Listen and learn

With a budget of more than 9.3bn of public money and responsibility for addressing issues that impact on the productivity and competitiveness of the nation, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) was originally created in 2001 as the product of one of the largest mergers in history. Now employing 4,000 staff in 47 offices across England, we at the LSC have unique experience of bringing together huge numbers of people from multiple organisations, and successfully winning their confidence.

The LSC was formed after the abolition of 74 independent organisations, and we inherited all the staff from the preceding bodies – around 5,000 people. The sheer size of the merger and the number of organisations involved meant that we faced a major challenge in addressing huge organisational and cultural issues as we established ourselves as a body our own right. It was imperative that staff confidence was secured as quickly as possible, so that we could begin to deliver on our responsibilities to the public who fund us.

Taking stock
By 2003, the management team decided we needed to ask our employees how they were feeling about the organisation they were now all a part of. This would enable us to look at how staff perception was impacting on both individual performance and the performance of the organisation.

Staff surveys have now become a key management tool for the LSC, providing both an effective thermometer reading for the present, and sign-posting priorities for the future. Access to the detailed, honest views of employees gives us a clear picture of where efforts need to be focused to enable people to best do their jobs, and therefore move the whole organisation forward.

Thousands of staff were asked hundreds of questions in our first staff survey in 2003, and the responses were enlightening – if sometimes painfully honest. In particular, it uncovered some gaps in the organisation, and management wasn’t reflected in a very positive light, which re-focused the management team’s priorities.

Implementing change
The LSC consequently began a dramatic transformation, starting last year with the re-structuring of leadership and the establishment of new organisational values: trust, expertise, ambition and urgency. The new leadership and performance management structures included a new senior management group, and are helping to transform the LSC’s internal culture.

Some of the changes made since 2003 have been uncomfortable – for example, the organisation has been downsized by 20%. Morale was expected to drop, but it didn’t, because the downsizing also brought greater clarity.

Two years since the first survey, the 2005 results have been extremely positive, and show great improvements in all areas. This is a testament not just to the progress that has been made and the positive culture that is being created across the LSC, but also to the power of listening to your staff, and ultimately letting them inform your business strategy.

The results confirm that our successful internal transformation is allowing us to focus fully on delivering our goals. Improvements across the organisation – particularly in leadership, communication, performance, reward and trust – are clear evidence of the early achievements of the new leadership team.

Looking ahead
The change in our culture, demonstrated by the 2005 survey results, may still be in its infancy, but it will continue to fuel the perception of the LSC as a professional organisation committed to working in partnership with the education sector.

We will be looking to build on the LSC’s strengths and address its remaining weaknesses. These have been clearly identified with the help of the 2005 survey, which provided valuable insight that will inform our priorities for the future.

The LSC has learned a great deal from the private sector over the past few years, and has recruited a private sector chairman and chief executive. But the private sector can now learn something from the LSC. Our experience suggests that every organisation stands to gain from using staff perception surveys as a core business tool.

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