The Background to the Sector.
The public sector is trying to deliver rising public expectations against a background of reducing funds from central government and local taxation which is effectively pegged.

This ‘rock and a hard place’ position puts high demands on management at all levels to manage more effectively within restricted or shrinking resources.

The likely outcomes are

  • Lowering the cost of transaction via customer self service via the web
  • Ensuring that front line staff have the skills and ability to resolve a higher proportion of queries – thus reducing the salary cost of delivery
  • Making hard choices about statutory and discretionary services
  • Making a business case for change
  • Managing continuous change
  • Managing successive change projects
  • Managing consistent staff performance in a climate of change and higher demands
  • A reduction in central service support therefore raising the level of self sufficiency required from managers
  • The need to work in partnership to reduce delivery costs and to make those partnerships effective through clear governance and effective management
  • The need to create revenue from existing services and investments at high risk.

All these point to very  focussed and hard nosed development methods delivered in ways which maximise buy in, completion, application and pay back to give managers at all levels the skills the organisation needs.

Programme design parameters
The current climate and good practice would suggest the following elements need to be part of the design process for any programmes of learning in the public sector.

Organisational needs as defined by:

  • The context in which it works & the challenges it faces
  • Its most important objectives (perhaps the top 10)
  • The gaps in skills indicated by internal analysis such as training needs analyses, appraisals, personal development reviews, on line appraisal against competencies designed by the organisation to articulate the skills it needs
  • The gaps in performance between what is needed and what is delivered
  • The gaps in attitude and behaviour between stakeholder expectations and the current position as revealed by customer research or external audit

Realistic delivery Mechanisms

  • Do these address the delivery options which fit the realities of the working patterns of its staff and the need to balance day to day delivery and personal development?

Buy in and support by participants and their line management

  • What value has the learning & development to individuals and their management?
  • Is the programme structure flexible enough to cope with the demands on staff time?

Quality control

  • How is quality assured and monitored?
  • What internal/external measures of quality need to be in place?

Return on Investment

  • What evaluation & measurement processes need to be in place?
  • How has the learning & development impacted on the organisation’s skill levels, performance and behaviour?
  • What are the paybacks and savings the programme has delivered?

Organisational needs

Getting the design right may be not be easy.

Many of the learning requirements will flow from the operating context; however, the rest ideally should come via a needs analysis based on analysing the gaps revealed via the appraisal and personal development planning process.   In looking at a new programme, some work may be needed to ensure that the content is right rather than being prescribed within the tender – so the approach may need to encompass development as well as delivery, to ensure money is spent in the right areas.

Realistic delivery Mechanisms
Learning and development delivery has to satisfy a number of requirements.
Staff time is at a premium; therefore, methods which reduce time away from the workplace are appealing.

Some of these include:

  • Self-study,
  • Distance learning through paper-based methods
  • On line Virtual Learning Environments
  • Intranet driven material
  • Elearning
  • Links to specified web sites

However, human interaction is vital and best practice would seek to balance with self-study mechanisms.
So programmes which combine elements of the above with the following personal interventions

  • Seminars
  • Highly focussed issue based workshops
  • Learning sets.
  • Summer schools
  • Weekend and evening programmes
  • Individual tutorials delivered face to face, via web cam or via on line bulletin board

The technology around learning management system is now user friendly and robust and does allow the maximum flexibility for participants and effective management for the provider so for a programme at this level & scope this mechanism probably should part of the delivery framework.

Front line and supervisory staff however would probably require a greater concentration on face-to-face methods.

Flexibility of programme construction, which allows individuals and teams to take what they need to fit their needs, whilst retaining the option of external accreditation, quality control and assessment.

Buy in and support by participants and their line management

The personal value of learning and development is a powerful motivator for the completion of programmes.
The factors which seem to have impact with participants are

  • Realism – I can learn things I can use at work now
  • Confidence building – what I have learnt increases my confidence in my own abilities
  • Stress reduction – the combination of increased confidence and specific methods makes my job easier
  • Enhances my marketability – The acquisition of the skills improves my promotion, job prospects and life choices
  • Qualifications – benchmarks my skills beyond questions and is tangible, portable evidence of my abilities
  • Flexibility – I can acquire the skills in a way which fits with my working & personal life
  • A learning pathway and progression – there are further steps I can take to improve my skills which will result in some specific and public recognition
  • For line managers – reassurance that team members will be more productive

Quality control

  • Is there external quality assurance?
  • Are there identifiable national standards that both providers and learning and development content adhere to?
  • How is this enforced and what evidence can be produced?

Return on investment

What practical measures can be put in place to measure the impact of such a programme on the organisation?
Some suggestions could be:

  • Participation
  • Completion
  • Participants evaluation of the programme
  • Line manager’s evaluations of the enhanced contribution participants deliver
  • Measurement through analysis of savings from the improvements and innovation carried out as a result of the external assessment required by the programme where these exist.
  • What money has been saved, what improvement have been implemented?
  • What positive changes in performance and behaviour have been demonstrated through the appraisal and personal development process?

Although it is has been unusual to evaluate learning and development in terms of return on investment in the current and ongoing public sector climate it would be exceptional not to measure performance in this way.

A summary of features and benefits to be incorporated in a future development programme

  • An open framework of learning, closely geared to needs, designed and evaluated in terms of measurable organisation impact on service delivery and the bottom line.
  • A variety of delivery methods,
  • The opportunity to participate at a variety of levels and depths.
  • An overall external quality control with the option of qualifications
  • A defined pathway to further learning
  • Compatible with the continuous professional development needs (CPD) of all relevant professional bodies thus allowing major savings in these areas of spend
  • Delivered using a Learning management system as the key mechanism allowing maximum flexibility linked to effective programme management but incorporating a flexible variety of face to face methods
  • Open to learning partners within the sector to offset costs and promote partnership working
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