Raising skill levels across a workforce of 20,000 people became the ambition of Sheffield City Council after it escaped financial disaster in the mid-1990s. Guy Sheppard reports on a highly-praised runner-up
Establishing uniform standards of service poses special problems for an organisation running everything from libraries and schools to street cleaning and old people's homes.
At Sheffield City Council, the responsibility for achieving this was given to its corporate training consultancy three years ago.
Barbara Duckworth, head of the 20-strong CTC, says training had never been tied to the central aims of the organisation before and, because there was no systematic way of measuring standards and performance, there was no feeling of corporate identity.
"The aim has been to provide better services for the people of Sheffield by raising the skill levels of the people who deliver those services.
"What we are trying to do is make each individual's performance fit in with a council that delivers services in a certain way. We are trying to put corporate standards across the whole organisation," she says.
Last year, the council achieved Investors in People accreditation at the first attempt, and senior management is now preparing for reassessment in December.
Andrew Forrest, learning and development director at the Industrial Society, who chairs the TD2001 judging panel, says IIP was a remarkable achievement for a council that would probably have been one of the worst in the country when it suffered a budget crisis in the mid-1990s.
He says training has played a fundamental part in the change. "The whole senior team is really enthused about developing people and they are all playing their part in doing that."
One example of this was the way responsibility for IIP accreditation was handled by the social services director rather than someone from personnel. "It's not just for trainers to do training, it's for everybody," says Forrest. "The role model that the top people are giving is very important."
Forrest was impressed with the way the objectives of the five-strong executive management team were translated into a development plan for the entire 20,000-strong workforce. "Coaching people were using four or five key priorities over and over again in their training. If an organisation so