Case Study: Supporting Future Leaders at the Learning and Skills Council

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TrainerThe Learning and Skills Council - which aims to make England better skilled and more competitive - has saved over £100,000 on external recruitment costs, in six months, with a new system to develop its next generation of leaders. Now, the LSC plans to run development centres for the next level down in the organisation.

With advertising charges/agency fees, response handling and interview time, the cost of externally recruiting a senior manager can be as much as £35,000. Significant savings can therefore be made if you can identify individuals internally and develop them for your top positions.

This is what the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) realised when it found that relatively few of its executive director posts were being filled through internal promotions.

“We became concerned that we were not doing enough to support our own people and help them rise through the organisation to our top band of management,” said Steve Lewitt, the LSC’s Director of Organisation Development. “All organisations need fresh blood and we were sending a negative message to our staff by not enabling more of our directors to progress to the highest level.”

The LSC has 47 local offices and a national office in Coventry. Its executive directors run the local offices, supported by directors, and manage teams of around 50 people.

Preparation
PSL began by analysing the executive director role, to determine the key competencies, skills and attributes required. The company’s consultants worked closely with the LSC’s HR team to design a two-day development centre with a range of exercises that would test delegates in these areas.

The LSC’s existing executive directors were encouraged to identify internal candidates who had the potential to become future leaders. Fifty directors - of strategy, planning, quality, learning or skills - were initially nominated from across the organisation.

“We allowed people to select themselves out or in,” said Steve Lewitt. “If individuals didn’t want to take part, they didn’t have to.”

Centre activities
PSL ran seven development centres - in London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol and Manchester - which 40 directors attended.

At each centre, the delegates were given the role of a senior manager in a fictitious organisation and they had to undertake a range of in-tray exercises, written exercises, group exercises, discussions and presentations.

“The activities provided a realistic simulation of the typical challenges that an executive director has to deal with,” said Steve Lewitt. “The delegates had to contend with interruptions, missing information and tight deadlines. The exercises gave them the opportunity to demonstrate their competence.”

After each development centre, the delegates were given one-to-one feedback from one of the PSL psychologists who had observed their behaviour. The PSL psychologists also helped each delegate to use the feedback received to create a personal development plan.

“PSL’s psychologists provided very focused and personal feedback,” said Steve Lewitt. “They spent time exploring the motivations and personal style of each delegate, using the evidence that they had seen as well as information from a personality questionnaire. The feedback from delegates has been excellent. They gained important self-insights from the feedback sessions.”

Development into action
The development centres enabled the LSC to identify a talent pool of 30 individuals who are capable of making the move to executive director.

“Some people came out of the development centre and said that if that was what is required to be an executive director then it wasn’t for them,” said Steve Lewitt. “That’s actually very helpful to us.”

PSL worked with the LSC’s HR team to create a series of development options, such as secondment opportunities with partner organisations that would help the delegates to implement their personal development plans. The LSC is also providing one-to-one coaching as further support.

“As a direct result of the development centre approach, we’ve been able to make internal promotions to our Director of Finance role and to several executive director posts,” said Steve Lewitt.

Cascading the approach
The LSC is now planning to run development centres for the next level down in the organisation: heads of department and managers who are looking to move up to director roles.

“Development centres are a resource-intensive exercise and they have confirmed to us that we have a substantial pool of talent within the organisation,” said Steve Lewitt. “Bringing our own people up through the organisation not only saves us money, it also sends a very positive message throughout the organisation that we take the development of our employees seriously.”

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