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Case Study: Employee development hits the right chord

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Linda Doe, founder of Psychology at Work looks at how her organisation managed to implement a successful change programme at the Scottish Executive while improving employee development.


Have you ever been involved in a major change programme or the restructuring of an entire directorate? You will no doubt recognise or imagine some of the challenges this presents or you may be considering options for employee development in your own organisation. Either way, you may find our experience at the Scottish Executive an interesting and inspiring one.

The Scottish Executive worked in close partnership with Linda Doe, a Chartered occupational psychologist, and her training and development colleagues from Psychology at Work. The partnership took a psychological approach to employee development, as they wanted to make significant and lasting change to attitudes, behaviour and morale. Linda describes some of the interventions that were successfully carried out over the 16 month period to April this year.

Why employee development was necessary

In 2002, the Scottish Executive embarked on a highly ambitious change management programme. They began to restructure an entire directorate into cross-functional teams. Traditionally, their teams worked in ‘silos’ and there was very little learning and development taking place across functions.

As a result of the new structure, a large number of individuals were promoted to management and supervisory level. This represented a great opportunity for development.

Making it happen

The science of psychology embraces three aspects of mental life:

• our behaviours
• thought, and
• emotions

All of these influence how we experience, respond to and influence our world of work. Most importantly all of these influence how confident and willing we are to embrace change and develop our potential.

Whilst we or an organisation may see change as providing a platform for ‘development’, many fear it and see it as a criticism of current working practices.

One of the first things we did was to find out how employees were feeling about the new roles, behaviours and attitudes that were now expected of them. Not what they thought about it all, but what they felt about things. You have to work with peoples’ emotions to really make change stick. We found anger, resentment and fear – about what change would mean for individuals. But we also found excitement, ambition and willingness to be involved – once we supported people to reveal their feelings openly.

Communication

People are rarely motivated to engage in development unless they understand the reasons behind it and what is expected of them. This requires clear, assertive, sensitive and unambiguous communication from those who represent the organisations expectations. People need to know why and how the organisation is developing, what the implications are for them and their role.

We worked with the Scottish Executive internal change team to ensure delivery of a clear message. We coached them as a team and on a one-to-one basis. This helped us to understand their own preferred style of communication and to demonstrate how this change programme was also an opportunity to develop their own communication skills.

With employee consultation, it became clear that people needed to be developed in two ways: both as teams and as individuals. We provided one-to-one coaching, career planning and personal development, acknowledging as always that people differ greatly in how they wish to develop and their confidence and desire to do so. We worked with all teams across the directorate.

Team work

The aims included:
• To develop team managers into leaders
• For teams to ‘gel’ and to become as effective as quickly as possible
• To create effective team players, confident and motivated in their team working skills

We worked on a team-by-team basis across the directorate, starting with the six management and project teams, comprising between six and 12 people.

We held diagnostic sessions, in which we assessed the objectives held by each team. We asked individuals to complete confidential questionnaires about the team and their individual personalities. We set clear objectives and goals for development with team members. We worked one-to-one with team leaders to build their confidence and create a personal development plan.

Following this diagnostic and confidence-building phase, we worked with each team for two days, away from the workplace. We designed the content and style of workshop sessions to match the needs we had assessed. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is rarely successful in developing people with diverse development needs.

Given ‘space’ and time away from the workplace, people can feel free to express their thoughts – about the organisation, change and each other. Using psychological skills, we were able to support the teams to develop relationships based on understanding of personality, work style and need for support.

Workshop themes:

Topics included:
• How to manage people to ‘let go of the past’ and overcome resistance to change
• Leading change: overcoming poor morale
• Change and personality differences
• Personality and diversity: how to create and maintain productive and comfortable relationships
• Effective communication
• Tackling conflict within the team
• Decision making and problem solving
• Influencing skills for managers and supervisors
• Coaching skills
• Managing pressure and workload
• Time management
• Understanding team dynamics

16 months on, what’s really different at the Scottish Executive?

The Scottish Executive have experienced great improvements in individuals’ confidence and working relationships and now has a directorate of fully functioning, restructured teams.

Communication

Communication has greatly improved.

We have greater:
• Openness
• Understanding
• Respect for differences
• Honesty and free speech
• Assertiveness

We have made challenges we would not have been confident to make.
We listen to each other – before, we talked over each other and didn’t even notice.

Why did it work so well?

We supported the process of organisational change through developing people. We did not provide ‘training’, delivered without truly understanding employee needs.

Through listening and challenging individuals’ ideas of their limitations, everyone was able to move on in some way, whether personally or in their career.

This is what Psychology at Work means by employee development.

What was said

Comments from the Scottish Executive:

Derek Mackintosh, service head for the Scottish Executive said: “Our change programme was extremely complex. It required team members to change the way they carried out their tasks and to learn new ones – many were reluctant to do so.

“The independent input from Linda Doe and her team was invaluable in helping us through the change process. Everyone although challenged appreciated the straight-forward and honest approach which Linda brought.

The sessions which Linda ran were universally well received and many members of the team have said to me that they were amazed at what they learnt about themselves and their colleagues.”

A training liaison officer commented: “The massive change process was made much more interesting and challenging with Psychology at Work’s input. Thank you for your professionalism”

“We wouldn’t have changed anything about your input, it exceeded our expectations and objectives”, remarked the corporate services management team.


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