First-class post

Being
sent on a secondment is no longer merely a handy way of sidelining a manager
who is past their use-by date. The placements are now seen as mutually
beneficial to the company and the employee. Lucie Carrington reports

Secondments
are no longer simply an expensive way of putting senior managers out to grass.
They have become a key management development tool for junior, middle and
senior managers.

Nor
do they always involve sending someone off to work for a good cause for a
couple of years and wondering if you will ever meet again.

Now
there is a plethora of approaches firms can take, from the traditional
long-term secondments through to short-term or day release-type schemes.

The
advantages to both sides of the secondment equation are obvious – developing
managers gain experience that their own organisations perhaps cannot provide.
And the host organisation gets business skills it probably can’t afford.

“Many
large organisations are realising that the only role models their developing
managers have are the previous generation of managers. But these are not
necessarily the right role models for the future of their business,” says
Robert Rosenfeld, consultant at Garner Hall.

“At
the same time they are keen to limit the amount of management development that
goes on in the classroom and are on the lookout for more creative ways of
learning.” Secondments get the thumbs up on both counts.

The
Government runs a massive secondment scheme called Interchange. It is designed
to provide civil servants with experience of business, and to give business
people first-hand knowledge of Whitehall.

Networking
potential

Interchange
is also aimed at bringing fresh, new, business skills into government and has
become a major plank of the Government’s modernising agenda.

So
far nearly 4,000 Interchanges have taken place. These include long-term
secondments of up to three years, shorter attachments, job shadowing, mentoring
and non-executive postings.

But
while it is potentially a terrific networking moment for firms, it is maybe not
the best training and development opportunity.

Business
in the Community has been brokering short-term secondments between the private
and voluntary sectors for several years. It calls them community assignments
and they are part-time projects involving 100 to 200 hours spread over about
six months.

Voluntary
organisations come up with the projects they want done, while BITC develops the
brief to meet the needs of the secondee. Corporate clients include Marks &
Spencer, insurance firm Marsh UK, Barclays Bank and the Contributions Agency.

Interpersonal
skills

“They
are particularly good for developing interpersonal skills such as confidence,
initiative, problem-solving and negotiation skills,” says Amanda Jones,
director of corporate community investment at Business in the Community.

“We
visit every secondee and go through a competence assessment with them to
determine what they want to get out of the secondment.

“We
also visit their line managers to be sure that they will support secondees
through the assignment.”

It
all sounds too easy, but secondments do require a tremendous amount of
preparation, says learning and development director at the Industrial Society
Andrew Forrest. He suggests there are several crucial steps for firms to take
if their schemes – short- or long-term – are to succeed:


Secondees, their line managers and the training department must be clear about
the learning goals


Secondments should be a step up for someone if they are to be truly
developmental, but they must also be achievable, Forrest says


Programmes should also build in a time for testing the water. Secondees need to
get some idea of the management style of their host organisations and be sure
that there will be no culture clash before taking the plunge. Forrest says, “It
seems obvious, but it goes wrong so often. People bumble through, making the
most of a bad job.”

Forrest
also recommends that all forms of secondment should include mentoring. This
could mean calling on someone back home or someone in the host organisation.

And
development specialists must also be ready to manage secondees’ expectations
after a secondment. “It often results in people wanting to take a more
strategic role in the organisation,” Rosenfeld says.

So
if a company is touting a secondment scheme as a route to senior management
competence, then it could be that there has to be a senior management job at
the end of it.

Lloyds
TSB invests in future

Lloyds
TSB has turned to the voluntary sector as a means of broadening the experience
of future leaders of the bank.

Together
with consultancy Garner Hall, Lloyds TSB has developed a short-term secondment
programme, Delivering Value. This allocates small teams of managers to
strategic projects that voluntary organisations could not otherwise consider.

Essentially,
these teams provide six days’ free consulting over a 12-week period while
continuing with their day jobs.

“From
the point of view of developing managers and executives, the opportunity to use
the real world is a very powerful tool,” says senior manager, management
development John Wilson.

“Making
it up the last few rungs of the ladder is about broadening out skills and
developing strategic thinking. So there has to be a strategic element to
secondments, they can’t be about operational improvements.”

About
45 senior managers take part each year. They are identified as potential
leaders of the organisation through the bank’s internal appraisal and
assessment systems.

Programme
director and consultant with Garner Hall Robert Rosenfeld says, “Generally,
they will have had significant experience inside the organisation, but not much
exposure to business issues in a non-banking environment.”

The
programme involves three or four projects running at the same time. Teams have
not necessarily worked together before and are allocated projects that are
designed to stretch them. So, for example, a marketer would not necessarily get
the marketing project. “It has to be a real challenge,” Rosenfeld says.

Projects
are identified through the Lloyds TSB Foundation, a grant-giving body with
plenty of third-sector contacts.

The
programme is divided into three modules and 
kicks off with a three-day session. Participants come together as a
large group to find out more about the principles and practice of consulting.
Teams then meet up with their clients and spend time honing and refining their
project brief.

Over
the next six weeks they work further on the project, perhaps individually, as a
group or with the client. After six weeks they have another opportunity to go
out to their clients and see how things have changed.

During
the second six-week break participants finish off the project ready for a
presentation to the client. A separate presentation to the Lloyds TSB
university and the foundation gives them the chance to show what they have
learned from the project. This makes up the third module.

“It’s
a unique programme because it relies on the individuals taking part to make it
happen rather than on trainers or facilitators,” Rosenfeld says.

“A
lot of management training still assumes the participants are children. But
this is about doing a serious job. It’s a grown-up approach to management
development.”

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