My brilliant friend and collaborator, Clay Lowe, and I enjoyed a conversation about what L&D can do to help business and individuals at this time. Click on the title to view:
At the She Breaks the Law (#SBTL) Continuous Learning group meet-up on 6th September at LexisNexis offices in London we had to conclude that the answer to embedding new services and products is “more badass women”!
Following on from an excellent networking and sharing session of the whole group, fifteen of us – some from Legal Tech, some with responsibility for innovation within law firms, some GCs and others – stayed on to tackle the question of how continuous learning can support the introduction of new tools or ways of working.
At a previous meet up, there had been a consensus that both providers and organisations need to work out what supports the up-take and embedding of new services. A lot of attention is paid to the operational effort involved in deployment. Is there anything else that can help initiatives gain traction?
In terms of Continuous Learning practice we were focussing on the relationship between learning needs and the success of engagement with new ways of working.
Our plenary could have gone on all day! I’ve summed up our thinking about success factors thus;
- Clarity of purpose
- User involvement at every stage
- Communicating shared objectives
- Demonstrating value; answering “what’s in it for me?”
- Understanding the role of learning in the change cycle
- Taking an iterative approach
- Establishing “champions”
- Celebrating success
- Emotional Intelligence
- Offering “dynamic care”
- Demonstrating a growth mindset
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.
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?
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”.
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.
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.
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:
- identifying learning opportunities, such as making a presentation to a client or senior partners;
- 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
- 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.
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 www.c4lpt.co.uk), 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 (www.learninglocker.net ).
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 (www.lawsociety.org.uk/cpdcentre). 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;
- Use purely didactic learning judiciously – many lawyers are comfortable being lectured, but that approach does not lend itself to transformational learning which changes behaviour
- Look for how much experiential learning is on offer, e. learning by doing, not listening – learning is an activity; it is not passive
- 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
- Make sure learning strategy is aligned with business goals
- Assess learning needs – what knowledge, skills and attitudes do you need in place to deliver on your strategy?
- Communicate the learning strategy
- 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
- Prioritise learning activities in the light of business need
- Make a business case for learning activity – learning should always be more than “a good idea”
- Identify desired learning outcomes – these should accord with business need
- Consider a “blended learning” approach using different learning activities over time to establish and embed ideas and promote the transfer of learning to work
- Decide how and when to measure the impact of learning activities
- Measure the impact of learning activities in terms of hard and soft outcomes
- Generate evidence of success and use it to support the business case for future learning
- 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.
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.
Yet again Jane Armytage and I had loads of fun exhibiting with Athena Professional at the brilliant LawNet conference which ran last Friday, 10th November 2017. The calibre of the speakers was outstanding. I felt it was a day that raised awareness; there is a burning platform and the its starting to get warm under foot!
Many excellent things were said. Twice I practically jumping out of my seat and cheering and once I was just fascinated to watch the audience open up and engage. Here are my three stand-out moments:
Keith Coats made it plain that CONTINUOUS LEARNING is where it’s at. Oh Yes! Music to my ears! I was inwardly jumping up and down. Why? Because, there is a huge opportunity to leap-frog over the sheep-dip training mentality and jump straight into equipping people to embrace change, to drive it, because they are permitted to think, to be creative and try out new ways of working.
Coats’ rationale was compelling; exponential change is only just getting under-way. In other words if you think the world is complex and fast-moving now, you ain’t nothin’ yet! The pace of change will become so ferocious that the ability to respond, to be adaptable and nimble, is going to be more important than robust strategic thinking and detailed planning, “You cannot plan your way into exponential change – plans give the illusion of control”. Ouch! That’s a powerful message for a room full of people who are used to being in complete control.
Coats prayed in aid the case of Netflix who sold billions of DVDs in the 1990s before recruiting a couple of former Amazon execs who told them the future was streaming film. The business turned on a sixpence. Within months they stopped making DVDs and began streaming. It just so happens that Netflix was the topic of conversation in my house recently. At one point both my teenagers chimed, “Mum! Everybody’s got a Netflix account!”
Surely the idea of ditching a brilliant business model must have seemed ridiculous to Netflix at first. However, Keith Coats related the words of Jim Dator, “Any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous”, although the rider to that is, “not all ridiculous ideas are useful”!! That idea was captured in the cartoon record of the day created by Chris Shipton..
Are we willing to learn, to take risks and engage with ideas which might seem ridiculous?
To my absolute joy, THE RULE OF LAW got a mention from Sophie Adams-Bhatti. She asked the audience to raise their hands if they thought it was important. Most did. Earlier in the day Keith Coats had concluded by suggesting that people need hope and the world needs a shared sense of a higher purpose. Well, well! The legal sector does not need to look very far for its higher purpose. As Adams-Bhatti observed, the Rule of Law is a crucial pillar of a democratic society. Amen to that.
Dr Brian Marien drew us into the subject of “Emotional Literacy” in the afternoon. It was fascinating to see this room of senior lawyers given permission to think about their feelings and behaviours. It has been my repeated experience that established professional people feel deeply concerned, vulnerable, even ashamed, about revealing that they do not know everything, that there are some skills they have not mastered, or that they or their colleagues demonstrate some behaviours of which they are not proud. And yet I am certain that acknowledging the truth of that sort of sentiment is the starting point for so much that is so necessary to the profession.
If you would like to see the Twitter feed of the day go to #LNConf for lots of quotes and observations.
It is worth saying that the event is beautifully run by Helen Hamilton-Shaw and her team. The venue, Heythrop Park in Oxfordshire is magnificent. The whole day has such friendly, good vibe, its real pleasure to be there. This was our fourth year of exhibiting. I think we’ve worked with about a dozen LawNet firms now, so there are lots of people it is good to see and to catch up with, and plenty more to get to know.
I should also thank Chris Marston for giving Athena Professional a name-check during his introduction for our experiential approach to learning about performance management. It is one aspect of continuous learning which is important and there is so much opportunity for more!
I keep hearing the same story from all sorts of different businesses; we’ve done the thinking, we’ve got a strategy that everyone agrees with… but nothing has changed! Amongst those who are leading changes in business structure and profile there is bafflement: Surely people can see the imperative? Why do they keep doing the same things they have always done?
It reminds me of the old joke; how many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has got to want to change.
And there is the conundrum; getting people to change behaviour ought to be easy. No one is being asked to get into astrophysics overnight. It should not be that difficult. But it is. Moving beyond rhetoric and into action requires individuals to choose to do something differently.
Occasionally I hear about an individual who is driving everyone mad by simply not towing
the line. Perhaps they refuse to use a new management system or they never turn up to events. This person believes themselves to be special or different from everyone else. They are convinced that in some way their situation is exceptional, i.e. change should apply to everyone except them.
Dealing with this person is hard, because fundamentally it means trespassing on the individual’s sense of who they are. If they are rigidly adhering to a particular practice or excluding themselves from something, then it is likely that the behaviour serves some underpinning value or belief which will need to be tackled if they are to stay in the business. Not an easy prospect.
The long grass
However challenging the maverick individual is, at least they are visible and the way to manage the situation is fairly easily identified, even if it is unappealing.
Perhaps a more difficult challenge arises when the majority of people pay lip service to the importance of change. Quite quickly a kind of organisational paralysis sets in. Those championing change get frustrated; those resisting change may be unaware of the impact of their intransigence, because don’t see the connection between agreeing to a strategy and implementing it through the way they think and act on a daily basis. Soon the idea of change begins to be a drag.
Creatures of habit
I habitually make tea using a teapot. I am aware that there are other (inferior) ways of making tea, but left to my own devices I’ll do what I always do. I know that the tea tastes better if brewed in a pot. I know that reduces the temperature of the liquid. I have learned that if I warm the pot and the cup I can keep my tea hot. Doing those things is easy and I chose to do them. I like making tea this way, because I like hot tea. I have the knowledge, the skills and the attitude required to make a really good cup of hot tea. I routinely adapt when I’m out and about. I can drink tea made in the mug. I change my expectations and behaviour to suit the occasion.
Ok, there’s not much at stake in my example. It is true though, that we default to our behavioural preferences most of the time whatever the activity in question is. Being able to flex our behaviour to adapt to new demands involves being aware of our default position and consciously choosing to shift our ground. Being self-aware and aware of impact of one’s behaviour on others is a starting point for change.
Time & investment
Creating changes in behaviour takes time and investment. It requires a planned approach. People need the opportunity to make changes in their daily work, and they need their efforts rewarded when they do. Individual and collective evidence of success is crucial.
Bringing strategy alive
Our best successes in bringing strategy alive have been with organisations which are willing to address knowledge, skills and attitudes. That openness enables us to use online learning, class-room based experiential learning and coaching to ensure that people;
- Know what they need to know and
- Have a chance to try out new skills and
- Are challenged and supported as individuals to make changes
Usually when we are delivering these programmes I have to make my tea in the cup, but you can’t have everything.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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:
- management of others
- professionalism and ethics
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
The shift from hours-based CPD to competence to practice, announced in May this year, presents an important opportunity for firms to reassess their learning strategy and ensure it contributes to their business needs.
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