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.

SRA chief promises “a bonfire” of unnecessary regulations in legal education & training

The Westminster Forum on the LETR ended today with Antony Townsend CEO of the SRA declaring an imminent “bonfire” of regulations on legal education & training.  He promised to strip away regulations which inhibit access to the professions, including abolishing the requirement to issue a Certificate of Completion of the academic stage of training.

After a morning of speeches and discussions about the need for change, the audience was delighted by promises of real action from the SRA.  Three headlines were announced:

  1. An end to “one-size fits all” education and training.  A range of paths into the professions are to be encouraged based on the skills & knowledge that employers require.
  2. The tick box approach to cpd “will go”, to be replaced by a strategy for continuing competence.
  3. A  “bonfire” of unnecessary regulation was enthusiastically predicted.

Townsend kindled a blast of energy at the conclusion of the event.  Some aspects of legal education, he said, are just “not good enough”.  One factor took the edge off the force his address; decisions will follow a period of consultation and will be finalised “late next year”.  However, given the tone and force of the announcements the intention is clearly that sparks will fly.

Appearing on the same platform as Simon Thornton-Wood from the BSB, Townsend declared that the two regulators are working closely together to address change following LETR recommendations.  Challenged from the floor to generate plans together, rather than comparing notes retrospectively, the two insisted that they are working in partnership.  “Our destination is the same,” Thornton-Wood insisted, “and our methods of arriving there need to converge”.

NJ at LETR     Nicola contributing to the LETR Symposium, July 2012

The LETR Report was met with some ambivalence when it was published in June.  The most prevalent criticism being that it should have been bolder in its recommendations.  My view has always been that the professions would have reacted badly to being told what to do.  The LETR has done its job: it has forced the regulators to act.  Now the legal professions must use education and training to create an agile, motivated workforce which can deliver excellent service and protect the rule of law.

If you would like to talk about the LETR, about learning & development strategy or any other L&D matter please email on nicola@athenaprofessional.co.uk or call 07799 237479