Organisational development leads transformation at Shelter

Focusing on organisational development is unusual in the charity sector. Kris Medlang explains why it’s become the foundation of a dynamic new approach, to help Shelter face the housing crisis. 

The homeless charity Shelter has worked hard with staff to develop a new strategy to ensure that it’s fit to fight the housing crisis. The learning and organisational development team has a critical role in supporting this ambitious change. To do this, the team has been shifting its focus from traditional transactional learning and development (L&D) – such as curating eLearning courses and checking compliance – to facilitating conversations, running forums, and linking people together so they can help one another.  

Kris Medlang, Learning and Organisational Development Business Partner, explains why this new approach is so vital to Shelter, in an interview with Michelle Parry-Slater for Learning Now TV (LNTV). The interview is due to be livestreamed on LNTV on 11th June and will be available on its website afterwards.

“We have so much more to offer than just transactional work,” says Kris Medlang. “Organisational development implies change, that you are bringing meaningful, relevant and wanted change. If you carry on with just transactional L&D there’s the risk of things staying the same.”

Change is constant at the charity. The housing crisis itself is in a constant state of flux, legislation continually updates, the nature of the struggle that Shelter’s clients go through alters, so development should reflect that. And it’s the organisational development (OD) part of his job that enables him to support this, explains Kris. “It’s putting us in a position to not react to change, but to capitalise on it. To support it in a deliberate way, where you’re leveraging whatever opportunities are available.”

This approach has meant breaking down silos. The charity has two very distinct functions. It helps people who are struggling with housing and homelessness, and it’s also a campaigning organisation. These two groups have much to gain from one another in terms of sharing knowledge and expertise. With his OD hat on, Kris looks for where that knowledge exists, and connects people together so they can learn from one another. 

The charity also approaches the development of staff and volunteers as one and the same. Traditionally these have been quite separate, not just at Shelter but in the charity sector as a whole, although that is changing.

The learning and organisational development team has also worked on it’s image, explains Kris. They’re keen not to be seen as a head office, central team that is dictating to people. Co-production is therefore essential to this new way of working.

“All the people that we’re trying to support – who are our clients and our colleagues – they are the experts in what they do. They can deliver what they need,” he explains.

Shelter is rightly proud of how far it has come, and celebrates collaboration but the quest for real organisational development is a long one, says Kris. The dream, he says, is that OD becomes so embedded into everyone’s mindset that they don’t need the development team anymore. 

As Michelle Parry-Slater points out, this is a fantastic example of what can be achieved by stepping back and re-evaluating the purpose of L&D:

You’ve got this sense that the development team at Shelter are facilitators for great conversations. So where you’ve got knowledge in one space and expertise in another, they’re looking through the OD lens and bringing those things together. So the whole organisation develops, not necessarily just one silo or one manager who wants to develop their team. Everyone working in development can learn something from this great example.”

Find out more about transforming learning and organisational development at Shelter in this case study on our website here.

The spotlight feature on charities by LNTV has been sponsored by the Charity Learning Consortium. 

Find out more about previous LNTV charity spotlight interviews with Michelle Parry-Slater and the following charities by clicking on the links below:

 About Learning Now TV 
Learning Now TV is a live-streamed Internet tv channel bringing you inspirational interviews, discussions, and practical advice and guidance to keep you up-to-date in the world of corporate learning and performance. Membership to the channel is FREE. You will be able to interact with LNTV on its social channel during the monthly live streamed broadcast as well as having an on-demand resource of the recorded programmes to refer to throughout the year. It has over 500 individual items in the on-demand library. Learning Now TV is produced by some of the L&D world’s leading authorities who have many years’ experience of reporting the real-world issues for today’s learning and performance professionals.

Michelle Parry-Slater 
Michelle is the Commercial Learning Content Manager at CIPD and the Lead Volunteer for L&D at Girlguiding. She also heads up Kairos Modern Learning (KML), an L&D consultancy focused on practical support for clients. In moving away from only offering face to face workplace learning, and moving towards embracing the best of social and digital learning, KML guides clients to create effective, efficient, engaging and enjoyable workplace learning. A regular on LNTV, Michelle shares her practical tips and those of her guests as a continuation of her #NoPlasters campaign, to stop L&D sticking plasters on learning instead of getting to real root cause solutions that work.  

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