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.

http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/cpd/tool-kit/resources/annual-declaration.page

 

 

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.

1

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.

2

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.

3

 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.

4

 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 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.

5

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.

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.

 

 

 

Reflection & cpd compliance

What is reflective practice?

Reflective practice is a way of capturing how much learning an individual feels they have achieved and working out what is left to do.

Why does reflective practice matter?

  1. The SRA have said they will be looking for evidence of reflective practice if they have cause to investigate an individual or a firm’s competence  AND
  2. It is an important part of the learning process AND
  3. It promotes individual responsibility for learning

So reflective practice matters to compliance with new cpd regs?

Yes, although it would be wrong to think that reflective practice alone will be enough to satisfy the new regs.

How do I get my colleagues on board with reflective practice?

If they are up for using this as an opportunity to make the most of cpd, you could engage them in building reflection into all that you do around performance and cpd.

If you need a big stick, you could remind them that the SRA rejected the idea of re-accreditation, so they might like to go along with this much less onerous approach.

If people are still in mourning for the cpd hour, you could state the obvious and point out that its is a goner (and by the way only 8% of firms responded to LETR consultation about cpd).  The argument is lost and this is the new reality.

Is reflective practice a Good Thing?

A lot of lawyers are used to didactic learning; learning by being told.  By its nature, many aspects of learning at work are experiential; about learning by doing.   Thinking about what you learn and why is half the battle towards actually using new learning in the course of a working day.  So, yes, reflective practice, done well, is a Good Thing.

Kolb’s learning cycle describes the learning process:

KolbA good reflective log will capture all the elements of this process and help the individual to consider how much they have actually taken on board and are able to use.  For some templates go to RESOURCES

If we do reflection well, is that enough for compliance?

Probably.  The SRA has provided examples which suggest that it would do, but the process has not been tested through inspection yet (and it only will be if other problems arise first).

If you do want to use this as an opportunity to review why and how you do cpd consider:

  • The business purpose of learning
  • How learning can be introduced, transferred to the work-place, re-enforced, developed, supported and recognised.
  • What evidence you will need to demonstrate the success of learning (and the fact it was worth the time and money).

Next steps

Introduce reflective practice for specific events first, well before the deadline for change under the new regs comes into force.

Use a structured approach.

Start as you mean to go on and make it the learner’s job to complete reflective or other learning logs from the outset.  Use peer reporting to encourage accountability (and discussion of learning?) and/or set-up routine meetings with line managers to discuss performance and learning.

All of this makes much more sense if you begin by looking at what your business needs and work out a learning strategy which delivers on those needs.

Stategy, cpd, outcomes.pptx