Where Best Practice pays dividends

The
Government’s modernising agenda has brought extra benefits to the Borough of
Lewisham, as senior management development adviser Mary Evans explains. By
Lucie Carrington

Invest
wisely in management competencies and you could find yourself slicing thousands
of pounds off your management training budget. That’s what Mary Evans, senior
management development adviser at the London Borough of Lewisham did.

Evans
and her HR colleagues invited 40 managers from the borough to help them trial a
set of management competencies at a development centre. It was an intensive
three-day session that resulted in 40 individual training plans.

“One
of the criticisms of development centres is that they are just an expensive
means of needs analysis. So we put aside some money to fund the training and
development managers would need as a result of the centre.

“But
instead of coming up with a list of communication and time management courses,
participants went away with a list of things they wanted to do differently or
other ways of doing their jobs,” Evans said.

The
development centre, which HR consultancy Fulcrum designed for Lewisham, was a
good buy for other reasons too. “It cost between £1,000 and £2,000 a head – the
equivalent of sending someone on a two- or three-day management course,” Evans
says. “Given the depth of learning, it was very cost effective.”

Lewisham
did not design management competencies as a cost-cutting exercise. They came
out of the Government’s modernising agenda. For local authorities this includes
initiatives such as best value – aimed at improving the delivery of local
services – and structural changes to the make up of councils. This has seen
Lewisham piloting the idea of a directly elected mayor.

“We
have a very ambitious leadership in Lewisham – both the elected members and
senior managers want us to transform the organisation,” Evans says.

Three
prongs to process

“The
chief executive has identified three prongs to this process: modern systems,
modern managers and modern approaches to personal effectiveness. The
competencies fit in by defining what the modern manager at Lewisham needs to
be.”

The
key is that Lewisham’s competencies are not about what managers do, but about
how they do it.

They
are designed to back up a manager’s job description, not replace it. So there
is no vast competence map along the lines of that developed by the Management
Charter Initiative, which some organisations have sought to customise.

Instead
Lewisham is focusing on four ideas: continuous improvement, working together,
tackling service issues and delivering services.

Within
these are 12 competencies that set out the behaviour and action Lewisham
expects from its managers if they are to be successful.

Because
the competencies are behavioural, rather than task-oriented, they are fairly
broad, including problem-solving, customer focus and achieving results. “They
are about changing the culture of the organisation, not ticking boxes,” she
says.

But
there is a danger that they could be too general and vague. To counter this
Evans and her team have produced a guidebook of do’s and don’ts for Lewisham
managers. This suggests, for example, that, if they are to be competent in
decision taking, they take tough and difficult decisions, and so don’t defer
them to other people.

If
they are to be competent at achieving results, Lewisham managers measure their
success and achievements and don’t ignore how they are getting on.

And
when it comes to communication, they listen to people without interrupting. In
total there are 144 such recommendations or rules.

Evans
says this approach to performance management is a big change for Lewisham.
“Previously we have focused on helping staff develop themselves. Now we are
making it clear what we expect from them.”

It
took Evans many months to develop and hone the competence framework. She began
by setting up a project team, made up of personnel colleagues and an outside
consultant.

They
looked around at what other local authorities had done and produced an initial
draft. It was much longer than the final 12, and divided into operational and
strategic competencies.

Extensive
consultation with other managers and the mayor followed. This included devoting
the annual management conference to thrashing out the framework.

Speakers
from Fulcrum and the project team talked the scheme through with up to 100
managers who tested themselves against the competencies. As a result of these
meetings, the project team scrapped the idea of separate lists of operational
and strategic competencies.

A
smaller group of managers then gave Evans and her colleagues more detailed
feedback. And that’s when Evans asked Fulcrum to run the development centre.
“We needed to validate the competencies and start introducing them to
managers,” she says.

Participants
volunteered or were chosen from across the borough so that a range of different
functions and levels of management was represented. Before attending the centre
they all filled in a self-assessment questionnaire matching them against the
competencies.

The
development centre itself was a mix of assessment exercises – including
simulated in-trays, report writing and role play – and feedback. This came from
each other and from personnel staff who had been trained as assessors.

By
the end of the three days, managers were expected to draw up development plans
for themselves based on filling in the gaps in their competencies.

There
was another issue at the heart of the competence framework that the development
centre also had to test – that of ethnic diversity.

A
few years before Evans began drawing up management competencies, she was
involved in an action research project aimed at finding out why there were so
few black and ethnic minority managers in senior jobs. “One of the things this
threw up was the need for more transparency around what we expect from our
managers,” she says.

As
a result, Evans ran a positive action programme alongside the development
centre for ethnic minority participants. They met with a member of the HR team
to talk through some of the issues arising out of the development centre.

Mentors

They
were also put in touch with a mentor to help follow up their development plans
and they were encouraged to network with each other. 

Feedback
from black managers suggests they found it a valuable support, but it is too
early to say how the competencies will help with their career progression.

The
development centre was a tremendous success in that it made clear Evans and her
team had got the framework right.

But
it only touched 40 of Lewisham’s managers. The competencies are designed for
everyone who manages staff – about 1,200 people. There is still a lot of work
to do. Evans knows this. “At the moment the competencies are still more a
statement of our ambition,” she says.

Now
there are plans afoot to bring everyone on board. To start with, she is using
her budget savings to run a development centre for a further 12 managers.

More
importantly, Lewisham is introducing a performance evaluation or appraisal
system this month. This will build competencies into managers’ personal
development plans and ultimately link them into the council’s service, or
business, plan.

“People
will be set work objectives and will have to indicate key competencies they
need to achieve those objectives,” Evans says. “At the following review their
performance will be evaluated against their objectives and their competencies.”

Evans
believes this will be the real test of the competencies. “If they are robust,
they should work for the rest of organisation,” she says with confidence.

Over
the next few months 1,200 managers will take part in one-day workshops
introducing them to the performance evaluation system.

Evans
hopes to be able to carry out some worthwhile evaluation at the end of this
year with a view to influencing the service plan next year.

Once
performance evaluation is up and running, the management learning team will
have to turn its attention to the recruitment process.

“We
should be able to move quite quickly in introducing competencies into
recruitment, although we might have to change our procedures a bit,” she says.

Changing
a culture is a long-term project. But Evans works in a political environment
where there is a tension between providing quick results and getting it right.

With
13 years’ training and development experience at Lewisham under her belt, she
understands the dilemma.

“Residents
don’t want to wait around years for the organisation to move itself. But as an
HR professional I know it will take three or four years to bed in our
competencies,” she says.

Evans
has to hope the council leadership will stick with it – she is confident that
the competencies will help Lewisham managers to work smarter.

“Managers
will waste less time and will get more out of the people they manage.

“And
if they are more effective as people managers then people will be more
energised and motivated to provide better services,” she says.

Vision,
values and competencies

What
it means to be a manager in the London Borough of Lewisham

Vision

Together
we will make Lewisham the best place in London to live, work and learn

Values
– Put people first
– Invest in employees
– Value diversity
– Promote openness and honesty

Competencies
Continuous improvement
   Inspirational leadership
   Thinking broadly
   Change focus
– Working together
   Working in partnership
   Influencing
   Communication
– Tackling service issues
   Problem solving
   Decision making
– Delivering services
  Planning and implementation
  Customer focus
  Self management
  Achieving results

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