Posts Tagged ‘contractor’

Contractual Outcomes

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

I travelled down to London from Yorkshire by train last Sunday as I often do. It’s usually an uneventful trip, however, it was different this time. Overhead power cables at Retford weren’t working so Virgin East Coast Trains had to take a detour generally used by freight traffic which wasn’t an ‘electrified’ route. This meant they had to borrow non-electric trains from other rail companies. So I boarded my East Midlands train an hour late and ended up in London about two and a half hours late – and after the tube trains and other lines had closed for the night.

In fairness to Virgin Trains, they handled the situation as efficiently as possible and sorted out taxis for everyone for their onward journeys.

Their staff were also keen to make sure travellers knew about their Delay Repay scheme, which, as the name suggests, means that travellers get a percentage of their fare returned where they have arrived at their destination over half an hour late. This is a good scheme, and I’m sure it acts as a financial motivator to train companies – having been stopped in a field in North Dakota, USA on an Amtrak train for 9 hours recently, such a scheme would possibly change Amtrak’s mindset, or put them out of business within 3 months.

Earlier this month the UK Government announced that it would be reducing this half hour to fifteen minutes – so any delays over a quarter of an hour will mean the train companies having to compensate passengers.

Which? Magazine has been campaigning heavily on another aspect of this too – their view is that as only an estimated 20% of people claim their Delay Repay compensation, the train companies need to raise awareness of its existence and make it easier for people to claim.  That may be the case, and it is great that the time at which compensation kicks in is being reduced, but I think this issue needs to be approached from a different angle.

The contract with the traveller needs to be fairer.

What happens if I get stuck in traffic and cannot make the specific train I am booked on to due to arriving at the station 10 minutes late? I have to buy a completely new full-fare ticket – as you can only amend tickets for specific trains prior to the departure time.

What Which? should be pushing for, and the Government should be introducing, is a scheme whereby if such a situation arises, I don’t have to buy a whole new ticket, but have to pay an administrative fee or additional percentage due to being late – which could be linked to how late I was getting to the station. A scheme that echoes Delay Repay, for when the customer is later rather than the train. This could have been complicated a few years ago, but a software solution to calculate such penalties would now be straight forward to create.

And this isn’t just the case for trains – it happens in other situations.

If I return a hire car more than an hour late, I have to pay a fee. If it breaks down for part of my hire period I get no compensation.

The unfairness of contracts isn’t the only issue though – and in the situations already described we, the consumers, have to accept the offer that the Goliath has put on the table.  We have more influence in smaller scale situations. How do we create more meaningful contracts in the first place? How do we contract for business focused outcomes rather than simplistic outputs?

If I want to employ someone to cut my lawn, he or she may offer to cut it once a fortnight, however, I might want the contract to be that they cut it every time it gets above a certain height – the latter being a more effective approach for me but a potentially more difficult contract to manage for the provider.

It has been interesting reading the debates about contracts to run private sector prisons. The move towards payments for how a company reduces repeat offending as opposed to just running a prison are very positive. The Government is encouraging this more widely through Social Impact Bonds. Again, more difficult contractually, but focused on the required outcome rather than a more simplistic output or activity.

Which brings me to my primary line of work – training. I struggle to understand why companies almost all the time contract for courses to be delivered. If a provider is offering training, it should be to up-skill people, improve performance, change behaviours, etc. So why don’t organisations push for the contracts to be about up-skilling people, improving performance or changing behaviours – and pay providers for that, as opposed to just delivering training.  Focus on the required outcomes, not the simplistic outputs.

Harder to contract for, but ultimately more business focused – and it drives up performance within the training sector, and the really poor performers (of which there are too many) either improve or are consigned to history.

Contractually, industry shouldn’t give training providers such an easy ride, in the same way that the Government shouldn’t be giving rail companies such an easy ride.

Paul

 

So tell me what you need, what you really, really need

Monday, April 25th, 2011

I’m all for the phrase “Make it happen”, but we always have to be clear on the ‘it’. Sometimes organisations are so keen to make ‘it’ happen, the priority can become “Make something happen” which can often be one step forward and two steps back. It can also damage relationships and cause waves in previously tranquil waters. And it can waste serious amounts of money.

The area of learning and development is one of the best – or worst, dependent upon how you look at it – examples of this.

I can think of several occasions where training interventions have been delivered and they have not delivered the required results in the workplace. In several of those instances the claim has been that it was “Training’s fault because they didn’t train the right things”. Hmmm. Perhaps it was, or perhaps it wasn’t. It is, however, relatively simple to introduce a process that minimises this potential and maximises the value from an organisation’s investment in learning. As with so many successful projects, the primary requirement is for the relevant people to take the required responsibility and accountability.

Learning and development professionals (the contractors) need to slow down the commissioning process. The commissioning process is the stage where the internal or external client identifies what needs to change. And this will only work if the responsibility is in the right place.

The client has to take responsibility for job descriptions, core skills and identifying individuals’ learning and development needs. The contractor’s role is to analyse the client’s needs and develop appropriate and cost-effective interventions, deliver the interventions, assess the competence of delegates and check the intervention met its stated objectives. Finally, we arrive at the evaluation of the changes in the workplace as a result of the intervention – which is the client’s responsibility.

The start of this cycle used to be called the Training Needs Analysis (TNA). However, it is increasing being broken down into two activities called the Performance Needs Analysis (PNA) and the Learning Needs Analysis (LNA). Whilst it is the responsibility of the client, the contractor needs to assist them in this process. When we are closely involved in matters, we often lose our objectivity and sometimes make assumptions – this is what can happen for a client and so we need to help them avoid this by taking them through a structure process.

This process can be as detailed as everyone wants to make it. Having said that, if learning and development professionals use too complex a process, they will lose credibility with the client. The complexity of the process should also be driven by the size of the audience – in other words, if 20 people need to improve their performance in a particular area, the process should be less arduous than if 2,000 people require it – but both require a process to ensure we make the right thing happen.

As a start, I use seven questions. These are:

  1. What is the identified performance need?
  2. Why is a solution required (how will it add value, and what would happen if it did not exist)?
  3. How will the solution improve the organisation’s performance against its identified goals?
  4. Which organisational competencies does the solution aim to address and to what level?
  5. What are the target staff groups /  teams / Departments for this solution?
  6. How will the effectiveness of the solution be measured in the workplace?
  7. What are the clearly stated, measurable objectives for the solution?

From experience, I know that these questions can come across as threatening to clients. This is particularly the case in immature organisations – in other words, organisations where discussions around learning and development activities are often packaged in terms of the client stating they want a course on a particular aspect, rather than rational, objective and meaningful discussions between the client and contractor on what they need to achieve together.  Consequently, my preferred approach is to let the client have the questions prior to us meeting face to face or us having a further phone conversation. This gives them the opportunity to identify what they need – what they really need.

When learning and development professionals get this process right, they are well on their way to making a meaningful impact for the organisation. They will be able to demonstrate their value in improving performance.

In my next post, I will explain a little more about each of these seven star questions – and why, when you have completed the process, you need to get your sponsor’s sign-off.

Paul