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Interview: Award-winning learning with no budget

We asked Michelle Coates, the L&D Professional of the Year in the Charity Learning Awards, about induction, innovation and creating engaging learning on a shoestring. 

14th Jan 2020
Editor TrainingZone
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Award winning team is holding trophy in hands. Silhouettes of many hands in sunset.
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Michelle Coates

Michelle Coates is L&D Officer at World Vision UK and recently won the L&D Professional of the Year Charity Learning Award 2019. World Vision works together with children, their communities, supporters and partners to transform the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children.

World Vision International encourages staff to use a ‘Kaizen’ approach to challenges and process change, with in-house ‘Sensei’ available to help facilitation. Training involves progressing through various stages, such as green belt and black belt. As an aspiring green belt herself, Michelle describes the step-by-step Kaizen method, using the ‘lean six sigma’ methodology, as a brilliant way to solve problems.

Firstly, congratulations on becoming L&D Professional of the Year at the Charity Learning Awards 2019! What does this achievement mean to you and the charity you work for World Vision UK?

Michelle Coates: For World Vision UK, it's good to be recognised for being change makers. It’s also been a privilege to share with the Charity Learning Consortium members the Kaizen philosophy and lean six sigma tools that we’ve been using to effect change in our organisation. We’re excited about where we are going and know there’s a lot of potential still to be tapped.  

For me, I’m fairly new in an L&D role so it’s very affirming to know I’m on the right track and just gives me that boost to keep on innovating, learning and providing a valuable and meaningful service to all World Vision UK colleagues.  

Among many other things, you were responsible for transforming the induction process at World Vision UK with hardly any budget. How did you come up with the idea to change this process and how did you go about implementing it?

Michelle Coates: When I first started at the organisation myself, I experienced the oboarding process and handover documents first-hand and didn’t feel it was very engaging for staff. It was purely focused on the legal needs and they were done in a manual, dry way. Those are still needed, but they didn’t have to be the driver. I heard that the director of continuous improvement from World Vision International was visiting and was going to teach some people the Kaizen method, by going through an actual event, based on real time improvement needs. I had to push to get onboarding on this agenda, and for people to come and support it. It was the best thing we could have done, as everyone could see the need for doing this. By the end, everyone had bought into making changes for onboarding.  

World Vision UK team


What would you say are the clear signs of a good induction process?

Michelle Coates: It should be designed for the people going through it. It needs to be aligned with the charity’s values – we have six and the most relevant one was: ‘we value people’. One of our key outcomes was that we wished people to feel valued and welcomed into the organisation. We also wanted to make it clear why they were doing it, what the benefits were to them. It’s also key that it’s accessible at the time of need, as and when they can fit it around their working life.  

Nurturing a learning culture is no easy feat, yet you have effectively shaped the way people see, value and commit to development at World Vision UK. Can you talk us through some of the hurdles you faced along this journey?

Michelle Coates: I imagine we have the same barriers as most in our sector for learning culture: budget and time. Most of us personally are doing the role of several people, so taking the time to develop yourself and/or your team when you’ve got so much to deliver doesn’t easily happen without intention. We’re trying to instill reflective learning and application techniques within all our learning programmes to help embed learning and make it more relevant. Otherwise, the learning stops when the event does. So this is something we’re testing at the moment.

With budget, you just have to be really clear about the impact of anything externally sourced, ensuring that it impacts the maximum number of people and is in line with the organisation’s needs. Otherwise, we need to be creative in finding alternative ways to meet that need. We’ve had to have more challenging conversations about learning requests and I think most people understand why we need to do that.

What guidance would you give to busy L&D professionals on a tight budget who aspire to develop a more thriving learning organisation?

Michelle Coates: Along with the Kaizen way and thought leaders, such as Michelle Parry-Slater, I’d say don’t wait for perfection. Also, it’s important to realise that you can make small changes that are ‘better’, even if they’re not ‘wow’ changes.

Doing it in this bitesize way makes it less of a constraint on budget and time, and often you can fit it in to your ‘business as usual’. Rather than pulling people off to do a large project, you can have a few well placed conversations and get on with it.

How important is it for you to show the impact of learning on the individual and the wider business? Could you tell us how you go about doing this?

Michelle Coates: It isn't something that’s been visible in the past for us. We had previously just used happy sheet data or attendance figures, but this doesn’t really tell you anything particularly meaningful about L&D impact on the individual or business.

This still needs work for future years to make the data better, but it’s been a good start to show how and where people are engaging. This coming year we've been more intentional about the outcomes we have set and have put in place measures to track this. We’re hoping that by the end of the next business year (which is September for us) that we can prove impact and how we are adding value to our strategic and business goals.

We’re now at the start of 2020, so what are your plans for the year ahead?

Michelle Coates: We’re trialling a new way of leadership training. We have a pilot group going through now and so we’ll be learning from this and smoothing it out ready for the next cohort and beyond. We still have some work to do in this area – we have some leadership topics that we want to curate content for and package and sign post. We’re making changes as we go based on feedback.

We also want to be more intentional and clear about talent management, so we’ll be looking to see the best way to go about this, researching, testing, implementing and learning.

With regards to lighter ways to engage staff in learning, we’re launching Book Circles in the new year. We’ve chosen eight texts that are relevant to where we want to get to as an organisation and that we hope will influence behaviours too, and have someone leading on each of the books. It will take about three months for each text. There’s been positive noises from staff about this and we’ve also added texts like Lean In - Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, as we, like many organisations, would like to encourage more women into senior leadership roles. This is an informal way to start those conversations, which is very exciting. It looks like 2020 is set to be another busy year.  

Interested in learning more about training on a budget? Read Training spend: eight ways to maximise your ROI.

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