Sunday, June 19, 2016

Northern Powerhouse - Changing Mindsets

Rachel Burnham writes: Last Wednesday, in my role as Public Policy Adviser for CIPD Manchester, I had the pleasure of chairing a Public Policy meeting for the branch at which Ed Cox, the Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR North), discussed with us the ‘Northern Powerhouse – Rhetoric or Reality’.   The IPPR North is the northern base of a think tank focused on public policy issues and they have carried many pieces of research and produced publications on the Northern Powerhouse and related topics.  Since our meeting last week they have launched a ‘Blueprint for a Great North Plan’, which sets out the steps they believe stakeholders across the northern region need to be taking now to make the most of the Northern Powerhouse idea. 
This post is based on my personal reflections from this session and on my additional reading on the Northern Powerhouse.  Here is a link to a Flipboard which brings together some of these reports & articles and includes a basic introduction to what is meant by the Northern Powerhouse.
The idea
One of the points from our meeting was just how much the idea of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ has captured the public imagination – certainly here in Manchester – if you are reading from down south that may of course not be the case at all!   Almost unlike any other government initiative, this one has fallen on open ears in the North  – that is not to say that everyone shares the same understanding or that there aren’t critiques of it, but it has achieved a widespread recognition at least.   It picks up on our metropolitan pride, whether for Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle or Leeds; builds on our historic achievements from the industrial age; fits with more recent re-energising of these cities, helped by actions such as the move by the BBC to the Greater Manchester area; and of course, taps into the widespread irritation with the over-dominance by London and the South-East of almost every aspect of political and economic life in this country.  No wonder we like the sound of the Northern Powerhouse!  It feels about time!
However, the ideas behind the Northern Powerhouse are about more than northern pride, but are also about how we create a thriving and sustainable national economy that works for the whole country.  So, don’t stop reading if you don’t live in the North!
The reality
The northern economy is huge – by northern I’m referring to an area that stretches from North Wales and Sheffield across the North West and Yorkshire to Newcastle.   The size of this economy is 25% of the UK economy and if the north were a country in its own right, it would have the 8th largest economy of all European countries measured through GDP.  However, the economy of the north is growing more slowly and productivity is lower than other European countries, with the exception of Greece. 
The UK has a very large difference between the growth rate and prosperity of its capital and the other regions, particularly the North, compared to other European countries. Whilst London is continuing to grow, there are questions about the limits of this agglomeration and this has raised the issue about whether it would be better for the country to seek to rebalance economic growth through encouraging growth across the northern cities of the UK – the Northern Powerhouse.  This would be a major shift in our approach to regional and industrial policy.
However, there are many challenges facing the north: incomplete transformation from our historical industrial past; the balance of jobs & roles – the north is more effected by the hourglass effect on the numbers and types of skills required; weaknesses in transport and other connectivity issues and the impact of a London-centric approach to policy making and resource allocation. 
George Osborne’s approach has been three pronged, encouraging: agglomeration; connectivity – mainly transport related; and devolution of powers.  These have both been lauded – and also criticised for their party political agenda – as one way of generating some Conservative traction in the Labour heartlands of the North and devolution as a way of distancing Westminster from the impact of the austerity measures.
The possibility
But this approach to the Northern Powerhouse isn’t the only one.  We could take other approaches which give much more emphasis on economic growth and prosperity for all. 
We could focus on a different understanding of ‘city’ and rather than the single city approach, as in London, in which all the cities are subsumed into a single agglomeration and instead adopt a more European approach valuing the contribution made by a number of medium and smaller sized cities to a wider city-area ie the North of England.   This would recognise the different strengths of each of the major cities in the region and also the part to be played by smaller ‘cities’ such as Warrington, Burnley and Durham – which interestingly seem to be growing more rapidly than the larger cities in recent times.
It would mean investing not just in improved transport links, but crucially in education, skills and other measures designed to increase productivity and innovation.  This is particularly where we in L&D and the wider HR profession have a part to play.    And this is one of the areas where devolution may have the potential to enable us to exert influence over policy developments in education and particularly the skills agenda to more closely meet local and regional needs.  
There are many hurdles to  be faced in making the ideas of the Northern Powerhouse anything more than an appealing phrase, particularly if this wider vision is embraced, not  least the uncertainty over the UK’s place in Europe.  But I think they are worth tackling.  And I think there is a role for L&D and our colleagues in the wider HR field in this.
Rachel Burnham
Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

L&D and HR - Better Together

Rachel Burnham writes: The #LDInsight chat question discussed this week was ‘How can L&D support other HR functions eg recruitment, talent management, ER?’ and as is usually the case this generated lots of discussion, thought and some disagreement.  Here is a link to the Storify if you want to find out more.

I was particularly struck again by the difference between those, like myself, who see L&D as a part of HR and those who see L&D as quite distinct and separate from HR.  This issue has come up before on other occasions in #LDInsight chats.   This is familiar territory for me as it is a subject that almost always comes up with each new group that I tutor for the CIPD Certificate in L&D for MOL Learn.  

My experience is that very many people coming into the L&D profession come seeing L&D as different and as distinct from HR.   This is usually because in their organisation L&D (or training) is organised as a separate team from HR, perhaps with few links (or few positive links) with HR and a different focus to their work.  And of course, there are some ‘trainers’ whose work is customer focused, supporting their organisation’s clients to use their products and services effective (eg with specialist software or equipment); and there are other ‘trainers’ from training providers, who sometimes model their approach more from an educational model of delivery.  It is easy to imagine that the whole world mirrors your own experience – I’ve certainly done that and often people starting out in L&D only have limited networks within the L&D profession to challenge that perception.

One of the joys of my work is encouraging conversations between fellow students to explore the differences and similarities between their organisations and how they organise their L&D work, including that relationship with HR.  And in supporting them in developing wider networks amongst the HR profession, including L&Ders, so that they have access to other perspectives and get a deep understanding of the importance of context.  I usually learn lots from this too about different sectors, different organisational cultures, specific niche markets and so on.

Sometimes, though this view of the separateness and distinctiveness of L&D and HR is also held with people with many years of experience of L&D.  I know individuals who cite poor experiences of HR within their organisation or business sector and who identify this as the root of their wish to distance themselves from a bureaucratic and rule-driven HR.  And of course there are undoubtedly HR functions who are like this.  And many HR functions who are not.  There are even some L&D teams, who I might quite like to distance myself from –  content-dumping, over-powerpoint using, push button e-learning compliance chasing, irrelevant to real organisational needs and slow to respond teams.

I think there is real value in seeing L&D as part of HR.  L&D and the other specialisms that make up HR are a bit like a family or group of house mates sharing a house – at our best when we work together.  Sometimes there are disagreements between house mates/family members about X not pulling their weight and doing their share of the cleaning.  Sometimes, the writing on the shopping list is a bit unclear and the wrong items are bought by the designated shopper.   And sometimes, everyone is sat in their own room each watching a TV programme on a different device and not speaking to each other – though in fact everyone is watching the same programme.

In fact, we cannot afford not to work together.  Just think of the damage done to an organisation when recruitment and L&D responsibilities for induction don’t work effectively.  Or when reward policies pull in the opposite direction to the change programme OD is working on. Or when line managers find that HR rules ‘prevent’ them from using ideas developed on a recent L&D programme.

But I would draw the net wider too.  I think we in L&D need to be talking and working with other teams and stakeholders too.  It is increasingly important that we have effective working relationships with IT, given how important technology is to enabling modern workplace learning.  We need to be connecting with Internal Comms – again there are lots of potential overlaps here particularly with engagement and seeing learning opportunities as a campaign rather than a one-off programme.   I also think we need links with teams such as Health & Safety and Compliance/Quality and finance.  Which is, of course, in addition to working alongside operational teams and their managers.

One of the things that I think helps to get this working together, is being clear about where the focus is in L&D.   For me, Mervyn Dinnen nailed it with his tweet in the #LDInsight chat when he said ‘Only one strategy. The business strategy. That’s the one you need to understand and speak.’  We share responsibility for delivering on this with the rest of HR and all the other functions and teams across the organisation.  

In L&D we are starting, at last, to focus more on impact on peformance, not just learning.   And this is something we need to work together on with the rest of HR and across the organisation.  It isn’t something that can be tackled in isolation.  As being our ‘precious’. 

If we focus on the business strategy and performance improvement then we will need to work together.  And we will be better together.

(The title of this blog was tugging at my memory and I realised that ‘Better Together’ is the title of a track by Jack Johnson, so here is the link.  Have rather surprised myself by remembering this piece, as I usually only remember jazz & hymn tunes!  )

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.