Developing leaders online

Laura Curran and the L&D team at Liverpool based social enterprise PSS quickly created a blended learning programme to develop leaders and managers.

With the onset of the pandemic, homeworking, and the need to not only develop leadership skills but keep a connection to the organisation – a challenge ensued: How do you bring people together, where do they turn when you need help and what can learning and development do to help them? 

As a Head of L&D with a reasonable understanding of tech and how that can support learning, the team and I began to plan…and plan some more. Although a fair percentage of staff were still less than digitally savvy, we began the first of several leadership learning programmes.

I like to think that the programme we created took the best of online and classroom training, melding them together to offer different learning activities. These were opportunities that may not have seen the light of day had the pandemic not given us the chance to make a change.

Planning and priorities 
As part of our organisational strategy, we want to ensure that people are given opportunities to develop, to bring their best self to work. Amongst many initiatives, work has taken place to develop diversity, equality, inclusion and belonging, providing learning ‘deep dives’ into each of the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act. The Black Lives Matter movement and unconscious learning was seen as a place to start and build from.

Additionally, we have been building a coaching culture across the organisation, recognising that people are more productive and motivated through conversations and building relationships. It’s crucial for managers to have skills in coaching style conversations to build happy, well developed staff and teams.

Creating a blend
When we launched the first programme, we split and mixed up the large management group into smaller groups. We created a blended programme of learning that took place over several months, offering a variety of learning opportunities using:

  •  eLearning modules
  • Face to face group discussions
  • A webinar
  • Virtual face to face interactive sessions
  • Reflective, self-directed exercises
  • A full management group, end of programme feedback session

What worked
As researched and developed by Lave and Wenger in 1991, bringing together groups into communities of practice provides the environment for sharing learning. Similarly, as Bandura points out, social learning is one of the most powerful ways for individuals to learn, through sharing experiences, skills and knowledge whether or not a formal/informal method of learning is deeply embedded.

  • In terms of long term impact, confidence in coaching skills and understanding unconscious bias rose from 59% before the programme to 81% after
  • Participants reported that they enjoyed blended learning, and more importantly, managers felt that it was effective. When asked how effective they found the style of blended learning,  72% of managers reported a score of four or above (out of five). Again, when asked how they would rate their own participation and involvement,  77% of managers reported four or above
  • People found working in groups beneficial, providing support beyond the learning programme
  • Blending learning opportunities was effective, as it considered how people learn best
  • The programme helped develop an understanding of other services and teams and delegates wanted more opportunities like this in the future. This has directly led onto to creating cross organisational opportunities to learn about leadership, commerciality, finance and networking
  • It also developed closer working relations within groups, who said that they wanted to stay in touch afterwards. Individuals choose how and when they want this to happen but one group in particular still have catch ups on MS Teams
  • People liked reflective learning through a blended approach and would be happy to do similar again, alongside face to face learning when possible
  • They found this way of spreading out learning valuable during busy periods, as they didn’t have to give up a whole day all at once

What could have been done better

  • It was difficult for some people to attend sessions due to time constraints.
  • Some people found the learning programme too unstructured and wanted more formal objectives and aims

Laura’s top tips for blended learning

  • Give yourself plenty of time to engage with the groups and manage them via Zoom/MS Teams. Be available
  • Ensure all groups and individuals are clear on the learning aims of the programme. 
  • Launch the programme through all communication methods – email, newsletter, intranet, Microsoft Teams. The more it’s out there, the more engagement is likely
  • Don’t give up! The benefits of the blended learning programme outweigh any potential drawbacks
  • We concluded that blended learning is highly effective and is definitely here to say in the L&D world

Who are PSS?

PSS is a social enterprise that supports people to live happy, healthy and hopeful lives, whether they’re:

• adults who have learning or physical disabilities, challenges with their mental health or difficulties as they’re getting older;

• people in and around the criminal justice system; or

• families who’ve been through unsteady times.

No-matter who you are or where your life has taken you, we’ll listen, understand and find a way to help you reach your goals.

    About Laura Curran

    Laura joined PSS in November 2017 as Head of Learning and Development. She previously lived overseas, working for the Foreign Office in learning and development (L&D). Passionate about learning, she believes that everyone should have the opportunity to progress. Technology, she says, can support learning-  now more than ever – and she advocates taking the best bits from digital options to get the right blend. 

    PSS is a social care enterprise based in Liverpool with national reach, working with people whose lives have been touched by the criminal justice system. It offers day services, Shared Lives schemes, children and family services, supported living as well as wellbeing and mental health support. The learning and development team at PSS supports around 300 staff and 700 self employed Shared Lives carers, to ensure they have learning that is fit for purpose at the point it’s needed.


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