A taxing issue

Paul
Stafford has won awards for his work on morale and skills at the Inland
Revenue, yet remains anxious about measuring the value added.  Lucie Carrington reports

The
Inland Revenue must be the least popular organisation in UK – seemingly taking our
hard-earned cash in ever more ingenious and complex ways.

Hardly
surprising, therefore, that self-image and motivation can be a bit of a problem
among revenue staff.

Head
of training in the Welsh and Midlands region Paul Stafford and his colleagues
have spent the past four years using their resources to improve morale and
confidence among the 7,000 staff in the region.

It’s
not just the general unpopularity of tax collecting they have coped with, there
has been immense change at the Revenue. 
Massive downsizing that took place under the last Conservative
government was followed more recently by policy changes, such as
self-assessment and merging with the Contributions Agency. This brought more
work, but not significantly more hands.

The
training team’s efforts have paid off. By the end of last year they had picked
up a Power in Partnership Award from Business in the Community, two awards from
the Prince’s Trust and been short-listed for two National Training Awards. The
BIC and National Training Awards were a first.

Stafford
attributes his team’s success to the way members have used their expertise to
deliver a broader people strategy covering everyone in the region.

The
strategy was the brainchild of former regional director Malcolm Kirk. Four
years ago he and Stafford decided more needed to be done to help staff cope
with change. It was about culture change too, and the aim to turn the revenue
into an enabling organisation – one that wants to help people get their tax
right, rather than just catches them out when they get it wrong.

“Our
vision is forward-thinking in public sector terms. We want people to be
competent, confident, involved, motivated and proud,” Stafford says.

One
of his key themes is the importance of recognising that different people learn
in different ways. He and his team – called the learning workforce – have
therefore developed a raft of training and development programmes and
mechanisms. As well as the standard conferences, seminars and workshops, they
have set up action learning groups expanded the secondment programme and
encouraged internal and external networking.

In
addition they provide what Stafford calls bespoke training programmes to meet
the needs of different teams, for example to back up teambuilding when managers
are new in the job or if management structures change.

The
training unit works closely with managers to develop a customised solution.
“People learn in different ways, so we offer a range of programmes tailored to
their personal development,” says Stafford.

The
training unit has to dovetail the way it meets local needs with directives from
the revenue’s national training office. For example, technical training, such
as examination courses or fraud awareness, is developed nationally.

The
Revenue is also establishing national management competencies and the regions
will have to work with these.

However,
it is often up to the regions to determine the means for delivering national
training objectives.

“There’s
an intention to get as much delivery as close to the customer as possible,”
Stafford says. He prefers internal solutions insisting that it’s cheaper and
more effective.

“Our
people look at what external providers are doing and bring back what’s likely
to work for us,” he says.

The
training unit has £1.9m to spend out of a regional budget of £160m, but
Stafford says there are no restrictions on the amount of training and
development people can get. However, nothing will get the OK unless it is
proven to have a business benefit.

Once
again it’s about working with national and regional objectives for the Revenue.
National objectives cascade down to the regions, which decide how they will
deliver these while adding their own regional objectives. For example, a
current national objective is to harmonise the Revenue with the Contributions
Agency, while a regional Welsh and Midlands objective is to implement a
no-bullying policy.

Certainly,
at regional level in Wales and Midlands, this link between training and
business objectives is firmly drawn with Stafford part of the senior team that
draws up regional objectives. Each month they report back on their progress.
This means Stafford himself has to be clear about the value training is
supposed to be adding. The secondment programme for example, which Stafford has
beefed up, is there to help improve staff understanding of diversity issues –
gender, ethnicity, disability and so on.

However,
Stafford is less certain about how to measure value added from training. It’s
the age old problem training managers have in proving their worth and Stafford
says that he has no hard or fast metrics for working out the impact training
has on the success of the business.

He
admits that he and his fellow senior managers put a lot of faith in training.
“But training will get the blame if we don’t achieve our business objectives as
well as the credit if we succeed,” he says.

Stafford’s
belief in training perhaps comes from his own experience – he is a classic
example of how it can change your life. He moved from being a taxman to head of
the training unit via a secondment with the Prince’s Trust and voluntary work
with the British Junior Chamber. This is the largest out-of-hours personal
development organisation in the world and in 1993 Stafford was the first Civil
Service president.

Having
gone a long way to achieving the region’s people strategy, Stafford and his
colleagues now have to prepare for the next major change. The Revenue is about
to alter its regional boundaries to match those of the Department of
Environment, Transport and the Regions. As a result Wales and the Midlands will
split in two and Stafford will probably have to reapply for his job. Before
that happens he wants to ensure that the achievements of the past few years are
not forgotten and lost when the split takes place.

It’s
all about sharing, he says. “The public sector should be proud of its ideas and
doing more to share them. I’m happy to share ideas with anyone.”

Action
learning boosts careers

If
you want to get on in the Revenue in Wales and the Midlands, a place on the
annual action learning group won’t do you any harm. ALGs are designed to build
up the competencies that can lead to promotion.

“Promotion
isn’t guaranteed, but about 35 per cent of last year’s ALG participants have
been promoted,” Stafford says.

The
10-month programme enables people to experiment with a variety of learning
styles, but project work is central to the scheme. The 60 participants are
divided into 10 teams who, between them, work on a list of business-related
projects drawn up by senior managers. Projects involve research, negotiation,
presentation and a variety of other skills. The aim is for teams to implement
their ideas, not just draw up a report.

The
programme attracts active senior support with all the seven-strong management team
attending major events such as project presentations.

Originally
ALGs were aimed at senior staff but a place is no longer based on hierarchy.
“Anyone, from a word processor operator to the manager of an 800-strong unit,
can apply. The people who make the best case will be selected irrespective of
their grade,” Stafford says.

But
applicants must have the support of their managers and colleagues. It involves
up to 30 days away from the job and no extra cover is provided.

Stafford
sells the idea to managers on the basis that a team member taking part in an
ALG will have an impact on the rest of the team too. “We encourage people to go
back into their offices and act as change agents,” he says.

Secondments
are on target

Secondments
aren’t new to the Revenue in Wales and the Midlands. Stafford himself spent 15
months with the Prince’s Trust, which works with disadvantaged young people.

But,
as a result of the people strategy, he and his team set up a more extensive
programme involving up to 40 secondees a year.

Secondments
can be as short as 100 hours or as long as 18-months, and they can be full or
part time.

But
participants have to justify a place on the programme and identify what they
will achieve. “Applicants have to show how they will benefit and what they will
give back,” Stafford says. So recruitment is tough and the drop-out rate is
low.

“We
have to be sure that secondments are truly business-focused,” Stafford says.
Diversity is high on the agenda for the secondment programme in line with the
Government’s modernising agenda.

Links
have been developed with a broad range of organisations – for example, with the
Prince’s Trust. Revenue staff are seconded as team leaders managing 16 young
people on a four-month project. These secondments tend to be reserved for
non-managers with management potential. “It’s a management challenge that we
could not give them internally” Stafford says.

Longer
secondments are also available to help people gain a specialism. For example,
one tax officer went to work for several months with the local education
business partnership. When she came back she took up a place in the training
department.

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