Navigating the darkness with Ariadne’s thread

I have been reading Sarah-Jane Menato’s take on the story of Ariadne, who used her intuition and compassion to help Theseus slay the minotaur and escape the labyrinth by providing him with a thread with which to navigate his way through the darkness.

But Ariadne was not only driven by compassion; she was seeking her own escape; this was a act of collaboration.  She sailed away with Theseus, spending the night with him on a distant island.  When she woke she saw Theseus’ ship on the horizon.  The story goes that she was abandoned.  Fortunately, Dionysus, son of Zeus, arrived in his chariot to scoop up our heroine, carrying her off to be his wife.  A happy ending?


In her re-framing of the story Menato rejects the idea that Ariadne was abandoned by Theseus, preferring to see the story as one of mutual resourcefulness and choice.  She describes Ariadne’s actions in terms of “feminine energy”; she has come of age and realised that to be safe and autonomous she must use her strengths to create her own future.  Theseus has used his “masculine energy” to fight and adventure, and is now off doing his own thing.  They have enjoyed their collaboration and both are courageous in different ways.

It is interesting to consider “masculine” and “feminine” energy in the context of 21st century discussions about gender.  Menato is clear that they are not about being male or female.  However, she acknowledges that the dominant energy of the patriarchal world we live in is “masculine”; we value the driven, adventurous souls.  Many women (and I’m one of them) have dialed up behaviours which have enabled them to succeed in a world defined in this way. And yet, as we navigate an age of phenomenal change and uncertainty, the capacity to connect ideas, perceive need and collaborate to find ways forward are at a premium.  Are we entering into an age of “feminine” energy?

Late in 2018 the Dalai Lama called for women “…to be the mothers of the Compassionate Revolution that this century so desperately needs”.  His hope was that women can rein-in the violence and destruction wrought by mankind.  To my mind, that still defines women as “other” and different, even if the hope is that they can be a parallel force with men.  I’m not so sure my feminist destiny is to contain male power.  Like Ariadne, my feminine energy is not only driven by compassion, though it is undoubtedly present.

My sense is that this is time when feminine energy can and will come into its own, because this moment in history demands it.  If we come to respect and value our feminine energy as much as we do the masculine energy within us all well then there is hope, a thread perhaps, which we can follow to navigate through challenging times.

Nicola Jones

April 2019

  1. Athena was the goddess of war, compassion and reason, hence “Athena Professional”.



Using Psychometrics in Recruitment

Using Psychometrics in Recruitment

There are many views on the use of psychometrics in recruitment, ranging from dangerous and reductive to the best thing since sliced bread!.

As a busy manager how do you assess whether the cost of such tools are worth it to improve your ability to find the right person?

We all know that the costs of recruitment are high.  A study by Oxford Economics back in 2014 reveal that replacing a staff member costs an average of £30,614 per employee.  There are 2 key factors that make up this cost:

  • Cost of lost output whilst a new employee beds in to the organisation, and
  • Logistical costs of the recruitment process in terms of management time, recruitment fees and temporary cover.

If these costs are accurate, as a manager, you need to take every care possible to ensure that the person appointed will fit in with the rest of the team in terms of behaviours.

Technical skills should be a given. 

Assessing technical competence and experience to do the job are relatively straightforward, the bit that is more difficult is the behavioural side.

Assessing behaviours in interview is a bit of a black art.  Asking for examples of how they have behaved in the past is a good starting point.  However, as a manager you are fishing about in the dark as the candidate will always put their best side forward and the canny candidate always picks examples to show them off at their best.

To technical skills and beyond!

Psychometrics can be particularly useful here, as they give an insight into a candidate’s behavioural preferences from which you can probe how they adapt their preferences and whether or not these adaptations are sustainable.

As a manager what do you need to know when considering using psychometrics in recruitment?

Picking your Psychometric tool

Most robust psychometrics use the Big Five Personality Traits Model or (OCEAN) which dates back to the 1950s.  It is considered to be an accurate and respected personality scale and is based on 5 key dimensions of people’s personality:

Openness – How big picture thinking and creative you are

Conscientiousness – How discipline driven or organised you are

Extroversion/Introversion – Your level of sociability

Agreeableness – How focused on people you are rather than the outcome

Natural Reactions – Your emotional stability

Some considerations when choosing your psychometric, should include how the tool addresses:

Evaluative Bias – Most personality profiles focus on the first 4 of these dimensions.  However, some of these scales have evaluative bias built in which favours one end of the scale over the other.

For example: it is generally perceived as a positive to be high on the conscientious scale as this means you are organised.  The opposite end of the scale  is disorganised, which is not a trait many people would like to acknowledge.

However, those people who are low on the conscientious scale can be very adaptable and flexible in their approach and be able to deal with ambiguity far more effectively than those high on the scale.  In the VUCA (volatile, uncertain,  complex and ambiguous) world in which we live this trait can be incredibly beneficial.

The language used to describe being low on each of these scales also encourages this evaluative bias using words such as:

Low Openness  – conventional, down to earth, narrow interests, uncreative

Low Conscientiousness – disorganised, undependable, negligent

Low Extraversion – introverted, reserved, inhibited, quiet

Low Agreeableness – critical, rude, harsh, callous

Using a Linear Scale – Many tools which have been around a while tend to measure these traits on a linear scale.

For example: they measure how extraverted you are and assume that if you score low on this scale you must therefore be introverted.  This can further reinforce the belief that one end of the scale is better than the other.  Those tools developed more recently measure both ends of the scale and position each end positively.

Portraying what the interviewer wants to see

Another consideration is whether there is the ability to adjust the responses to the fact that the questionnaire is being answered in a high stakes situation, rather than a purely developmental one.

If you bear in mind psychometrics tend to mostly be self assessments, if we are applying for a new job, a candidate will want to show themselves off in the best light.  Therefore research has shown that candidates completing such tools in a recruitment scenario have a tendency to emphasis the outcome focused and discipline driven aspects of their personality and play down some of those traits which may be perceived as less attractive to a prospective employer.

There is no such thing as a perfect profile

A psychometric is not test, there are no right or wrong profiles.  As human beings we are all different and that diversity is helpful in the workplace.  Although it is very helpful to identify an ideal competency profile for a role against which to benchmark candidates, no decision should be made on the psychometric alone.

Personalities change over time, and most people can dial up or down their behavioural qualities dependent upon the situation.  Using a psychometric to inform the interview gives you information upon which you can probe how their personal preferences differ from the ideal profile and how they have adapted their behaviour to accommodate different individuals and situations.


We recommend using Lumina Select for your recruitment as it addresses all of the issues raised above.

Measuring 16 competencies it allows you to find the right people, ask the right questions and uncover hidden potential thereby avoiding costly recruitment errors.

Lumina Select takes into account the values of an organisation as well as the requirements of a specific role.  This ensures that the candidate is good for the organisation, and the organisation is good for the candidate.  It is designed to increase awareness for both the recruiter and the candidate so they can both get a better sense of the qualities and behaviours needed for a particular role within the culture of your organisation.

Not only does it give you a clear, easy to understand, one page summary report showing candidates strengths and weaknesses, it also indicates likely behaviours under stress.

The  accompanying Interview guide compares the individual self assessment against the ideal competency profile you are seeking.  It indicates any qualities the candidate may have which could act as blockers and how the candidate’s tendencies under stress may impact their abilities to retain those positive behaviours.

If you would like to know more please contact me on or 07977 932551.

I do declare! Let’s make declaring “competence” to practise a source of pleasure & pride

This week solicitors and their employers will be signing off on their Declaration of Competence* for the year.  How will that feel, I wonder?  Will it be an administrative task or pleasure to reflect on a year of continuous learning?  If we take technical expertise as given, what would be on a solicitor’s wish list of “competence”?  At the end of the year, looking back, what is it that solicitors would like to be able to say they enjoyed learning to do differently at work?

That word “enjoyed” is important.  I’m interested in people engaging with learning and enjoying the possibilities that brings.  There are so many brilliant lawyers capable of so much in terms of client service and commitment to the Rule of Law.  What excites me is bringing capability and possibility together; that’s when learning rocks!

There are some smart individuals and some big firms doing really interesting things, particularly around the use of technology in delivering legal services.  Lots of people want to be involved in this story and are unsure of where to start.  Unfortunately, what can happen is a debilitating sense of uncertainty which makes the gap between capability and what feels possible widen, rather than shrink.


In that situation we end up with sameness; same people, same practice.  If that is what everyone is comfortable with and feels is a long-term option, then that’s fine.  The difficult question is; will clients think its fine?  If they are navigating changing and uncertain times, if they are working on their own capability and creating commercial possibilities, might they expect their legal advisers not only to do the same, but to help them meet their challenges?  Could lawyers be leading the way?  I can’t see why not, if their business purpose is to serve client need.  And that’s where the wish list of competencies can play powerful role.

Competencies are a regulatory requirement.  More importantly they are a way of describing what “good” looks like in terms of a range of different capabilities.  Crucially, you can only define “good” in relation to your purpose.  Not everyone has to be competent at everything.  There is discretion.

Perhaps it is more useful to think of it as a declaration that each individual is equipped to play their part and make their contribution to the future of the business.  So what do you wish for?

*What is the “Declaration of Competence”?

The Declaration provides affirmation jointly by the solicitor and their employer to state that each solicitor has learned continuously throughout the year in order that they may provide a “proper standard of service”.  The declaration is:

“I have reflected on my practice and addressed any identified learning and development needs.”

In turn, the SRA will issue them a Practising Certificate.  Only if there is an allegation of incompetence will the regulator seek to turn over the stone marked “learning” and see what evidence of lies there.



Legal Geek 2018

The word I found at the front of my mind walking to the tube after LegalGeek 2018 was “connection”. The tone was set by George Biggar connected us to our human experience of work and Life by talking about mental health and the work of the charity Mind. I connected with upteen people; re-connections and new connections*. And with each conversation, each talk I connected ideas, experience and possibilities for myself. There was some nicely subversive stuff; Joanna Goodman said something so obvious and so rarely heard, “if you want to see more women in any profession, promote them!”; Denise Nurse, “the elephant in the room is that firms have done well without diversity… but real diversity serves clients better”; Richard Tromans gets the prize for most quietly radical statement of the day for talking about using tech to “change the means of legal production”… I could go on – check out my Twitter feed for much more @NooJones Many thanks to Jimmy Vestbirk and all at LegalGeek

Johari Window

The Johari window was created by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955.  It can be a really useful way of understanding relationships with others and with the organisation enabling:

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Identifying areas for personal development
  • Improving communications and interpersonal relationships
  • Managing group dynamics
  • Developing the team and improving inter group relationships

It has a clear  focus on  behaviour, empathy, co-operation, inter group development and interpersonal development, the soft skills often overlooked.  It is a simple model that can be applied in a variety of situations and environments.


There are two factors at work within the Johari window. The first factor is what you know about yourself. The second factor relates to what other people know about you.

The model works using four area quadrants. Anything you know about yourself and are willing to share is part of your open area.  Individuals can build trust between themselves by disclosing information to others and learning about others from the information they in turn disclose about themselves.

Any aspect that you do not know about yourself, but others within the group have become aware of, is in your blind area. With the help of feedback from others you can become aware of some of your positive and negative traits as perceived by others and overcome some of the personal issues that may be inhibiting your personal or group dynamics within the team.

There are also aspects about yourself that you are aware of but might not want others to know, this quadrant is known as your hidden area. This leaves just one area and is the area that is unknown to you or anyone else – the unknown area.

The balance between the four quadrants can change. You might want to tell someone an aspect of your life that you had previously kept hidden. For example, maybe you are not comfortable contributing ideas in large groups. This would increase your open area and decrease your hidden area.

It is also possible to increase your open area by asking for feedback from people. When feedback is given honestly to you it can reduce the size of your blind area. Maybe you interrupt people before they have finished making their point which can cause frustration. Alternatively people may always want to talk to you because you are a good listener. Sometimes you don’t realise these aspects of your character until it is pointed out.

By working with others it is possible for you to discover aspects that neither of you may never have appreciated before.

Some examples of unknown factors can be as follows:

  • an ability that is under-estimated or un-tried through lack of opportunity, encouragement, confidence or training
  • a natural ability or aptitude that a person doesn’t realise they possess
  • a fear or aversion that a person does not know they have
  • an unknown illness
  • repressed or subconscious feeling
  • conditioned behaviour or attitudes from childhood

From a practical point of view in implementing the Johari window you need to look at two steps.

Step one:

The place to start in the Johari window is in the open area. Make some notes about yourself.  What are your strengths and your weaknesses? What are you comfortable with and willing to share with others? Try and be honest and clear about what you know about yourself already.

Step two:

Involve other people and ask for feedback about yourself. Be prepared to seriously consider it. That doesn’t mean that you have to do everything that’s suggested, but you should at least listen and think about it. Then give the person who provided the feedback some acknowledgement or thanks for making the effort.  Depending on how confident you are you might prefer to do this as either a group exercise or on a one to one basis. Remember that giving effective feedback is a skill and some people may be better at it than others. When receiving feedback, be respectful, listen and reflect on what has been said. It may be on receiving feedback you may want to explore it further that can lead to discovery about yourself.

The Johari window as a tool does have its drawbacks:

  • Some things are perhaps better not communicated with others.
  • People may pass on the information they received further than you desire or use it in a negative way.
  • Some people or cultures have a very open and accepting approach to feedback and some do not. People can take personal feedback offensively so it’s important when facilitating to exercise caution and start gradually.

There are many ways to use the Johari model in learning and development. It very much depends on what you want to achieve in your training or development activities? What are your intended outputs and how will you measure that they have been achieved? How can the Johari Window theory and principles are used to assist this.

Johari is a very elegant and potent model, and as with other powerful ideas, simply helping people to understand is the most effective way to optimise the value to people.  When people really understand it in their own terms, it empowers them to use the thinking in their own way, and to incorporate the underlying principles into their future thinking and behaviour.

The Self Awareness Diagnostic is a great accompaniment to the Johari window model. It helps people to explore the qualities that make them who they are. The simple online questionnaire provides instant feedback to the participant that they can positively use in understanding their personal strengths and weaknesses, what belongs in their open space. It can also objectively help the participant to start to process some of those attributes that reside in their blind spot and can encourage discussion amongst the group without being confrontational or causing contention.

What is unique about the Self Awareness Diagnostic is it explores not only an individual’s ‘soft skills’ and working style preferences but also how participants like to learn; their learning styles.  In an education or business environment this can be a great enabler for a teacher or trainer to ensure all the members of the group are motivated and able to achieve their full potential

How do you Add Value?

Understanding How You Contribute to the Bottom line

You were hired to achieve results. These results must contribute to the bottom line. If they don’t – directly or indirectly – then how can your company justify paying you?

Just because you’ve been with an organisation for a long time, or you don’t make mistakes, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re adding real value. To add value, you need to make a significant positive impact on your organisation’s success, and, for most companies, this success translates to profitability.

Some organisations, especially in the not-for-profit sector and in government, measure success in other ways. Success may include things like helping people or improving the environment. Here, to add value and prove your worth, you must focus on the way your organisation measures achievement.

Why is Value Important?

Life at work can be unstable, so thinking about the value you add is perhaps one of the most important things you can do. Experience is important, as are loyalty, dedication, and a strong work ethic; but none of these alone is enough to ensure that you continue to be employed in the future: after all, you can work long and hard at counting paperclips – but unless counting paperclips somehow adds to your organisation’s bottom line, all of that effort is likely to go unnoticed.

So, keeping your job is a key reason why you should be concerned about adding value. Particularly now, organisations need to be lean and efficient, so make sure that what you’re doing creates value. And if it doesn’t, figure out what you can do to contribute more directly to your organisation’s success, and do this urgently!

When you assess your job in terms of adding value, you also gain a better appreciation of your real priorities, meaning that you spend as much time as possible on daily activities that contribute directly to the bottom line. With this valuable knowledge, you can set goals and prioritise with much greater efficiency.

Determining Your Value-Added Contributions

Adding value to your organisation’s bottom line is both simple and complex. Essentially, you can do two things to do this:

  1. Increase revenue.
  2. Decrease cost.

You have a responsibility to contribute to the bottom line, because this is what allows you to get paid. Developing an awareness and desire to help your organisation run as efficiently as possible is key to your long-term success.

For salespeople, it’s relatively simple to measure how their work translates to financial success – but for others, it’s not so clear. So, even if your work is far removed from directly generating revenue or decreasing costs, you should have a profit-and-loss outlook.

Start by analysing your job description. What is your job’s overall purpose? State this purpose in a way that relates to an element of the bottom line.

A project manager’s purpose might be to bring projects to successful completion on time and on budget. The relationship to the bottom line is obvious. However, a receptionist might struggle to find that relationship. On the surface, the receptionist’s purpose might be to answer phones and to receive and direct inquiries – neither of these shows “why” the receptionist position is important to organisational success. But if you state the purpose as “To receive and direct inquires, enabling staff to respond to customers in a timely manner and improve overall service,” then the connection to the bottom line is easier to see. If the receptionist doesn’t perform well, efficiency and service will suffer.

Once you link your purpose to the bottom line, evaluate all of your activities to determine their value potential. Focus on the activities that have the most direct connection to profitability: these are the activities you need to support and promote. Think about how you can complete these activities and add more value, and make sure that the people around you – and the people you report to – understand how valuable your work is!

Also, consider this job’s impact on cost control: if products are improperly packed and there’s spoilage or breakage, replacements must be sent, thus increasing costs. If orders are filled inaccurately, goods are returned and costs increase as a result of restocking items, and then shipping the correct ones. And if orders are mismanaged, this will lead to customer dissatisfaction and a loss of revenue.

EG: When a warehouse manager focuses on order accuracy, his or her value increases because waste – cost – reduces.


Determine your approximate hourly cost to your company. It’s usually a lot higher than you imagine, particularly once you include payroll taxes, office space, and equipment costs! Knowing this actual figure can really help you focus on value-adding priorities.

Key Points

There are often many ways that you can add value within your organisation.

Start by thinking about profit and loss, regardless of your position, and question the value you add on a regular basis. Don’t assume that merely showing up for work and doing what’s expected will be enough to secure your success: with cutbacks or restructuring, you need to show that your work is well worth your compensation.

By taking a financially responsible approach to your work, you’ll feel much more confident about your position and purpose.


What is Reflective Practice and how does this fit with CPD?


There is a lot of discussion on reflective practice and how this fits with Continuous Professional Development  (CPD).  We often get asked not only what it is but also how do you do it.  This post is an attempt to de-mystify reflective practice regardless of which profession you belong to.

We all reflect on a range of everyday problems and situations all the time without really giving it a second thought.  However converting this into formal reflective practice often falls in the “too difficult” bucket.

By tapping into what we do naturally reflection can be used in a structured way to review events, practice or learning events.  A good starting point is to use a few basic questions as a framework to help you to structure your reflections.  We would suggest using the following questions:

  • How did it go?
  • How do I feel about it?
  • What went well, or OK? Why?
  • What was not so good? Why?
  • How could this have been done differently?
  • What should I change or work on for next time?
  • What would be the first step?

The Gibbs model of reflection  can be really useful in making you think through all the phases of an experience or activity.  Enabling you to relatively quickly capture the information needed for effective reflection.

How can reflection help you?

Reflecting on learning or events can enable you to acknowledge your immediate feelings, then to stand back from them to be able to see things in perspective.  This helps you to make a balanced judgement, seeing what went well and focussing on the positive side of an event as well as the negative.  SOmetimes it is easier, on reflection to acknowledge things that may be difficult to admit in the normal course of events.

Reflection can bring greater clarity, like seeing events reflected in a mirror, developing a problem-solving approach rather than seeking blame or avoiding thinking about difficulties.  It involves drawing conclusions in order to move on, change, repeat or develop an approach, strategy or activity.

How should I record my reflection to meet any CPD requirements?

Each professional body is different in terms of demonstration of CPD, however keeping a reflective diary , a written record of your reflections can be very helpful.  This diary does not have to be lengthy but has the added benefit of enabling you to include examples as part of your CPD record.  It can also be used in your appraisal to provide examples and evidence of what you have done and how you have developed.

It does not need to be a shopping list.  You need to be selective about what you include and exclude.  Hard copy or electronic copy is fine.

Your diary can be used to identify new objectives and any further training needs reflecting on your experiences and skills as a learner and providing a structure to help you plan your personal, professional and career goals effectively.  It will build your evidence portfolio of your development and can be used both for reflection and as evidence in the future, such as when you apply for a job.

How do I become more reflective?

You will be reflecting in the normal course of events it is about building on the way you reflect already.  Here are some top tips:

  • Become more aware of how, when and why you reflect on things
  • Put time aside to reflect, even if only for a few minutes, on a regular basis
  • Use a structured approach, use some of the questions above as a starting point for developing your own methods
  • Keep a reflective journal, read it over ona  regular basis and look for themes
  • Consider whether your reflection is enabling you to reach any short term goals
  • Find an approach that suits you.
  • Look for changes in yourself, your actions, attitudes and confidence
  • Recognise your achievements, however small they may seem


Learning Culture & Compliance – Blog 1

I spoke to a group of Compliance Officers, Managing Partners and Finance Directors from the legal sector yesterday on the topic of “how a learning culture supports compliance”.  My talk was about the legal sector, but the issues raised are relevant to any business which needs to preserve a technical edge and also move with the times.  I have captured my thoughts in a series of short blogs.

Blog 1

Learning is not merely a matter of compliance, but it helps!

Making a business case for learning at work brings us up against some fundamental questions:  Why learn?  Is it merely to satisfy a regulatory requirement?  Is learning solely to support expertise or is it for something else?  Do wider business skills require development?

Establishing purpose

All of these questions lead back to one thing, business purpose.  Being clear about what the business is trying to achieve is a pre-requisite to developing strategic plans of any kind, including learning strategy.  Once you have clarity about purpose then it is possible to make an assessment of the knowledge & skills people will demonstrate when that purpose is realised.  Are they the same as the ones they have now?   It is unlikely that they will be purely based on technical expertise; expertise is “a given”.

Muddling through

In professional service firms it can be fairly easy to establish wide-ranging learning needs, because historically there has been a tendency to promote people to managerial and leadership roles on the basis of technical expertise or even time-served.  Often those promotions have been made without preparation or development support.  And that approach has, broadly speaking,  been adequate to-date, but the gaps and tensions it creates are becoming increasingly obvious.

Expecting people to muddle through their responsibilities as leaders and managers in a business is possible when there is plenty of work about and plenty of people to do the work.  However, when there is less work, or when that work needs to be done more efficiently by fewer people, the system, and the people within it, becomes strained.  Add to that dynamic a demand to deliver big intangibles such as “client-focussed service”, issues of “retention” or “succession planning” and the old approach is found wanting.

Using compliance to get “buy-in”

So we do not need to rely on compliance to make a compelling business case for investment in learning, but considering the barriers that exist, it gives the argument leverage.  The truth is that a lot of firms want the benefits of great knowledge and skills – in terms of delivering things like client service standards, efficiency and profitability and retaining staff – but when push comes to shove, the organisation really values and recognises fee-earning.  When making the case for investing time and money in learning, compliance provides a regulatory rationale for a change in approach.  It can be the foundation on which the steps towards effective learning strategy and business transformation can be made.

Learning means business!

The shift from hours-based CPD to competence to practise presents an important opportunity for firms to reassess their learning strategy and ensure it contributes to their business needs. 

This article is based on a feature first published in Managing for Success, the magazine of the Law Society’s Law Management Section

In November 2017 all solicitors had a new experience; they applied for their practising certificate on the basis of a declaration of “competence to practise”.  This is because the concept of a “cpd hour” is now long gone from a regulatory perspective. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) moved to a competency-based model the year before.    Despite this seismic change in the way professional development is regulated, few in the profession are aware of the potential benefit to business which the new approach to learning & development makes possible.

Removing the comfort blanket of CPD hours brings firms up hard against the cold reality of the business purpose of learning. Some have dropped it like a stone, glad of an excuse to cut costs. Others see it an opportunity to take a new approach to learning at work and to ensure that professional development serves their business needs.

The rationale for change

Any learning provider will tell you that learning is not something that can be measured in hours.  Best practice in professional development now is all about delivering learning close to the work activity.  Learning at work is, after all, intended to change behaviour.  Everyone reading this article will know of the phenomenon of individuals turning up for irrelevant training sessions, just to get the hours.  Whilst the old system gave people who needed it a cast-iron reason to spend time on learning, it did nothing to address the quality of learning or the importance transferring skills into practice.

The competency-based approach

The SRA has provided a “Competency Statement” outlining four areas in which a solicitor may need to demonstrate “competence”.  It is important to note that the SRA’s version of competencies is NOT mandatory.  Indeed, it is not great!  I say that, because it is not commercially focused and the competencies are not especially well expressed.  Many firms have adopted the SRA version, but those firms are not the ones who have thought about what their businesses really need in terms of competencies, or what works for individuals; not everyone has to be able to demonstrate all the competencies.

Also worth noting is the fact that the SRA will only look into how an individual meets the competencies if there is an allegation of incompetence.  Were that to happen, both the firm and the individual solicitor would be required to produce evidence of competence, including what learning needs were identified, what learning was undertaken and how the learning was transferred into the work-place.  This reactive regulatory approach puts continuous learning at the bottom of the compliance priorities list.

In my view, however, learning is much too important to be a matter for compliance alone.  Getting people engaged and equipped to rise to the challenges of immense change is far more important.

The business case for change

It made be difficult to believe, but the SRA has done a good thing by freeing up the learning agenda.  We do not need to rely on pedagogical arguments to defend a competency-based approach.  The change brings very real business benefits for firms.

First, sustainable growth can only come from a strong internal base of well-managed, highly performing individuals; otherwise, there is an ever-present risk of failure to deliver consistently, or at all.

Second, market pressures and the ever accelerating pace of technological development make the ability to change an imperative. Adaptable people working in agile organisations will be more likely to survive and thrive.

Finally, law firms of the future will need to be creative about the way they deliver services. An organisation which values people who are willing to be creative must embrace the attendant risks and be able to manage and mitigate failure. That can only be achieved in an atmosphere of openness, dialogue and commitment to constant improvement. Creating that kind of culture requires a genuine commitment to skills-training as well as technical expertise.

Being released from the need to clock up CPD hours in order to comply with regulations enables firms to use professional development to rise to these challenges.

Managing the new regime also has the potential to bring positive change. Building an understanding of the purpose of learning ensures it is relevant to the strategy of your business and contributes to business need. Using a competency-based approach provides an excellent mechanism to make performance management genuinely meaningful and significantly increases the possibility of enhancing day-to-day performance.

Bringing a competency-based approach alive

Below are some tips for firms wanting to improve the quality and impact of learning, for their people and their business.


Take a strategic view

A good learning strategy defines the purpose of learning for the business; it is, by definition, ‘outcomes-focused’. Developing or reviewing learning strategy will provide evidence of a proactive approach to ensuring competence at an organisational level. It is also the first step in working out how to plan and prioritise training and measure return on investment for any learning initiative.


Use competencies

 Competencies are widely used across business and commerce. Put simply, they describe ‘what good looks like’. For example, it might be thought desirable for a lawyer to possess intellectual flexibility and technical knowledge. A competency-based approach would put some detail behind that statement to describe the desired behaviours, such as;

  • demonstrates intellectual curiosity in a variety of ways;
  • shares relevant information with colleagues across departments;
  • quickly and accurately grasps key issues in any legal problem; and
  • reflects and develops own thinking including discussion and debate with colleagues.

For some law firms, this kind of approach is well established. For others, however, it opens a Pandora’s Box of issues, including accountability for behaviour as well as financial output, ruffling the feathers of established expertise by shifting the focus to performance management.

Mark Briegal, partner at solicitors Aaron & Partners, ran a highly successful learning and development business before moving into the law; he describes the competency-based approach as a “no-brainer” in the legal sector, since “performance is not just about legal knowledge; it’s about competencies as well”. He describes competencies as fundamental to the performance management process: “If you cannot describe the behaviour you want to encourage, how can you begin to assess development needs?”

Providing evidence of competence throws a spotlight on the performance management process. Many lawyers who are required to manage appraisals are too busy or lack the skills to make them really effective. Yet giving individuals the opportunity to think purposefully about their development needs is an important starting point in the process of determining “competence”. Setting people up for success means getting to grips with performance management and making it work well.


 Capture learning in the workplace

 People learn most when they are doing their jobs, day-to-day. Arguably, lawyers do this more than most, as the law changes constantly and the work gets progressively more complex. But often, little is invested in maximising the opportunities to capture learning at work:

CILEx moved to an outcomes-based approach to CPD long before the SRA.  They require their members to capture a wide range of learning activities. Barbara Hamilton-Bruce, Head of Client at Slater & Gordon (UK) and a former council member at CILEx, says found the experience of recording learning outcomes to be a good one, “It made me think about my learning and, probably more importantly, about where I was unconsciously learning through the tasks that I was completing.”

The SRA’s approach to learning allows lawyers to utilise work-based learning (WBL) principles. Instead of losing the learning value of work activities in the noise and pressure of daily life, WBL takes a structured approach:

  1. identifying learning opportunities, such as making a presentation to a client or senior partners;
  2. recording the challenges faced and what it is hoped will be learned from the experience (this is a way for the learner to set their own learning outcomes); and
  3. once the task is completed, recording reflections on what was learned and identifying ways to build on the experience to further improve knowledge and skills.

There is significant scope for producing evidence of the application of professional ethics in this way – for example, by using WBL principles to learn from a forthcoming negotiation, transaction or proposal.


 Harness technology

 Learning technology is now key in learning delivery, offering both innovative learning opportunities and tools for tracking and evidencing learning.

It may come as a surprise to find that the number one online learning tool for personal & professional learning, and for work-place learning, in 2017 was YouTube (see Jane Hart’s survey at, because it provides a way to tap into a huge range of expertise in an immediate and engaging way. All kinds of online learning can be translated into recognisable units of activity, and captured through platforms such as the Learning Locker ( ).

Lawyers evidence their learning, for example, by using a training record. There is no reason in principle why that record should not be in pen and ink, or individuals can use an online record such as the one provided by the Law Society’s CPD Centre ( The opportunities for capturing a range of learning activity, as well as the benefits of having a centralised way of tracking learning in the firm, will also make a centralised, and also potentially online, recording system attractive.


Focus on quality

The SRA no longer accredits CPD providers and it now recognises all sorts of learning activities. This throws the onus onto firms to be discerning about investing in training which delivers real impact.  Here are three things to look out for;

  1. Use purely didactic learning judiciously – many lawyers are comfortable being lectured, but that approach does not lend itself to transformational learning which changes behaviour
  2. Look for how much experiential learning is on offer, e. learning by doing, not listening – learning is an activity; it is not passive
  3. Always use providers who identify learning outcomes and, ideally, provide opportunities to consolidate learning after a face-to-face events with coaching or online resources

Firms with a clear understanding of the learning process will be able to provide the motivation, resources and support for individuals to progress their own professional development in a wide range of ways. The competency-based approach is intended to move away from rigid measures of learning, and towards a focus on the quality of learning and the potential to change behaviour as a result of training.

The wider context

There are excellent business reasons why a robust approach to individual and organisational performance should involve more than just metrics, whether those are learning hours or monthly budgets. If the move to an outcome-focused approach to CPD brings that prospect into focus, then I for one count it as a blessing.

Implementing learning strategy

  1. Make sure learning strategy is aligned with business goals
  2. Assess learning needs – what knowledge, skills and attitudes do you need in place to deliver on your strategy?
  3. Communicate the learning strategy
  4. Check there are no other organisational issues which will prevent people from using their new knowledge and skills –such as an unclear line management structure
  5. Prioritise learning activities in the light of business need
  6. Make a business case for learning activity – learning should always be more than “a good idea”
  7. Identify desired learning outcomes – these should accord with business need
  8. Consider a “blended learning” approach using different learning activities over time to establish and embed ideas and promote the transfer of learning to work
  9. Decide how and when to measure the impact of learning activities
  10. Measure the impact of learning activities in terms of hard and soft outcomes
  11. Generate evidence of success and use it to support the business case for future learning
  12. promote and support the integration of new knowledge and skills into day-to-day work to embed learning and create evidence of competence

Athena Professional is an award-winning consultancy which can help you to get the best value from your investment in learning.  Do get in touch if you would like to have a chat about your organisation’s needs.

French ban on phones in school – is it too late to manage the march of digital technology?

Recently the French Minister for Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced that from September 2018 secondary school children under the age of 15 will not be allowed to have smartphones with them in school at any time, not even at break or at lunch-times.  Reading responses to this ban prompted me to think about the French perspective and this post captures those thoughts.

Is this about attention spans and focus or is it something else?  The French have a fierce history of protecting their identity as a secular, intellectual republic (massive generalisations aside, I make no comment about whether they achieve this – but it is my impression of how they like to see themselves).  Perhaps they perceive their unique identity as being under threat in some way.

The huge optimism which existed about the use of digital technology to democratise our lives has given way, under a wave of populism, to fear that it is merely another way of driving consumerism.  We cannot ignore the fact that children are being exploited as online consumers any more than we can ignore the fact that digital technology provides great opportunities.

For some reason humans do tend to end up making everything about power. Where that power is shared through some medium, like art, science, sex etc. the outcomes are perceived as positive. Where power is centralised with the objective of gaining control, whether of a market, behaviour or mind-set, then the outcomes are often ugly.

Which is holding sway now?  The bewildering pace of change means that the constant lure of the internet our children experience can be seen as a massive experiment.  Are things going to turn out well for the “click bait” generation?  Whilst positive outcomes are possible, to-date the digital age has facilitated the rise of extremism and provided a mechanism for terror.  Are the French are trying to draw a line in the sand at some level?

When I talk about the impact of digital technology with clients I like to put it in historical context. The printing press arrived in the UK in the 1470s – the first book was produced in 1473. In 1870 the Education Act was passed which made primary school education mandatory for all. Such was the degree of social & political control it took four hundred years to achieve universal entitlement to literacy.  In comparison, the reach, speed and extent of the impact of technology is staggering.  It is unlike anything we have seen before.

Braudel argued that History is not the product of human endeavour.  History is shaped first by geology and geography, he argued, then by economic cycles lasting many decades or centuries, and finally by individuals who dance on pin-heads and think themselves important.  I wonder where he would put digital technology in that story.  In the second bracket, I suspect, although the pace of change drives it towards the immediate individualistic level.  Old orthodoxies, even the historical theories by which we understand our past and our progress, are falling away in the face of the rapidity of change.

Do we just let this play out and see what happens or is it too late?  Digital technology exists and it is in the hands of big corporations who intend to make it pay, even more so now that net-neutrality appears doomed.  It was ever thus.  How do we make the most of the opportunities for learning whilst preserving a space in which children are not prey to the next click or image?  I can understand the French idea that smartphones are not essential in school, but ensuring that future generations are discerning, critical thinkers is absolutely crucial.