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In an age when training departments are often the first to come under scrutiny, Patrick McCann and Dorothea Bannerman-Bruce offer this guide to making your training team indispensable
Training teams have traditionally been perceived as the shrinking violets of the business service support function, leaving profile-raising activities to our marketing colleagues. However, we all now work in an era where scrutiny by management on discretionary spend means it is vital for learning and development teams to raise their profile and demonstrate their value to the firm. Here are 10 suggestions to help teams achieve this.
Anticipate, understand, challenge and define the brief.
Predict what your firm will need to achieve its strategic objectives. Do you need to impact more effectively in meetings? Tighter financial recording? Clearer communication? Spend significant time ascertaining what is going on. What is causing the issue? Why is training the answer? Resist the temptation to accept an ill-defined brief.
Involve and acknowledge stakeholders and audience in creative, design and delivery.
Make sure that what you create works for the business, uses the right language and becomes ‘us’ not ‘us and them’. It is important for the audience to feel part of the process. Creativity is important – and it does not have to cost a thing. Lawyers typically have an uncreative reputation, but this is not always so. Get them to help you create an engaging, energetic and effective solution.
Focus on core and differentiating knowledge, skills and approaches.
We will always need to deliver learning that equips your people with key skills – drafting, negotiations and the like. The really valuable delivery will focus on critical differentiation points – how your partners look after clients between deals, how your lawyers understand client drivers, how your secretaries support their lawyers. An eye on the ‘look and feel’ of your service can pay dividends.
Move delivery in-house; challenge and support your own delivery team.
Equipping your team to ‘front’ your offering stimulates its members and enhances your overall credibility within the business; we do not always need outside expertise. Train your own technical lawyers to deliver material in non-traditional ways – if you can engage your learners in the room, it is far more likely they will use what they have learnt after the session and value your contribution.
Work your champions, educate and empower managers, convert the cynics.
Your management team is a key resource to prepublicise your work. Also instrumental are your in-business champions; find them, brief them, hold them accountable and acknowledge their work. Do not forget to develop your people managers to incorporate learning into the workplace. We find post-course action-planning meetings effective here.
Agree appropriate measurements: who wants to see what?
This can vary wildly. Is this a rollout? Are we seeking enhanced performance? Better client feedback? Awareness to be raised? Easier said than done – the business is not always sure. Take an overview. Does your team have boardroom access internally? Are you benchmarking yourselves in the market, entering awards, speaking at conferences?
Be success-orientated: identify, facilitate, measure, highlight, communicate.
Work out how you will know whether something has been successful, such as a reduction in work-in-progress days or improved grammar in communications. Be careful what you measure, you will not have time or resources to measure everything. Highlight successful outcomes. A useful way to do this is to ask participants what they have learnt. How confident do they now feel? What are they going to do differently? What difference have their managers noticed? Give feedback to managers, circulate action plans to encourage managers to support the participant. Communicate successes from your work back into the firm.
Brand the service offering.
If you cannot encapsulate in five or fewer words what the aim of the programme is, go back to your training needs analysis. If you can brand, get the message out there – it creates energy, focuses the mind, brings about organisational change, creates prestige, looks corporate, increases confidence and gives lawyers something to sell to clients. We are mad on this – some brands we have used include Ascent, Excelerator, Springboard, Stellar. Potentially not very ‘City’, but it works.
Rules of engagement, not return on investment: focus feedback forward, increase learner and manager responsibility.
Focus on engagement rather than investment. Get the learner to identify the actions within the session – learning is a catalyst for change, measure that, not the session. Think: action, action, action. Again, involve your managers here. After all, they get the immediate benefit. Get external exposure; write, speak, win awards. This really helps you to up your game – we all enhance our service delivery when we are being watched. Our experience is that it helps to focus the mind, challenges your assumptions, increases your own learning and builds confidence.
Finally, the most important tip:
Be optimistic,confident, energetic and relentless.
No one said this job would be easy. Having an expectant, hopeful and enduring approach will help you in a law firm. Your role is to be a positive person; there are enough risk-identifiers out there.
Patrick McCann is head of training and Dorothea Bannerman-Bruce is the training and development adviser at Berwin Leighton Paisner
BLP won the award for Excellence in Training this year at The Lawyer HR Awards