Learning to lead

Wigham looks at a programme that has given staff at government agency COI the
confidence to believe in the leadership qualities of their managers

Leadership is the mantra of Emma Lochhead. As HR director at government
agency COI, she has identified it as the key method for ensuring staff are
delivering an effective service.

The COI, formerly the Central Office of Information, is the body broadly
responsible for communicating government policy and services to the public. It
works with Whitehall to produce lively information campaigns on subjects such
as flu vaccinations and the recent recruitment advertising ‘Could you?’ for the

As such, it is essential staff communicate well to ensure they can get
important messages across on issues such as health, safety and government

Lochhead decided to place such a strong emphasis on training after a staff
survey revealed the organisation’s 400 employees wanted more development. It
showed employees were unhappy with career planning in the organisation, and
felt training was too general.

"Training and development was a key area for me because overwhelmingly,
that’s what staff said they wanted in the survey," she says. "People
can now request the training they want to do and when. We have also targeted it
much more so employees are at the right level and not put with those too far
ahead or behind them."

As the training policy was overhauled, leadership emerged as a crucial
factor at every level throughout the organisation. If all staff were able to
communicate, take ownership of ideas and lead them across several departments,
the output of the COI would be more successful.

Analysis of the research led to a major programme of investment in training
linked into the needs of the business. So much importance was placed on
leadership that a third of all staff have now completed a leadership
development programme.

"We made a real commitment to the leadership course and it is unusual
to put forward so many staff for this type of training. People have come back
from this with a much broader business knowledge," explains Lochhead.

All new and newly promoted staff attend the course, and others are
specifically nominated by line managers.

The residential, four-day course is largely scenario-based, concentrating on
the twin pillars of coaching and culture, while building confidence in the team
and individual.

Lochhead says there have been multiple benefits for the business in terms of
ability, competence, creativity and motivation. "It has helped with staff
turnover and morale by making people feel wanted, and has also helped create a
network of leaders within the organisation. The programme has established a
real common goal for all staff, no matter what their grade, to show leadership
on business-wide issues such as client satisfaction," she adds.

At the end of the course, delegates meet the chief executive to present what
they have learned and discuss ideas for taking the organisation forward.
"It is an added bonus that it gives people access to senior managers to
present their ideas," says Lochhead.

Since the scheme was set up two years ago, employees have become more
confident of the direction the body is going in, with 80 per cent of staff now
saying they have faith in the leadership skills of managers.

Lochhead believes the course has instilled confidence in people to take on
issues and think about the bigger organisational picture, rather than just
their individual role.

Staff are also better able to take charge of their work and accept
responsibility for the output of the organisation. "Essentially, it is
about showing the difference between managers and leaders – you don’t have to
be a manager to be a good leader," she says.

People who have been on the course have been raring to go when they get
back. If we have a third of our staff in that frame of mind it is very exciting
for the business," says Lochhead.

The COI has also identified a further 25 programmes it wants to run based on
feedback from the staff survey and subsequent forums set up to discuss the
findings. Other training output is now more bespoke, with a greater focus on
the needs of the staff. In addition, the COI is now offering courses centrally
instead of each department doing its own thing.

The HR and training team also wants to foster a culture of coaching and
motivation, so it has launched a coaching programme which teaches staff to become
coaches to others.

The changes in training are crucial in attracting new staff in a highly
competitive area, where market salaries are generally high.

The COI has to compete with large advertising companies for staff (70 per
cent have come from the private sector) and with less budgetary freedom than
its competitors, any HR edge it can offer can be a crucial advantage.

The changes to the organisation are still ongoing and Lochhead insists the
network of staff forums continue to look at the way forward and how training
can achieve further success.


Training achievements

– A third of all staff have completed the leadership training

– All new staff attend the course

– 80 per cent have confidence in the leadership skills of the

– Bespoke training for individuals

– 25 new programmes identified through staff survey

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