Archive for April, 2012

Creating a Strategy (1) – the Foundation Stones

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

I am often asked for a template for developing a Training Strategy or Performance Improvement Strategy – which, based on the arguments in my last post, will be referred to as a Training for Performance Improvement (TPI) Strategy for the remainder of this post – perhaps I might be able to influence change!

Such a template can be very useful as a guide, but it should only be used as a guide. If taken too rigidly it will hinder your creative thinking or the adding of aspects that might be of particular importance to you and your organisation. I offer you this template with those words of caution.

There are 3 distinct parts within this Strategy template:

  • Part 1 – The Foundation Stones
  • Part 2 – The Standards and Responsibilities
  • Part 3 – The Supporting Processes

Within this post, I will cover what I see as the Foundation Stones for a beneficial Strategy. These are required – as the name suggests – in order to ensure a sound platform for the remainder of the Strategy.

Section 1 – Statement of Values

This section should include a statement on behalf of the organisation setting out its commitment to performance improvement / staff development / training.

If your organisation has a Board of Governors or similar, the statement should be agreeable to both the Board and the Senior Management Team. This is important in terms of unity and clarity, and so that you can gain organisational acceptance for your TPI Strategy.

If you have your own Vision, this can also be included within this section.

Section 2 – Strategic Objectives

Consider these questions:

  • What  are the long term objectives of your organisation?
  • What  are the core skills required within your sector?
  • What  are the likely influences on your organisation over the coming years  -you might want to undertake a PEST / PESTLE  analysis (consider adding as an appendix the key documents you have considered)?
  • What  are the national learning and development issues that are likely to impact on your organisation?

As a result of this Strategic Assessment, you may well come up with several specific objectives, or you may decide to use just one, such as, “To develop the skills and improve the performance of our managers and their team members”.

Do which works best for you, but remember, whatever objective(s) you do come up with need to long term (5 years) and also link into the organisation’s long term objectives – and the links need to be obvious.

Section 3 – Guiding Principles to Underpin the Strategy

This section can be particularly useful in less mature organisations where you are still seeking to embed effective development processes.

The sorts of principles that you might see benefit from incorporating could include:

  • The PDR / Appraisal process will be the effective link between personal development and organisational effectiveness
  • Learning and Development is a critical support function working to enable the organisation to deliver improved organisational performance (particularly useful to include if your unit’s title is ‘Training’ or ‘Learning and Development’)
  • The focus of activities will be on improving the performance of staff and the services we provide (the comments against the previous bullet point also apply here)
  • Staff will be encouraged and supported to undertake appropriate self-development activities
  • The content of programmes will be stimulating and challenging
  • Leadership skills and valuing diversity will be key threads throughout learning activities
  • Where possible, learning and development activities will be linked to nationally recognised qualifications
  • Monitoring of transference of skills to the workplace will take place in order to ascertain the value of learning and development activities

So those are the Foundation Stones – in the next post I will explain Part 2 – the Standards and Responsibilities for the TPI Strategy.

Paul

Time to take the road least travelled?

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

In my previous two posts, I have discussed the importance of a Vision. The Vision helps a company or team gain a shared view and understanding of what they want to achieve and how they want to be viewed.

If you are looking to create a Learning and Development (or Training) Strategy, you may have created your own Departmental Vision if your unit is large enough, or it may be that you have a company Vision which you use. This is a helpful starting point for your Strategy.

Here in England, just north of where I live and about 100 miles from Scotland, there is a road junction called “Scotch Corner”. Most people hardly notice it now, but in years gone by it was a hugely significant junction. Before getting to this point, the traveller needed to have planned their journey and decided whether they would be going up the east coast or west coast of Scotland. The decision had to be made a long time before reaching Scotland. Once they had decided which way to turn at Scotch Corner, it was expensive, time consuming and complicated to change course. The same is true of a strategy.

So before you go any further, why are you creating a strategy? The dictionary definition of a strategy is, “a long-term plan for success; a plan to achieve an advantage”. Nowhere does it suggest its definition is, “a paper exercise; the ticking of a box”. Sadly though, too many strategies are created for this second purpose – and such an approach can also become a millstone, or worse – a stick with which others can metaphorically beat you.

For a strategy to give you this long term plan and a competitive or organisational advantage, you need to put time, thought and energy into its formulation. It should enable you to clearly express where your function is heading and most importantly how it will support organisational performance, improvement and success. Once you have achieved this, you should be able to gain support and acceptance for your approach from your organisation’s senior management. This ‘sign off’ gives you further clarity, and can be very useful if you need to ‘challenge’ other parts of the organisation if for any reason they do not support your activities or seek to alter your direction.

So far I have referred to the document as a ‘Learning and Development’ or ‘Training’ Strategy, however, I would suggest that you really think hard about what you call it. Its title will set the tone for what you do and how you are seen. I have previously set down my thoughts on what can happen when a person is called a Trainer (“Sell your crunch, not your apples“), and how this can be unhelpful. As an aside, since writing that post, I have been on a course where the attendees were people who coach, train and develop others. The job title of one delegate was “Performance Improvement Consultant” Music to my ears! Having said that, the person worked at a group of hospitals in Orlando, Florida and so my concerns as to whether the title would be understood in the UK still exist.

Put yourself in the shoes of your senior operations manager – or similar – for a moment. Do they want a function that provides ‘Training’, ‘Learning’, ‘Development’, ‘Performance Improvement’, or something else? I see this as a continuum to which you could potentially add other words or phrases.

I’m pretty sure that the majority of senior operations managers would put themselves towards the right hand end of this continuum – they want performance improvement. That’s how they are measured, that’s how they demonstrate success, that’s what keeps the business competitive or the organisation successful.

Why then do so many people have ‘Training’ Strategies? Possibly because that’s the way they have always been done, or possible because of where the function sits within the organisation. Often this function is part of HR. Within the HR profession, ‘Training’ is still an all too popular generic title. If this function was moved to be part of the Performance Management arm of the business, would its primary purpose still be seen as Training? I think not.

Consequently, this Strategy is far more than a piece of paper. It will say what you are about, and how you are positioned within the organisation. It should make you think long and hard about what impact you intend to make. So before you even start to write it, think about these crucial questions.

Will you be having a ‘Training Strategy’ or a ‘Performance Improvement Strategy’? This is your ‘Scotch Corner’ moment.

Paul

Building the Perfect Vision

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

In my previous post, I outlined the components of a good quality Vision, together with examples of good and not so good offerings. In this post I will explain how to create a meaningful Vision.

For a Vision to be effective, not only does it need to meet the suggested criteria listed in the previous post, it also needs to be owned by the company or departmental staff, and both understood and valued by the customer base. The following process will enable you to achieve all this.

  1. Brainstorm or board-blast words and short phrases that describe what your organisation or department is to be about. This activity can be undertaken both internally and with customers, although the sessions should be run separately.
  2. Having undertaken this with one or more groups, look at all the words and phrases you have generated. You will see some themes and overlaps. Some words will have similar meanings. Group the words and phrases together where possible – using one colour for customer comments and another colour for staff comments.  This will give you an indication of which themes are numerically most important to the people you have consulted with, together with a check of the weighting from each of the two groups.
  3. Now prioritise your themes. Which are shared by both staff and customers? As the leader of the company or Department, which ones meet with your long term view? Which are most important to the success of your venture?
  4. Within each theme, is there a word that encapsulates, as far as possible, what the theme is about? If so, make a note of it. If not, is there a two-word phrase that sums it up? This step of the process is all about simplifying the theme and looking to take it forward as succinctly yet as accurately as possible.  You will never fit all the comments people have made into a sentence of a few words – so you will have to be prepared to accept inclusion by implication – and this is what you should be seeking to achieve with this step.
  5. Put your prioritised words together in a phrase. As I have mentioned previously, the phrase needs to be memorable, and as many people as possible need to be able to understand how their contribution has helped form and been included within the sentence.

If you get to this point, well done! It isn’t easy to get to this position, and it is time consuming – but it is well worthwhile.

The last time that I undertook this process was when I was leading a large Learning and Development function within an organisation. The Vision that I settled on was “Partners in Developing Performance”. This reflected the requirement to work with other parts of the organisation in an Adult and objective manner, together with the recognition that we existed to develop people, and that our Department needed to make a positive impact on organisational performance.

I found it very helpful in articulating what we were all about, and ensuring that all our activities fitted with this Vision or value. The most pleasing impact was when one of the trainers – on his own initiative – had delegate desk name plates (i.e. a folded card where the delegate wrote their name as a part of their introduction) printed with the Vision on. Proof that it was owned and valued by staff!

Furthermore, due to its positive impact, the HR Department adopted an amended version of it – “Partners in Managing our People”– for their own use.

So if it can be so effective, why don’t more organisations and departments do it? There are many potential reasons – here are some of them:

  • Looking for instant results – if that’s what you want, you probably will not invest the time in a Vision
  • Bureaucratic – it can be viewed as such where people don’t understand its value
  • Fear or embarrassment – it can be seen as a bit different if people haven’t been involved in such a process before
  • Inadequacy – some people tell themselves that they couldn’t lead such a process. Remember, there are facilitators who would be able to assist you with the process
  • Fatigue – there will be many other things on your plate, and it can be an easy one to push off the side.

But try it – clear these potential blockages and set out your Vision.  Be clear on where you and your team are going.

Once you have your Vision, you can develop your Mission – which will be your over-arching objective or overall aim. This could be your objective for where you will be in 5 years’ time. You can then work backwards setting objectives as to what needs to be in place or happen to get you to that point. Your path will have clarity for your staff and stakeholders.

Which takes me back to where this all started – the writing of a Strategy. The Vision can make this easier, and in my next post I will outline a template for creating a meaningful Learning and Development Strategy.

Paul

I have a Vision – do you?

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Recently I have received a surge in emails requesting assistance on writing Learning and Development Strategies. It seems like everyone is at it. It encourages me that so many people are keen to define their strategic goals, however, it does also concern me that often people may be doing it to tick a box – and the document is created, and then forgotten about.  For a strategy to work, it needs to become a living document, to move from the 2-dimensional to the 3-dimensional.

I believe that there is a key step that should take place before writing the strategy – a step that can make the difference between the resulting product being a living document and a paper exercise. But very few people or organisations undertake it.

It’s the creation of a Vision. The creation of a Vision can conjure up ideas, enable ownership of a shared dream of the future, motivate people and focus everyone’s thinking.  It can be undertaken by whole organisations, or key departments within organisations.

What is your company or Department’s Vision? If it has one, can you remember it? Do you have ownership of it? Does it motivate you?

Think of some of the Visions that other organisations have.  Two of the best ones that I am aware of are John Lewis’ “Never Knowingly Undersold” and Ikea’s “Affordable solutions for better living”. So what makes these so good?

Well, a Vision needs to be:

  • Achievable
  • Communicable
  • Memorable
  • Sustainable
  • Probably not longer than 7 words
  • Use terms that everyone can recognise, relate to
    and remember
  • Describe what you see
  • Inspirational

And it should avoid being:

  • An intention
  • Like an objective
  • Bureaucratic
  • Committee-speak
  • Measurable

Both my previous examples fit with these requirements, as does my personal favourite – FedEx’s “The world on time”.  Those four words give such clarity as to what FedEx wants to be, yet so simply and memorably.

But not all are this good. Nike’s, “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”, and Amazon’s, “To be earth’s most customer centric company”, are reasonable, but the use of the word ‘To’ at the start making them sound too much like objectives.

Moving down my leader board, we arrive at Virgin Atlantic’s, “The success of our three year strategy requires us to build on these foundations by focusing on the business and leisure markets and driving efficiency and effectiveness”. Memorable? Inspirational? I don’t think so.

And, in my opinion, the worst of all belongs to Heinz. Their 73-word offering is, “Our Vision, quite simply, is to be ‘The world’s premier food company, offering nutritious, superior tasting foods to people everywhere.’ Being the premier food company does not mean being the biggest but it does mean being the best in terms of consumer value, customer service, employee talent, and consistent and predictable growth. We are well on our way to realizing this Vision but there is more we must do to fully achieve it.”

If they had left it as the ‘quite simply’ part, then it would be good – but someone felt the need to, “Yes, but …” it, and the moment was lost. And with it went any inspirational, communicable or motivational qualities it may have had. But perhaps it’s more difficult when you need to include 57 varieties!

If your company or Department has a Vision, how good do you think it is? If it doesn’t have a Vision, would you benefit from having one? In my next post I will give suggestions as to how to create a FedEx quality Vision.

Paul