JEM Retail Consultants providing services in buying and merchandising, Programme Management, IT services and Logistics & Warehousing.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

How To Make CPD Work

I have been a little dismayed at the media coverage of Labour's plan to introduce licensing for teachers as part of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) as it is being portrayed as a method of making it easier to "get rid" of under performing members of staff. Isn't this missing the point of CPD?


I passionately believe that the first responsibility of leadership is to provide people with the opportunity, support, encouragement, guidance and advice to allow them to develop.

In this context I use the word "allow" with care as while I think it is something that everyone is capable of people must want and choose to do it. You can't "develop" others as if they are some kind of photographic negative (for younger readers this is what we used before digital imaging) and this means that you can't threaten anyone into learning new skills, much as you can't beat them until morale improves. Although many have tried!

I've no idea if this is any kind of established training doctrine, no doubt my friends at Training for Advancement (TFA) would be happy to tell me, but in my experience there is a simple truth that affects almost everyone's willingness to learn, and that is that we all enjoy doing the things that we are good at. These are the activities that bring us recognition, they confirm our place in the team and provide us with a feeling of validation and security. They are safe.

By definition these are things that we have done before. That's how we know we are good at them. It also means that we are less inclined to enjoy things that are new to us. How do we know if we are going to be any good at them? Participating in something unknown therefore becomes unsafe, inherently high risk behaviour that is to be avoided if at all possible.

Education is probably a unique environment in this regard as learning new things is the whole point. The "thing we are good at" and therefore enjoy doing may be (ought to be) learning itself. The workplace is very unlikely to resemble this as most of us are employed to complete tasks. We may know that the way in which we are doing this is flawed, but they are are our flaws, and we have come to understand and to love them.

As a Project Manager I encounter this attitude towards change all the time, but is it unavoidable? Well, only if the environment created by leadership fails to encourage and promote personal risk. If, when introducing a new approach to CPD you do so in the context of making it easier to get rid of people that perform poorly it seems to me that this failure is almost guaranteed. Personal development demands acquiring new skills and putting them into practice and this will almost certainly involve a degree of failure. Leadership must accept and embrace this rather than threatening to punish it.

Take project management as an example: you can send someone on a Prince2 training course but it would be unrealistic to expect them to return to the workplace transformed into an expert Project Manager. This is not going to happen. At best they have been provided with a set of tools, rules and guidelines. To learn how to apply these in practice they need experience and support when they make mistakes as this is an inevitable part of learning. It is also particularly true of projects as by their very nature they can't be rehearsed.

If your fledgling Project Manager's first mistake (or second, or third) is met with "I thought you'd been trained" they are likely to run for the hills. Trust me, they already feel whatever the error is more keenly than you can imagine and even spoken in jest these words can destroy any remaining confidence.

I feel I must make the point here that this is not necessarily, or even mostly, about attending courses. I once took over an under performing site as General Manager. One of the first things I did was interview every member of the management team on a one-to-one basis. When asking about CPD I was initially baffled by the response of "I haven't done any because I don't know what courses are available." Surely training needs should define what courses are made available rather than the other way round? It seemed that CPD had become a box ticking exercise. There was no mentoring and no thought as to how people could develop in the workplace. Small wonder the site was failing!

I have had the good fortune to work with and for some exceptional people. My partners at JEM, Jane and Erica, are amongst them as are the likes of Martin Fletcher, now working with my erstwhile colleagues at Teva, and David Smart, currently being tall, dark and haggard in his native Scotland.

These are very different people but in addition to being very good at what they do they have three other things in common: they respect and value you for what you are good at; they challenge you to add to what you are good at by learning and practicing new skills; and they treat failure constructively, with understanding and support. What more can you ask?

My balance on this soap box is getting a little precarious. I freely admit that I'm no saint and that I can get it wrong like anyone else. I can, and do, misread situations, misunderstand motivation and misjudge people with the best of them. I am also highly goal oriented and can be demanding and difficult to live wth when that goal is put at risk (or so I am told!)

That said, I feel my greatest achievements have been the achievement of others and my role in providing what support I could to the likes of Steven Allen and Kris Read is the thing that keeps getting me out of bed in the morning.

Well, that and the need to pay the mortgage!

Written by Mike Gamble: Director JEM Retail Consultants


  1. A very thought-provoking article on CPD. In my experience, CPD works best when it is self-driven and supported by the line manager. This support has to be tangible (and not 'lip service') and demonstrate the manager/company's investment in the colleague. Much can be achieved when the individual is truly motivated to develop and progress and are able to tap into the ongoing support and guidance of their manager. A recipe for success!

  2. Thanks for your comment. I would agree with you entirely. I continue to believe that most people, most of the time are self motivated and not only want to do a good job but also to learn and develop. The "support" you mention above often comes in the form of giving them the confidence they need to acquire and put into practice new skills as this often feels risky or intimidating.