Reaching for the stars

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 1 June 2013 in Interviews
Interviews

In our series on L&D practitioners who picked up prizes at TJ’s 2012 Awards, Seun Robert-Edomi talks to the Hanover Housing Association, winner of the best operational programme

A project involving business, IT and L&D that led to a new integrated housing management system was rewarded at last year's TJ Awards.

The Hanover Housing Association collected the golden gong for best operational programme at November's awards, ahead of Motability Operations and BaxterStorey, who came in second and third respectively.

The company's L&D team was commended for developing subject specialists within the business as trainers, who delivered training to 600 staff across five regional offices so all could be brought up-to-date with the new integrated housing management system. This, in turn, was then delivered across the organisation, leading to more effective customer service. The L&D team also worked with external experts to develop a customised e-learning package.

Graham O'Connell, category judge and independent coach, said: "It was a close call between the top three in this category as all had their individual strengths. However, Hanover just had the edge because of their ambitious challenge."

To meet the demands of a modern and growing housing association, Hanover needed to upgrade its housing management system (OPENHousing). And in 2011, it implemented a major system upgrade to establish:

  • integrated processes in key aspects of operations including resident contact, lettings, income management and managing housing stock
  • a new method for recording and presenting customer information through a 'customer service dashboard'. Previously, there was no efficient co-ordination of resident information, which undermined customer service
  • accurate, accessible data required for regulatory compliance.

The OPENHousing upgrade marked a step change in Hanover's use of technology. With an investment of £700,000, an effective learning programme was essential, especially in terms of improving customer service and business processes.

The main challenge was to decide how to deliver training for the new system as the software company that provided the service had no trainers.

Hanover decided to second staff from within the business as people coming from outside the organisation may not have been familiar with its business processes. Furthermore, increasing the in-house training team was seen as a good thing as the new trainers could be involved in other projects in the future.

Every member of staff was invited to apply to be a seconded trainer and more than 20 applications were received from those who felt they could contribute. The applicants were interviewed and required to do a short training session on a subject of their choice to demonstrate whether they were capable of presenting in front of people.

As a result of this process, nine seconded trainers were recruited and over seven weeks each was trained, coached and developed. This cost £14,000 in all and included a formally-recognised qualification.

When it came to delivery, there were six training rooms running at the same time in four regions across the country. All materials for the training course were provided by the L&D team.

The feedback since the training has been very positive. Staff received high scores in terms of how they functioned as trainers. Because they were Hanover staff, they already had knowledge of the business and this led to them being highly rated by trainees.

Stella Collins, category judge and director of Stellar Learning, praised the scheme: "The challenge was well managed with few resources and was a thoroughly integrated project involving the business, IT and L&D. It's provided a lasting legacy of training expertise out in the business."

Speaking to TJ about winning the gold award in its category, Andy Lancaster, learning and development manager at Hanover Housing Association, said: "I think we were really excited that we were in a category that wasn't just not-for-profit. We were benchmarking this project against commercial companies - and there were some notable names that had been shortlisted.

"We were excited just to have been nominated. Even though we thought we had done something unique, after the bronze and silver awards had been presented we thought our chances had gone. But when they announced us as the gold winner, we were absolutely astonished. A small number of our seconded trainers had been invited to come to the dinner and the buzz amongst our group was awesome.

"As a new trainer, to have your practice recognised by experienced external peers is brilliant."

Having a "really good blended approach" was a big factor in contributing to the win, while creating e-learning manuals to support the training also helped, Lancaster said.

"We were bold in the sense that we put our trust in people who had not trained before and were confident that they could deliver this level of training. We really believed in these people, which was as important as the training delivery. This would have been a big challenge for an experienced practitioner.

"The induction programme and the hands-on training programme were exceptional. To get the seconded trainers to the required level of technical knowledge and competence in seven weeks was a great achievement. Creating e-learning and other manuals to help staff master the new system and processes was a huge help. A key part of our success was that we used a really good blended approach - it wasn't all just based in the classroom."

Lancaster urged businesses looking to do something similar not to underestimate the impact of developing technical in-house trainers - it should be seen as a "good approach for talent development".

He added: "I think the key is to look for talented people who, while they have never delivered training before, have the underpinning skills to become a trainer - as organisational development teams, we don't always look for this.

"Look out for people who are confident and have the potential to be trainers. Then, invest in them richly, which is a key value at Hanover. On reflection, we'd recommend not shortcutting on providing an accredited qualification as part of the development - it gave our newly-seconded trainers immense confidence because they had received rewarding and recognised training.

"A large number of the seconded trainers have subsequently gained promotion in managerial roles for the first time since they have been on the programme. So the knock-on effect of this development approach has been great. Delivering training has proved to be an excellent talent development tool."

For more on this year's awards, visit www.trainingjournal.com/awards/

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