ownership”. Training providers have a fantastic opportunity to provide the support which these companies will need and that is where our focus should be rather than on desperately trying to retain control of the programme.
These reforms aren’t perfect by any means and there will be many issues to address, particularly with regard to support for “micro-companies”. However if the UK Apprenticeship programme gains the same esteem as Waitrose and is held in the same high regard by its “customers”, I for one will be delighted because then we will genuinely have a world-class programme and that is something we all want, whatever our different views about the best way to get there.

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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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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In a recent blog, I commented on the rapid development of “collaboration” both as a way of working and a way of learning. In this blog, I want to focus on the mechanics of making it work

1. Leadership from the Top

Collaboration simply won’t work unless there is genuine leadership from the very top of an organisation. So getting your CEO or head teacher on board is a key first step. That task is made so much easier if they understand how this new way of working will add value. Moreover, lip service simply isn’t sufficient. When I introduced Yammer into my last organisation, our CEO made a point of contributing every day and this sent out a very powerful message to everyone in the business.

2. Ownership Throughout The Organisation

You can’t force collaboration down people’s throats. Just as it needs to be led from the top, it needs to be owned by the organisation. If people are to commit to a new way of working, they need to understand what problems it will solve, how it will help both them and their teams perform more effectively, why it will make their work life more fulfilling. My approach was to identify some genuine evangelists and empower them to take responsibility and make things happen. That strategy was hugely effective, not simply as a way of implementing change, but of making it happen quickly and embedding it throughout the organisation.

3. Part of the Culture and Values

Collaboration isn’t something which can skim along the surface of an organisation. It has to be embedded deep within the culture and supported by an appropriate set of values. If openness, honesty, integrity and innovation are not contained within that value set, a collaborative culture is unlikely to gain ground.
In my last company, I knew that a collaborative culture would work because we had a set of values which clearly supported it. Moreover, those values had been developed by the people within the organisation – not handed down from on high on tablets of stone.

4. Social Networks Are A Great Facilitator but not the Total Answer

There are now a wide range of different Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) available of which Yammer is probably the best known. Yammer was acquired by Microsoft last year so expect it to be integrated into Office at some stage. If you are unfamiliar with ESNs, think about them as a combination of Twitter, Linked-in, Google +, a smattering of Linked-In and maybe even a bit of Facebook, but ONLY available to the members of a specific organisation. They are therefore totally private (unless you choose otherwise).
If you are thinking of introducing an ESN such as Yammer, my advice would be not to ram it down people’s throats, but to adopt a “softly softly” approach. I found that within 6 weeks of implementing Yammer into a global company, we had almost 100% of our people using it – not because they had been told to do so, but because they gradually started to see the value.
It’s important to remember that ESNs are facilitators. They are a great way to stimulate collaboration but they are not the complete solution. Without the other building blocks in place, they simply won’t work.

5. Quick Wins Are Important

The best way to win hearts and minds is for people to see positive effects at an early stage. So quick wins are important. We developed an Innovation project and used Yammer not simply for people to log ideas, but for others to build on them and to evaluate them using a “like” system. Within a few weeks, we had dozens of ideas flowing around our relatively small (200 people) company and many of these were agreed and implemented almost immediately via our “just do it” policy.

6. Focus on the Skills

There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about “new “ skills required to successfully implement a collaborative strategy. I don’t buy that but I do believe there are a number of “existing” skills which need to become higher focus and practiced more regularly. Collaboration will take people out of their comfort zones and into working in new teams, many of which may be temporary, and working with new people, many of whom they may not know or whom in some cases, may not even work for the same organisation. I find that skills such as listening, questioning and giving feedback become particularly important in these situations.
Somebody once defined “listening” to me (and sadly they meant it) as “Waiting for the other person to finish speaking so that I can say what I want to say”. Real or “Active” listening is of course so much more than that. It’s about not simply listening to what someone has said but showing through body language and responses, that you have not only heard them but understood what they were saying and why they were saying it. In an era of conference calls, webinars and multi-tasking, it is skill which is often poorly used and one I will return to in future blogs.
Finally, I would just like to touch on the area of Emotional Intelligence EI). Again, it is a subject I will return to in the future, but I believe that the self-awareness, social awareness and relationship management, all of which form a key part of EI, are of huge significance in any organisation which values collaboration.

And Finally

So effective collaboration is never going to be easy. However, I am convinced that it is worth the effort. The potential benefits both in education and business are huge, not just for the organisations in terms of resource management and productivity gains, but for the individuals involved. Collaborative work places tend to be more fun to be in and contain people who are far more engaged with the organisation. Not a bad starting point in my view.

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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With those 5 words, Steve Jobs defined his vision for the iPod.  It is easy to see how such a vivid yet ultimately simple picture would have inspired his workforce. What I don’t know is to what extent Apple employees were involved in creating that vision or were simply told what it was.

I raise the question because recent research is showing that levels of employee engagement are falling, not just in the UK but in the whole of Western Europe and the USA. At MindLeaders, my previous company, we consistently obtained scores above 90% in surveys where we tested employee engagement. I believe that was partly because like Steve Jobs, we had a very clear vision of where we wanted to take the company. But more importantly,  that vision had not simply been articulated to our people, they had had the opportunity to help create it and to contribute significantly to the culture and values which underpinned that vision. It’s a philosophy and a strategy which we will duplicate within our new company, Creative Learning Partners, as it builds and develops over the coming months.

So in the light of the current heated arguments about reforms to the UK education system and the U-turn over the EBacc, the first thing I wondered was whether Michael Gove had a genuine vision for the system and more importantly, could he articulate it to all the stakeholders in a few inspiring words and had he involved them in its creation? I suspect that the answers to those 3 questions are “Maybe”, “No” and “No”. Mr Gove has set out a radical agenda which depending on your viewpoint is either the kick-start that a broken system requires, or a return to the class-based system of the 1950’s. What concerns me isn’t so much as to whether he is right or wrong but the fact that he would appear to have made no genuine attempt to involve practitioners in defining his vision for education. Whilst a Conservative Education Minister and the teaching unions are hardly likely to be bosom pals, there surely should be greater efforts to find some common ground.

Take for example, what to my mind are two  of the biggest problems we face in the UK – the deficiencies in basic maths and English skills in young adults and the huge disconnect between the needs of employers  and the skill base of potential employees.  Few people would argue about the depth of this crisis so is not possible to seek a common vision as to how we address this issue and then agree a comprehensive strategy to implement it? I would argue that currently all we are seeing is a series of piecemeal initiatives without a common thread and with only grudging support from those whose job it is to make them work.

So I worry about the proposed Traineeship programme due for implementation in September this year.  Potentially I think it is a hugely exciting development but where does it fit in to the overall plan (assuming that there is one!). Whilst I welcome the inclusion of a discussion period currently underway, the danger is that that this discussion will take place in isolation since few of us are party to where this initiative sits within the wider context of our education and skills system.

Sadly our Education system, like our other great institutions, will always to some extent be a political football, subject to the philosophies of the party in power. But that shouldn’t prevent us from being given the chance (if we wish) to buy into a shared vision. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t do that at the moment because I have no idea what that vision is. We can’t all be a Steve Jobs but we can all paint pictures and share them and our political masters should be doing so far more frequently.

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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