This conversation centres around how Jilly had adapted her People Development Strategy in light of lockdown and its subsequent easing, how this differs from pre-pandemic strategies and what it will take to deliver on it.
Read on for some of the insights Jilly shared in that conversation, or tune in to episode 51 of The L&D Podcast for the whole conversation.
The transformational impact of everything that's been happening is massive. Jilly says:
"I've described this previously as being an organisation that was about to pilot some fairly small-scale flexible working in one part of the firm and was looking at ways that we could reduce the amount of paper and move to a paper-light way of working.
We're now almost completely remote and paperless overnight. When you look at the degree of change that that means for the firm in terms of processes, the way that we operate, our operational model has changed completely. Do you know what? A high-five to us, a pat on the back, it's kept things going. I think we'll look back on this as being a success story but what it means is we're essentially looking at a completely different business.
There has been a really pragmatic moment of, "Okay, we understand now that the long-term view of this will be very different to the structure of the business that we've been working within the past." We need to revisit our People Development Strategy completely and say, "Okay, for the shape of the business that we now have and for what we can anticipate about the coming two, three, five years, we know that's going to be different."
We can't just lean on the kind of principles that sat behind previous iterations of a People Development Strategy. We've got to build now for the business that will exist for the foreseeable future and for the way that that will work and acknowledge that that is a change and that is a difference. Otherwise, we just risk potentially going back to some of the practices and the ways of working - and the mindsets - that albeit only a short time ago were the prevailing way of doing things but that now are kind of out of date. I don't want to say irrelevant because it's important to build on that but we don't just want to automatically default back to 2019's ways of doing things. It kind of feels like going back to 1919's way of doing things at the moment because things are so fundamentally different."
What are the things that will support the survival at worst, growth at best of your business? Those as the key tenets to use to then build the strategy from.
Regardless of what somebody thinks is sexy at any given moment in time, regardless of whatever the current popular viewpoint is amongst the L&D community at the time, all of that has to be disregarded. It has to be about what's the stuff that is going to make the difference in terms of the business’s either survival or growth.
To bring it back to that principle of the business measures, the business requirement for success, that's the stuff that we need to overtly support. Really, it's not just about drawing the thread anymore it's about being obvious about the fact that developing our people is a really key building block within that path to growth for the business.
Jilly says she can't honestly claim to be able to develop a People Development Strategy unless she's had enough understanding to be able to get her head around the commercial drivers for her firm or the commercial drivers for the clients that she works with. She continues:
"Looking at our market now and the potential for the future, then what's important there. What do we need to be developing within our people here to be able to consider what will drive that value much further down the line because like I said, in such turbulent times, then we've got to have that focus that's more than six months out. It's partly why I really, really hate that conversation about the ‘new normal’ .t feels very early to be saying things like that. Realistically, we have to be looking at months and years down the line.
We do have to be genuinely strategic about what we're doing at the moment, as well as responding to the immediate and tactical need that's a given. In terms of that strategy development, it has to consider what's happening in UK industry right now. What are the likely legislative shifts that are going to have an impact for us further down the line? Certainly, in my case, it's about understanding what that looks like from a client perspective. It's been a very different experience of developing the strategic outline for People Development and to anything that I've had before. No doubt about that.
The satisfaction ratings and attendance and penetration by headcount, that does not work for me.
If we're not in the business of supporting business performance directly, then that's where I struggled to say, what is the value that we bring? We have to use the business measure of success as the measure of L&D success.
I know that's not a new thought. Where that plays in here really importantly comes back to, it's where you build that strategy from, it's understanding those drivers in the first place. If I know that productivity, for example, is one of the real basics that is going to be important in sustaining the business and growing the business, then I need to understand what that looks like in different parts of the firm and then that needs to become a part of our measure of success as a People Development function to say, ‘Can we draw the line? Can we actually say by doing this, we can expect to see this difference?”
We can then track that back and it's not particularly sexy, but it's really important. That's what is important to the senior leadership team in the firm. It's what's important to teams of people who are also experiencing this very intense period and needing to be able to crack on with minimal distraction from their purpose and that's just the nub of it all."
According to Jilly, it's been fair to say that she's had to expedite her tech transformation. What's great is that a lot of the planning, the thinking, the map for it all was there. It's had to be brought forward at pace because of these circumstances. There is likely a lot of organisations that have been in a similar position and the trick has been trying to do that in the right way at the right time.
Horwich Farrelly have a lot of content development happening in-house. Jilly says:
"We have some really specific pieces that we need to have that internal expertise are brought to bear on, which means that essentially, we've been in a position where we've needed to be able to do that in a very, very fleet of foot way to support the speed of tech transformation and to support the immediacy of that Performance Support.
Gone are the days of ‘we can probably learn that in a months’ time’, goodness knows what the world's going to look like in a months' time and people have a barrier to being able to perform right now. It's all about that pace and being able to get those barriers and points of friction eased in the most efficient way that we can. Obviously, when it comes to efficiency in that respect, having the right platform is massive."
"It was something that we were looking at to really reinvigorate the new starter experience to go from a really quite, dare I say, old school way of inducting people into the business to actually putting more focus on how we get people up to speed, quick, smart."
Says Jilly. She continues:
"That's now evolved into how we get people up to speed, quick, smart, remotely, and add in that extra layer of challenge. That's something that we've been able to really make significant changes with, in a really positive way. Again, in line with what we'd always intended but because we've needed to be able to put the tech platform in place to enable that in the flow of work Performance Support.
We've been able to make most of that to be able to give our new starters what they need when they need it at that point in that early days and weeks in the firm and actually use it to loop back around with some iterative feedback, a ‘how’s it going?’ which has been able to make it feel really nice and personal. So far, we've had some really nice narrative happening around that."
Find out more in episode 51 of The L&D Podcast.
It's important, because not only in terms of the data that user-insights gives back, but in terms of new starters to the firm actually understanding that they have something to contribute to the organisation and that L&D are interested in their insights. That it's a dialogue and it seems counter-intuitive to have mostly automated tech solutions that become the mode of doing that.
It doesn't necessarily translate as that from a user experience and actually, creates this really nice dialogue conversation loop that sets people up to continue to want to feed into making improvements in their early days, which is really important.
To the point where Jilly's team will literally have people for the first few days of their lives with them and then release them back to the firm. Obviously, now things are far more integrated into somebody's early days and weeks. It's far more about them getting to know and feel a part of their teams, etc. That's even without factoring in the fact that it is remote.
There's much more reliance on what line managers are doing at different points in that process as well. Given particularly the unique circumstances that we're all in under at the moment, Jilly believes everybody is okay with that. There is a moment of, "Okay, this is a big shift but this is how it needs to work." Then off the back of that is the realisation that this really does get people feeling at home and able to take on the new challenges and get up and running far more quickly and far more effectively.
This can make L&D people feel uncomfortable sometimes. To make that move to the shorter bursts of activity that get you to that end product working alongside an SME rather than for an SME, can be a real shift in mindset.
It would have been easy to feel quite exposed within that. What it's actually done is really strengthened some partnerships around the firm, which is fantastic. It's definitely been a shift in mindset. Jilly has found from what she is having played back to her from the team is that they're finding it really liberating.
To have the platforms, to be able to work in that quick to market way has really, really helped Jilly and the team. Both in terms of the learning platform, but also in terms of the collaborative platforms that they've now got around the firm. All of those pieces come together to actually give them options that they didn't have before.
Then when you start to get down into ‘what about this particular department?’ ‘What about this particular demographic?’ ‘What about this particular person?’ It stops you making broad-brush assumptions. If it's anything that I would hope would be a lasting legacy of what's happening right now, it's just to step away from assumptions.
On a very immediate level, you've got people coming back from furlough at the moment. Let's not make assumptions that they're all bright and shiny and well-rested and happy about the circumstance that they're in. In the same way, let's not make the assumption that the folks who've been in the organisation for the last six months and have been trying to keep the pedals turning are more in the right mindset for the here and now. It's about being able to step back from all of the assumptions and from our own experiences, and actually just keep asking those questions. Keep that inquisitive approach because everything's changing week on week at the minute.
Jilly is Senior L&D Business Partner at Horwich Farrelly, having previously held People Development roles at MAG (Airports Group), The Co-operative Group, PZ Cussons and Capita.
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