Development area

Technological advances and shifting client and business needs make staff development essential to keep pace with the changing environment. But first it is sensible to ensure you are aware of the skills your team already has, some of which they may never think to use at work. It is still a truism to say that staff can be creative, resourceful and imaginative – except for the eight hours a day they work for you. For example, is anybody into graphics? Can anybody draw? Then use them to jazz up your policies, procedures and paperwork. Give the team an identity.

But it’s not just about having the right words in place or to hand. Words alone are empty hostages to fortune. Too often the “delivery” truck turns up with nothing on board. We don’t change things merely by repeating the mantras of change. “Staff development” is one of those mandatory phrases that infuriates and staff might feel it is not worth the paper it is written on. Some organisations have cynically exploited schemes such as Investors in People; others have found them a useful framework for genuine development.

Like “enabling” and “empowering”, “development” is not something you impose; it is a process of growth that you can encourage but you cannot force. The more you try to compel compliance with your idea of staff development, the less it will happen. As a manager, your own learning and willingness to learn will be a powerful influence on your team. You do a day’s course; you have already briefed the team why you’re interested in this particular training, and you come back and tell them all about it and how you are going to use it. If you do it and expect staff to do it, they will; and we all get a lot more out of training if we pass on our learning to others. (We’re also not so keen on wasting time on training that is irrelevant, impractical and a chance to skive.)

The motives for encouraging employee development are obvious: staff with higher skills perform better, are more motivated and more committed to remaining in the organisation. And they are more likely to progress to more senior roles internally rather than look outside for promotion.

The challenge for social care managers is to come up with solutions that suit their teams – a potentially mind-boggling process considering the array of training and development services available.

Orthodox learning, of course, has a major role to play, with courses and qualifications as valid today as they ever were in grooming staff for more responsibility. But informal learning has a growing role to play in shaping successful employees. New roles and experiences offer opportunities for development, while coaching by managers creates a process for cascading knowledge and experience through the organisation. Encouraging staff to broaden their experience through social and community activities outside work can also reap benefits.

But although the main objective of staff development must be the effectiveness of the team or organisation as a whole, it is crucial for managers to recognise that everyone is different, learns differently and will respond better to some techniques than others.

So it is important to involve team members in identifying their needs and aspirations. A balance must be struck between an individual’s learning wishes and business needs. Development should be flexible but it also needs to be focused.

And it must be given a profile within the organisation that encourages staff to respond positively. Senior managers must promote the benefits of training and learning by undertaking these activities themselves and leading their own teams in skills development. How often do we see the most senior managers drafted in to development days or in-house conferences to deliver the opening keynote speech? They commend staff learning together and propound the importance of the message being put across on that day, only to promptly bugger off afterwards because they have “things to do” back at the office. So the message is not that important that they should stay for it.

Staff development can also be risky: a lively, ambitious, experimental team may go far and too fast and leave you behind. And most organisations like to be in control, so a team of people buzzing with new ideas and energy may be experienced as a threat rather than an opportunity.

Nonetheless, people’s development, individually and collectively, depends on generosity. Not so much the generosity of the organisation as the willingness to let others flourish, and your attitude as a manager (and personality) will lead the way.

Almost every aspect of what you do as a manager touches on staff development: team meetings, supervision, delegation and your own team training sessions. But your intimate knowledge of people’s work – listening to them, and discussing details and ideas – will help them to develop their interests and expertise. Organisations that directly employ support staff, such as domestic workers and cooks, should ensure everyone is included.

Organisations will grow only if their staff do. And as a manager you are holding the organisational watering can. So get watering.

John Belcher is chief executive of Anchor Housing Trust, John Burton is an independent social care consultant and Kathryn Stone is director of Voice UK.

“When I was…

…manager of a large local authority care home, staff development was key. We felt we were at the forefront of practice. Ideas were welcome from any source; it didn’t matter who you were. We made great demands on the training section. But such development with its energy and risk frightened the social services department, the councillors and unions, who all seemed to prefer staff development on paper rather than in practice.” (JB)

…running assertiveness training for women courses for a local authority, a manager complained that his ‘girls weren’t as good as they used to be’ after the courses. And that he wouldn’t be ‘sending any more of his girls on them’.” (KS)

Rubbish tips

  • Staff development equals training.
  • Send people on courses – anything they want to do first come, first served.
  • Staff will develop if you make them.
  • Staff development is another box to tick.

Top tips

  • Be generous: allow others to flourish and then take your share of the credit.
  • Expect everyone who goes on a course to bring their learning back to the team and to act on it.
  • Celebrate individual achievements.
  • Help staff to see the links between their individual needs and the business needs of the organisation.


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