Behaviour the theme at the LPM Conference 2015

150603 NJ & Shaun @LPM conf

Nicola and Shaun Jardine behaving!

Behaviour the theme at the LPM Conference 2015

What made the LPM Practice Management a hit for us?  Turned out it was all about behaviours!  Spot on our big message; use learning & development to get people to behave differently at work in ways that serve your business need.  All day, in every session I attended, from market trends, to risk and compliance, to succession and recruitment, the way people behave at work was the theme.

The chair, Simon Slater, Chief Executive at Thomson Snell Passmore, set the tone at the outset by reminding us that Darwin’s theory of evolution was not that the fittest survive, but those most adaptable to change.  Hurray!

Jez Hopkins, former head of operations at Riverview Law, gave the first presentation of the day, making loads of brilliant observations (see Twitter #LPMConf2015 for more), including the  suggestion that firms need to recalibrate profitability in order to make themselves future proof in the long term.  I challenged him on that (first question of the day!) by observing that a lot of firms want to have their cake and eat it, hoping theirs will magically be the firm to survive.  Jez was unmoved; there is no choice in his view.  People have to be prepared to invest in to doing things differently.

Jez also observed that those with the skills needed to develop legal practices are often not given the decision-making power they need to really make a difference.  This was picked up later by Shaun Jardine, CEO at Brethertons, who made plain his pride in having an executive board with a diverse range of professional backgrounds.  Shaun’s message; you wouldn’t expect the shareholders of M&S to run the business, why expect it to work in a law firm?

Shaun made my day by showing the audience his notebook, the front page of which lists his key goals.  Amongst them are the powerful questions we rehearsed when I delivered some coaching training for the senior team at Brethertons.  Good learning and a great advert for Athena Professional Shaun!  Thank you.

My question to Shaun (I asked a lot of questions) was whether he felt it was worth investing in developing the skills of senior lawyers.  It was almost a rhetorical question, because I knew he would agree that investment is valuable, but again he made the point; there is no choice if you want to survive.

During the session on risk and compliance I was after some confirmation that changing behaviour might have some impact on a firm’s risk profile.  Colin Taylor from Willis Group concurred, he thought that evidence of a learning culture might well be seen in a positive light by insurers.  That, in my opinion, needs to be front and centre in the business case for investment in development.

With a significant number of smaller firms represented, it was interesting to hear a significant level of ambivalence about performance management in the session with Mark Briegal and others on succession planning.  This time I did not ask a question, I made an observation from the floor that all firms, no matter how small, need to know what “good” looks like in their business.

I was intrigued to see that in a show of hands only about half of the 70 or so people in the session said they were conducting appraisals.  So I asked, of them, how many train their staff in performance management?  May be half a dozen people raised their hands.  I asked Mark to comment and he made no bones about it, “Managing people is really difficult”.  The message again; you have to equip people to be able to do it well.

Sara Duxbury and Ed Fletcher from Fletchers Solicitors gave us a masterclass in staff engagement and development.  Sara, an HR professional with a background in retail, came to the firm a year ago and has clearly been a using her new broom to great effect, supported by Ed’s drive to do things in new and creative ways.  He spoke of the value of having great people strategy informed at every level by the firm’s values.  In response to my question (yes, another one!) Sara told us that they have technical and behavioural, competency-based, descriptors for all the roles in the business.  For her it was plain that encouraging the right behaviours forms a huge part of a successful approach to delivering business goals.

Chris Allen and I had already connected over Twitter, but we spoke in person for the first time during his panel session on aligning business to client need.  Chris has now moved on to Periscope – a sort of video version of Twitter – so I am challenged to get into that now.  Chris told us that its time to stop being conservative and cross-sell.  Now there’s an example of the need for attitude and behaviour to align with business need, if ever there was one.

150603 Mark & others at LPM Conf

Old friends and new in conversation

By now, I was on a roll with my questions from the floor.  The pressure was on in the last session of the day.  I have to admit it was a challenge to think of something to ask about cloud computing and disaster recovery, until someone mentioned using collaborative platforms to project-manage tasks.  That was all I needed and I was able to ask a question, because we use Basecamp and Slack to work with clients and partner organisations.  And I got a round of applause for getting a full house on the question front!

We did have a great day; fascinating content which was right up our street, old friends and new, and a well-run event.  Hats off to the LPM team.

Nicola Jones

 

 

 

 

 

After cpd hours

This article was first published in the May 2015 edition of Managing for Success, the magazine of the Law Society’s Law Management Section (www.lawsociety.org.uk/lawmanagement).

The changes to solicitors’ CPD, from an hours-based to a competency-based regime, are now well underway. Nicola Jones outlines the practicalities of compliance with the new system, and the benefits it can bring for firms and the legal sector

Nicola Jones is a specialist in learning and development, and a former barrister. She is a director at Athena Professional (www.athenaprofessional.co.uk). You can contact her via nicola@athenaprofessional.co.uk or @NooJones

From 1 November 2016, new regulations governing solicitors’ continuing professional development (CPD) will come into force, and “time spent” will cease to be a measure of learning. For those who cannot wait that long, it became possible to dispense with the CPD hour on 1 April 2015. Under the new provisions, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) will focus on competence to practice, supported by evidence of a proactive approach to learning, and the application of learning, including reflection on the use of new knowledge and skills.

In this article, I discuss the implications of these changes, and suggest some practical steps to get underway with implementing them.

The timetable for change

1 November 2014       Accredited trainer status ended

1 April 2015                SRA competency statement & online toolkit published

Move to new CPD regime possible

1 November 2015       Wording of declaration of competence to be published

1 November 2016       First opportunity to make a declaration of competence

Competence-based approach mandatory

The benefits of changes to CPD regulation

Historically, CPD compliance has provided evidence of what solicitors ought to know about a topic. Under the new regime, there is an opportunity for learning to be identified in terms of how solicitors use what they know, not only with regard to legal expertise, but in terms of their broader skills – such as, in their work with clients and colleagues. Ultimately, the market expects service and value, as well as expertise, from its legal service providers. Letting go of the CPD hour offers an opportunity to embrace all that learning has to offer in terms of intellectual and professional excellence.

The change offers individual firms and the whole sector opportunities to:

  • save money, through the use of work-based learning and other learning methods;
  • invest in learning which really makes a difference to day-to-day work; and
  • broaden the learning culture by recognising learning of many kinds.

Compliance with the competence statement

A competent solicitor (as defined in the competence statement) will be one who can meet the requirement of principle 5 of the SRA Handbook, to provide a “proper standard of service”. The indicative behaviours are described in the statement. It gives four key areas of activity it would expect a competent solicitor to address:

  1. self-management
  2. management of others
  3. professionalism and ethics
  4. technical knowledge

The SRA’s toolkit on CPD states that “meeting the competences set out in the competence statement forms an integral part of the requirement to provide a proper standard of service”. However, there are no mandatory criteria in the statement. Competence in all of the elements is not expected. “Compliance”, in this context, means being able to evidence use of the statement as a guide to identify and address learning needs. It is to be used to assess whether the individual, and ultimately the whole firm, is in a position to provide a proper standard of service.

Policing compliance

The SRA’s stated intention with regard to enforcement is that it will be using data from the annual declaration of competence to manage risk. If a firm’s or an individual’s conduct is called into question for another reason, then the SRA be investigating evidence of competence.

Accountability for compliance

Employers and individuals will make a declaration of competence annually as part of the application to renew their practising certificate (wording to be published 1st Nov 2015). The employer is responsible for ensuring a proper standard of service to their clients, including “training their staff to maintain a level of competence appropriate to their work and level of responsibility”. So, at a regulatory level responsibility for competence is shared. In business terms, it stands to reason that those firms who are able to develop and retain the best people are likely to fair best.

Practical steps to achieving compliance

  • Make sure your appraisal system is fit for purpose and use it to identify learning needs, with reference to the aspects of the competence statement which fit with the work the individual solicitor is undertaking.
  • Set up a simple way for individuals to record learning and reflection. A dedicated notebook for each person is adequate, although an electronic format might be preferred. Whatever method you use, you need to record: learning needs, with reference to relevant parts of the competence statement; how learning needs are to be addressed; what has been learned; and how it has been applied.
    • Ensure individuals understand that they must take personal responsibility for their learning from the outset. In particular, be clear that learning records are a matter for each individual, not the hard-pressed compliance officer for legal practice
    • Introduce learning records ahead of time if at all possible, so that you can sort out practical difficulties.
    • Schedule quarterly meetings at which line managers discuss learning with their colleagues.

Relating learning to performance

This may sound like a simple idea, but it is a challenge to tackle the relationship between learning and performance, particularly when many firms rely on hard-pressed senior staff to line manage departments. Here are some steps which will take you beyond simply being able to comply with the regulations.

  1. Define what ‘good’ looks like in your firm

One way to do this is to draft ‘competencies’: short, specific statements which describe desired behaviours. If you already have competencies, they may need to be tweaked to reflect the competency statement.

  1. Identify learning needs

Look at performance in relation to your definition of what ‘good’ looks like. How does the firm match up to that definition as a whole? How does each department match up? Talk to people about their performance, and use appraisal data and line manager feedback to assess learning needs. There are some excellent learning needs analysis tools available, such as 360 appraisal, which can give a rounded view of individual and departmental performance.

  1. Take stock

Be open to the idea that learning may not be the answer! There may be organisational issues affecting performance, which no amount of training can overcome. In order to make sure the firm gets value for money from learning, it needs to be possible for the learning to be transferred to the workplace. If structures or personalities make that impossible, then address those issues.

  1. Define learning outcomes

Be clear about the purpose of learning: what is it intended to achieve? This step is often missed out, but it is a crucial element in the story of getting value from any type of learning investment, whether it is an informal reading exercise, a departmental seminar, or an off-site training event.

 

Clarity about desired learning outcomes enables you to work out whether a learning activity has been successful. Think about what your learners need, and how the learning activity will serve that need. Encourage each learner to get into the habit of identifying their personal learning outcomes, because it helps them to take responsibility for their learning and helps to structure reflection.

  1. Relate learning outcomes to learning activities

Under the new CPD regime, a wide range of learning activities will be recognised (see box [opposite]). This provides a brilliant opportunity to identify and articulate learning which routinely occurs in the workplace. It will mean firms save money, and it encourages a learning culture, including recognising new ways of deepening legal expertise, as well as other elements of professional conduct.

Freeing up the learner is a tremendous thing, if the individual understands the learning process and takes responsibility for their own development. Some people may, however, find being held accountable for their learning challenging. Some line managers may find it hard to manage resistance, so equip your people with the self-management skills they need in order for the business to get maximum benefit from learning.

Learning activities

Learning Activities are now broadly drawn, and include:

  • face-to-face or ‘formal’ learning;
  • peer-led seminars and discussions;
  • file reviews;
  • coaching and mentoring;
  • delivering training; and
  • using social media as a learning resource.
  1. Make reflection part of the learning process

Reflective practice is an important part of the learning process. Look for learning design which:

  • engages with learners in advance;
  • provides opportunities to consider application as part of the learning; and
  • follows up the learning activity over time.

In this way, reflection can rightly be located within the learning process, rather than as a time-consuming adjunct. The opportunity for lasting impact on performance is also significantly increased if learning is revisited over time.

Focus on management capacity

At first blush it may seem that recognising a range of learning activities will make it easier to satisfy CPD regulations.  However, it is clear that the SRA will be looking for evidence that specific learning needs have been identified and effectively addressed.  Firms will need to rely on their department heads to deliver effective performance management, good line-management in respect of learning and, ideally, the ability to act as a role-model for the desired competencies.  With that capacity in place, compliance with the new CPD regulations can, and should, become incidental to the effort of offering outstanding legal services.