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The organisational benefits of training and how to get them

Training is about improving knowledge and skills in an individual or group. It’s about making it easier for you to do what you do, increasing productivity and making a greater impact with your organisation. About being able to do things better and do better things. New and improved skills don’t always improve organisational services, and staff may not always respond well, so you need to choose training and trainers carefully.

Organisational benefits of ICT training

Not knowing how to do something is frustrating and time consuming. Asking a senior manager how to do something simple is a bad use of resources. Staff must know enough to be able to do what they need to do, well. 

Staff (and volunteers) who are appropriately trained, comfortable in their use of ICT, applications and data and not fearful of technology: 

1. are happier – better organisational ethos
2. are more productive – improve overall service delivery
3. work better as a team – improve effectiveness and reduce management time/costs
4. are less likely to leave their job – reduce management costs
5. enable the organisation to be more effective – better service delivery
6. increase outputs and outcomes – better service delivery

Research shows that organisations who don’t prioritise training have staff with the least IT skills and IT confidence – the latter is often a major factor in poor use of ICT and increases the overall costs of direct service provision as well as staff turnover.

Making the most organisational impact from training – a checklist

1. Know what you need to do - Identify the most important needs for your staff and for your organisation. These might include using your database or monitoring system, using email and the internet effectively, preparing presentations and managing information.
2. Find the right course and trainer/training organisation for the individual –different people have different skills and experience and needs
3. Ensure the new skills can be (and are) used as soon as possible after the training (hours and days not weeks)
4. Evaluate the impact of the training
5. Provide any additional support and training as needed and take feedback on how it went

The role of training

If you want something expert done as a one off, it makes sense to pay an expert with experience as a one off (or for a specific niche role). For everything else, use training for activities/skills that make an ongoing difference.

The three questions you need to ask are: 

1. What difference will this training make to the individual/organisation? 
2. What do we want to get out of it (as an individual and organisation)?
3. What impact will this make on our services? 

Training should always be based on needs and not wants. 

Return on investment

Training costs money. Even if the course is free, you need time out of work, time to assimilate information and practice new skills. But you should also get a payback - training has it’s own ‘return on investment’.

Time off work (and cost of cover staff if applicable)
Course fees
Travel and accommodation expenses
‘Immersion time’ – time to practice new skills and follow up ideas and plans

New skills and techniques learned
New ideas developed
New relationships formed outside the organisation 
Time saved in efficiency and effectiveness ‘on the job’
Increase in outputs and outcomes – getting more done across the organisation
Money saved in recruitment costs (staff staying in the job)

It’s a challenge to resource and something funders also need to take on board. 

The fear factor - resistance to change

Some staff will resist training because they don’t like change. You need to support them, help them overcome their fears and convince them that training will make their lives easier in the long run.

Making training more effective

Training doesn’t stop when the course ends. You may learn new skills on the day, come up with new ideas and even start making new plans. But you need to follow them through. Too much training is wasted because trainees never get the time to practice and implement their skills (or can’t implement them soon enough after the course). It’s important to schedule time for this before you start your training.

Right course, right method, right trainer - time to choose

Be clear about:

what training you need 
what training method/learning style suits the individual
what type of trainer you want
what degree of tailoring you need to the content (i.e. how do the skills and knowledge apply in your own environment – there’s a difference being riding a motorcycle and driving an HGV)

What training do you need?

The first step is a training needs analysis. It makes sense to link this to formal supervisions and appraisals but you could do it at any time. It may even be useful to conduct an annual review as part of your business plan (Learning and Development?). It’s critical to find out what people need (and recognise that they don’t always know what they don’t know). 

Learning styles of individuals are important and will influence the choice of training and the impact it makes. 

Characteristics of a good course/event

1. Suits the individual’s style/nature of learning
2. Offers opportunities to learn and practice skills
3. Is the right level of expertise for the attendees
4. Moves at the right pace
5. Is the right length for the attendees

The best course and content won’t help if it doesn’t clearly fit with the needs of the individual.

What type of trainer you want - what makes a good trainer or training organisation? 

Research shows that we’re more likely to learn from people we feel are:

interested in us
good communicators 
individuals we can get on with (personality and style inevitably play a part)

A good trainer will:

Make you feel at ease
Not criticise individuals but feeds back where appropriate
Communicate clearly and openly
Be an expert (but not know all) in their subject
Have direct experience in the subject
Be honest about their limitations and gaps in their knowledge
Be able to think ‘on the bounce’
Manage the group/session well – act as an effective chair for the event

It’s hard to judge these factors in advance so ask around and get feedback from others who’ve worked with the trainer or training organisation.

Don’t neglect the need to choose the right trainer or training organisation – it’s as important as the course and content.
Why training matters in the not for profit sector

One of the common reasons for not investing in training for charity employees is that they go off and get ‘better paid’ jobs elsewhere with their new skills. The job market in the voluntary sector has always been fluid and your newly trained employee may well leave you. The likelihood is that they will go to another charity but that the person who replaces them will have been trained by someone else. It’s a risk investing in staff but a risk well worth taking. Your employees are much more likely to leave (and be unproductive) if they’re frustrated and unskilled – you might just be holding them back from the opportunity.

Training Action Plan for your organisation

1. Decide the key training and development priorities for the organisation for the next year and three years respectively (these must fit your business plan and key objectives)
2. Carry out a training needs analysis in your organisation for all staff (from senior management to junior admin). Find out what they don’t know they don’t know!
3. Work out the learning styles and training preferences for all staff producing individual learning plans
4. Check out what training you can get for free and what you need to pay for (will a webinar, short seminar suffice over a formal course)
5. Schedule dates and flexibility in workplans
6. Build in costs and flexibility into grant applications (training is part of infrastructure)
7. Make sure the training happens, has impact and follow up on progress
8. Review annually

Summing up

Organisations which invest in staff and volunteers tend to be happier and more productive places to work and have lower employee turnover. They produce more outputs and outcomes and pay attention to individual needs in clients as well as workers. Training costs time and money but is fundamental to a successful organisation. Choose wisely and measure the impact.

It’s always wise to take recommendations from others if you want the best experience.

Why don’t people think anymore?

“In the long run my observations have convinced me that some men, reasoning preposterously, first establish some conclusion in their minds which, either because of its being their own or because of their having received it from some person who has their entire confidence, impresses them so deeply that one finds it impossible ever to get it out of their heads.” - Galileo

In 1596, I’m pretty sure they would have burned me at the stake. I’m not Galileo smart but I am quite forthright in my hypotheses and they can contradict existing ‘opinion’. I’m not provocative for the sake of it but I don’t take the easy ride. I’m not going to ‘please you’ for the sake of it.

A little over ten years ago, a wise man called Michael Mallows introduced me to Daniel Kahneman’s system 1 and 2 thinking. We were prepping a thinking skills session for an intervention programme I was running for teenage girls in London. Of all the concepts (and we worked with outstanding teachers and facilitators from private and state schools, business and social sectors) across thirty sessions in three years, the students found this (and the drama triangle) fundamental to their way of thinking and being. It also changed the tone of how we discussed anything and gave the girls a vocabulary to articulate not just what they thought, but how they thought.

If you’re not familiar with the basic concept, system 1 is reactive gut thinking and system 2 more slow and deliberate. The latter is hard, time consuming, often painful (it also uses more blood glucose). It’s easier to roll with system 1 and often necessary if we are short of time and the speed of decision is more important than its value. 

But to go back to the frame of that Saturday intervention programme. If any of my students answered “I don’t know” within the first two seconds, I called them out on it and we stopped and made them think again. Because you don’t simply “don’t know”, you need to think. It’s easy, compulsive, reassuring even, to say “I don’t know,” to just blurt out your first instinctive reaction. Sometimes it’s ok. But sometimes it’s not. If you have responsibilities, one of those will include thinking mindfully (alas it probably won’t be on your job description). More thought, followed by quick effective action, might resolve a few of your organisational problems. And let’s face it, you might (usefully) put a few consultants out of work. For the next time you joke about consultants borrowing your watch to tell you the time, just remember you could have looked at your own watch first.

So think. Take a break. Refresh. Play, walk in the park, enjoy a hobby or distraction. Your unconscious mind can do a lot of heavy lifting if you break the cycle of blurting “I don’t know” or your system 1, fast reactive comment of choice. It’s an investment that will pay off quite quickly. So try it and see what happens. 


It may be easy but is it right?

Sometimes the idea someone can take something off our plate feels such a relief. One less thing for us and job done box ticked. But what if they’re the wrong people to do it and you’re speeding along with the wrong partner down the wrong road?

In these days of agile, there’s a temptation to get on with it regardless. We have a human need to see progress and let’s face it there is far too much prevarication and procrastination in the world. But just as you need to be driving in the right direction when you put your foot on the accelerator, so you need to be clear about your strategic direction, objectives and milestones before you launch into project activity.

The tech (and increasingly) the data world is full of snake oil salesmen (and saleswomen). They charm, they promise, they may even convince. They might talk you into something you didn’t realise you had agreed to. They offer to take problems off your hands, point to previous (often dubious) experience, offer a way out of your current predicament.

They make it sound so easy. But is it right?

Is it right for you? For the project? For the organisational values and most importantly for the mission you serve?

Taking an aspirin to solve the pain is pretty useless if you’re having a full on heart attack. Getting the wrong people to ‘help’ can be equally disastrous - short term pain relief but it may kill off something really important. You and your most important question.

So think twice when someone offers to do something you didn’t ask them to do and it doesn’t ‘quite’ fit the need, especially so if they also want you to pay a large bill and for them to retain all the credit. 
And that bright shiny toy you’ve just ‘invested’ in? Guess what, the ‘kids’ will get bored of it really quickly, won’t thank you for it, and you’ve just wasted money you didn’t have.

So is it time you stepped up and acted like a parent? (A leader?) Stopped trying to be popular, stopped trying to be liked by everyone and taking the risky shortcuts?  Thought more medium term? Lead your organisation like you would bring up a child in an increasingly challenging world?

When someone tempts you... Just think twice.  Easy maybe, but is it right?

Leading in a Digital World

Do you remember an earlier time, a world of political and economic upheaval? No, not last week… think 1983. A world where phone and fax were still cutting edge technology (and it was only 38 degrees in Dubai not Dartford).

We live in a world where the challenge, opportunity and speed of technology exceed the human ability to deal with it. But are we resigned to be like the dinosaurs and fail to adapt, or can we gather and develop the knowledge (and attitude) we need and equip ourselves to be ready and able to deal with the disruption ahead?

We ought to be excited about the benefits and potential of the new order but the onus is on leaders to make change and set examples. We too often come up against the lack of familiarity, lack of competence and lack of agility of working with digital, higher up the leadership scale. 

Should we be excited? Concerned? Expectant?

Transformation traumas - who pays?

Are we spraying and praying in the name of access to justice technology?

'Digital transformation' - two words which should strike fear into the heart of a leader. Not because its a bad idea but because its an abused term, often peddled by the inexpert to the unknowing, in the desire to go better/faster/cheaper with  some tech and a few tweaks to the way you work. If only…

But its bigger than that and the clue is in the name. All digital transformation is (whisper it... 'transformative') aka major heart surgery which requires assessment, prep, expertise and fitness, followed by commitment through the operation and a recovery period afterward. You wouldnt just wake up one morning and run a marathon with no planning or preparation would you? Yet too many organisations are embarking on the self same thing without thinking it through.

Innovate or die?

Digital innovation may or may not be digital transformation. We all need to evolve, to innovate, to improve. But beware of the difference. Innovation may be doing something uniquely new, adapting something else so its new to you or indeed transforming your very essence in the name of technology.

Types of project

So what kind of projects sit along the spectrum of digital transformation?  

Level one is strategies and scoping exercises. They require internal commitment and honest dialogue but are usually straightforward. They can act as a health check and are a good way of dipping a toe in the water. It may clarify a ‘good idea but it can also, importantly, quash a rather stupid one. IT reviews are a subset of this level.

Level one is also upgrading your IT infrastructure - a new server, new PCs and faster internet connection is fairly straightforward (its essentially a refresh). Its baseline stuff and you need to refresh/improve your kit regularly, just like you need to get a new pair of shoes if you do a lot of walking or trade in your old car for a model that doesnt break down as often. If you are using six year old PCs on a slow internet connection then do something about it.

Yet who would get a new server these days? Level two is ‘moving to cloud'. This depends on how organised you were in first place and commitment to manage it well. If half your data is on paper, most of your staff have a completely independent filing system and no one ‘really collaborates, then this could be a bigger challenge than you think. Youll probably be accessing data in different ways with different security and management implications and need to think carefully about filing structures. After all, sticking Doc1.doc somewhere in the cloud isn't going to make it easy to find. Information architecture and training are key.

Level two is also using new collaborative online tools. There are lots of them about from online project management, messaging, time tracking, HR etc. Their features are often layered by price point. The key is to know what you need (clear specification and user benefits) and be prepared to pay what that costs. And training – you do train your users dont you? The best software in the world is rarely totally intuitive (and learning more about the stuff that is can help you get more from it).

Level three is Internal Digital Platforms. These can be very tricky (see also – But I Only Wanted A Database? Its a Bit More Complicated Than That…). They require considerable commitment, communications and flexibility. Making a database work and possibly integrating it with your website takes time. It pays to be clear and to have explicit leadership and commitment behind these projects. The projects usually hurt but can be worth it.

Which brings us to level four. Innovative External Platforms. You know the sort of thing – a guided pathway you will save society from ever needing to consult a lawyer again (other more practical use cases are available). A knowledgebase for the entire information ever gathered about ‘problem x'. These can be highly complex and may not find a market. Even if it is a really good idea, are you sure YOU should be doing it? And be careful that when someone mentions minimum viable product you both have the same idea of ‘viable' and that minimum is only the beginning and not the end.

How to get ahead of the curve

But its not all pain and disaster. These things can work without you wishing you had an easier job (like sorting out Brexit perhaps?).

Projects work best when:

  • clearly scoped,
  • effectively planned and budgeted,
  • well led at multiple levels of the organisation,
  • supported by adequate capacity of expert experienced resource,
  • have internal commitment and prioritisation
  • plus appetite for change and attention to detail and follow through. 

Simple huh? Follow those principles well and you have made a good start.

Benefits need to be explicitly planned and clearly measurable with a baseline and interim measures recorded. Yes, know where you are going, what the value/impact is, how to demonstrate progress along the way and what success really looks like. Dont be like the Finance Director who spent £250k on a project and was greeted by a ‘lack of appreciation because the users didnt see the difference. It wasnt the project (and it did meet users needs), they just didnt actually see the difference as they expected the result so it looked like a wasted investment to the Board. If you dont plan or measure, how will you know if its working or whether you actually reached the goal?

Working with third party stakeholders can be challenging - youre not their first (or even second) priority. For most of us, platform development will involve partners either in testing, pilot use or actual ongoing use. They will have different expectations and different priorities and experiences so may not actually meet the deadlines of YOUR project plan. Factor in some contingency. Thats before you consider suppliers who may speak a different technical language.

Consider whether you would spend your own personal cash on this - grant funding is not free money. Im not suggested you start writing cheques for your own tech but I do get a little perturbed (read: bloody angry) when organisations think foundations or donors should pay for something ‘just because. I always think the willingness (if not the actuality) to stump up your own cash is the difference between commitment and playing with other peoples money. Are there better ways to spend that money?

Technology is just an empty vessel without data and content. People and process are the engine and fuel for making things happen and getting it done and as Stephen Covey says, make sure youre pointing in the right direction. You dont want a white elephant, do you?  

So what does this mean strategically for funders and the organisations they fund?

Change IS hard. Any technology or data development will cause some pain and the more extensive the development and change, the higher the risk and the more painful it is. But if it wasn't a problem, they wouldn't need you to lead it would they?

There are good things to come through the intelligent planning and application of technology and data in the interests of user needs (both staff and client) but we need to:

  • be clearer about our problems,
  • recognise the culture/change costs (and lets call it what it is, trauma)
  • and ensure that projects are well specified,
  • appropriately funded,
  • have clear benefits and measures and
  • are delivered by those capable of delivering them.

Development costs are a small overall part (often as little as 25%) of the longer term lifecycle costs.

We need:

  • better problem statements, 
  • clearer detailed user journeys (which cover the entire cycle not just the tech one), 
  • a log of what works and why alongside a repository of what already exists (oops, there goes a knowledgebase) and 
  • to be investing money, not just spending it, across a lifecycle. 

So rather than building X, lets think about the real cost of resolving problem Y or taking opportunity Z. Not just a bright shiny toy which looks good when its built but the hard yards of making progress on transforming a seemingly intractable issue.

Technology (and use of data) has a long way to go in the advice and access to justice sector. It starts with ensuring a level playing field of basic IT infrastructure (which may or may not include ‘the cloud), moves through using ‘internal tools (collaborative tools, case management systems) well, accelerates through platforms and guided pathways and reaches its peak with voice assistance (hello chatbot!) and the unicorn of AI (artificial intelligence). But the latter are another story. Lets get the basics right first, lets sustain those basics, lets innovate intelligently (with a rational mix of risk and semi-certainty) and lets move towards resolving the big hard problems. After all, any fool can pick low hanging fruit and buy a bright shiny toy and sadly, many do. If we stop ‘spraying and praying and start working together in pursuit of shared outcomes, we can truly make a difference.