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Creating a sustainable, self-directed learning culture at saha

Training at saha was based on one-off ‘firework’ events, with little long term impact, when Paul Hodgkinson joined to oversee learning and development in 2019. Find out how he quickly transformed learning to a far more sustainable, self-directed ‘slow burn’.

No-one had been responsible for L&D at saha for quite some time when Paul Hodgkinson joined in 2019 – and it showed. He quickly discovered that there was no induction, no real performance management, and nothing to support first level managers to develop their skills. Other strategies, for HR and organisational development, had been worked out but weren’t operational yet. The organisation also had clear values, but these weren’t driving anything.

“Some of the fundamentals that you’d expect a business to have just weren’t in place,” said Paul. He used an eight step approach to create a vision and build learning from the bottom up. 

 Eight steps to creating an L&D strategy 

  1. Have a vision: create a direction of travel
  2. Stocktake to see what exists already
  3. What resources are needed to deliver your vision?
  4. Identify the gap between what you have and what you need
  5. Create a realistic implementation plan
  6. What quick wins can you put in place straight away?
  7. What are the high level solutions that may need more time?
  8. How are you going to measure success?


The L&D Vision
As saha participates in the annual Best Companies survey, Paul had really useful data to draw upon – saha consistently appears in the top 100 list of not for profit organisations to work for. He also gathered an initial group of 13 stakeholders together, which he called the G13. The organisation regularly pulls working groups together like this, as a valuable way to give feedback while projects are live and progressing. Drawing on everything he discovered, Paul drew up a few different versions of the L&D vision, before this was agreed upon:

Collaboratively, everyone at saha has a role where: 

  • Leaders inspire and listen 
  • Managers challenge and support 
  • Individuals are self reliant and sufficient 
  • Together by 2021, learning will be part of everyone’s day, either personally or professionally 

A quick stocktake revealed minimal learning resources, which weren’t in a consistent format or linked in any way. As Paul explains: “Learning wasn’t really joined up. We just pushed it out to people, whereas what we’re trying to get to is people learning from each other, socially and together.” 

He’s now encouraging a culture of self-directed learning: “We want people to hold the reins and drive the way forward, which links back to our vision. Essentially, we want people who are self-sufficient and self-reliant, as well as being accountable.”

To achieve that, learning needed to be reinvigorated, so people engaged with it again. Paul started by livening up resources with a blended learning approach, creating videos and simulations to offer alongside eLearning and training. 

Blended learning at saha now includes a mix of:

  • eLearning
  • Face to face training
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Job aids
  • How to guides
  • Site visits

Mind the gap
Lots of people in the organisation had different views as to what the main skills gaps were, so Paul had to reach a consensus and identify solutions based on need. 

When he looked at what saha was trying to achieve, what resources and skills they already had, and what was missing, it became clear what content was needed. The most urgent need was for an induction for new staff, and resources to support new and aspiring managers as well as all round performance management.

There was no formal induction programme when Paul joined saha. Induction had always been a challenge because of the diverse range of work the organisation carries out, which creates a huge diversity of different jobs. It meant a very patchy approach to new staff coming on board, if any induction happened at all. This had to change.

“The big issue was that the lack of induction was having an impact on speed to competency, so I really wanted to close that gap,” explained Paul. “I want to make sure that people have got everything they need, when they need it, as soon as they walk through the door.”

He’s created an online toolbox of resources – called saha local – for managers to use with new starters. It contains all the templates, guides and resources that managers need to work with new staff. 

This is reinforced with a half day formal ‘classroom’ induction, introduced by the CEO. These are held every three months. But – importantly – induction starts locally on day one. Paul’s vision is for a consistent, sustainable induction, run by managers themselves, so L&D can eventually step out of the way.

Sustainability is vital, says Paul, but it can easily get overlooked: “You have to think future-proofing right from the start.” 

The idea behind the new induction is that it’s being run by business people. “So eventually L&D can step away, because the business will run it themselves. I’m still playing a part at the moment, but my idea is that it becomes self-serving.”

The saha local online induction pack includes:

  • A building tour
  • Health and safety information
  • Induction checklist
  • Organisational guide
  • A saha A to Z
  • eLearning, provided by the Charity Learning Consortium

ELearning is part of the induction pack, as “it’s a great tool for getting basic information, skills and knowledge to people in an easy and efficient way,” says Paul. 

Quick wins
No one, and no business likes to wait. “A business wants results quickly or evidence that you are doing something that is delivering impact for people now,” explains Paul. 

He quickly worked on some ‘quick wins’, things that could be put in place fast to maintain people’s interest in and appetite for learning, while he worked on longer term projects. For example, he created some short, snappy job aids and instructions to help people work in an efficient way, and also organised site visits to different saha services.  

He also revamped saha’s intranet using the three click rule i.e. that nothing should take more than three clicks to find. He created order and used visual ‘buckets’ to hold relevant information, so everything can be found more easily. As a result of these simple changes, the hit rate on the intranet has soared.

Management development
Paul is keen to move away from what he calls training ‘firework events’, which may be fantastic on the day, but their impact quickly fizzles out. 

“They’d bring everyone together, have a lovely day, everyone enjoys the tea and biscuits and then it all just disappears. Six or 12 months later and nothing’s changed. I’m trying to put some sustainability behind learning, so that it lasts more than one day. And hopefully more like years than days!”

In terms of management development, this has meant embedding learning from training days into working practice. He’s put several things into place to help this happen, including: 

  • Sending out regular communications with managers
  • Sharing top tips e.g. How to engage staff 
  • Providing self-directed resources in key areas
  • Creating and sharing podcasts in relevant topics

The podcasts have been particularly popular. To create them, he invited key people to come and talk through some of the challenges the organisation was facing, such as absence management, outlining how managers could try and improve things. 


Performance personas
Paul has also created three different learning pathways: one for new managers; a second for those with some experience; and a third for experienced managers. The programmes that he has created are largely self-directed, and include a multi-media blend of resources built on six pillars:

  • Supporting and training managers
  • Continuous feedback
  • Encouraging a growth mindset
  • Clear goals and expectations
  • Good communication
  • Proficiency with technology and tools

This has created a much needed framework and structure for everyone to work through.

Performance management
Overall performance management had largely been forgotten about within the organisation, and had lost its way. Paul set out to show there was a value and purpose to it. 

Everyone in the organisation is now encouraged to have an annual review in April, at the close of the financial year. Paul has created a simple form called Over to you to facilitate this. The choice of title is very deliberate, and part of his quest towards everyone taking responsibility for their own development, as well as the long term sustainability of learning. 

Measuring success
The changes that Paul has made have really started to make a difference. Although it’s challenging to measure the impact of individual resources, especially when nothing existed before, the organisation’s HR KPIs show that sickness levels, grievances, and staff turnover have all gone down. Meanwhile, hit rates on the organisation’s intranet have soared. The charity has also retained its Best Companies to work for status, and an Investors in People assessment later this year should hopefully provide more data. In the future, Paul hopes to run focus groups to gather more feedback, but the signs are that collectively, the organisation is making valuable progress.

Paul Hodgkinson shares the lessons he has learned from transforming L&D at saha: 

  • Keep things simple: Don’t get lost in detail, it can slow you down. Know just enough detail and be comfortable with the notion ‘what do you actually need to know?’ Less is definitely more, so don’t overcomplicate things.
  • Horses for courses: Don’t grab and force the business to do what you’ve done in other businesses. Use a new approach, not the one you’ve used before.  
  • Quick wins: Look for quick wins. Flex to what the business can do now, and is willing to do to move on.
  • Collaborate to succeed: Stakeholders are invaluable, as you need to be able to design something that can survive in the real world. It’s no good sitting in an ivory tower creating stuff which makes no sense to anybody!

Read more tips from Paul on creating an L&D strategy

About saha 
Saha, the Salvation Army Housing Association, is a leading provider of residential centres, foyers, supported accommodation and move-on housing for single and homeless people in the UK. It provides more than 4,000 homes and employs 350 staff. The charity has numerous challenges with dispersed locations and a wide range of different client types, services and schemes, working alongside 86 local authorities. It’s services operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. 


    About Paul

    Paul Hodgkinson is a trainer, facilitator and business coach with experience of working in multiple industries, globally and with key stakeholders to drive learning, performance and engagement initiatives.

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