Training and development - we know it’s vital for us all, regardless of our age and role. But in the era of reduced – and often no - training budgets how can you ensure that you and your teams continue to learn and develop? In the latest in our '10 x 10 Talking Heads' pieces we asked 10 senior communications leaders for their advice and lessons.
collated by Darren Caveney
Our budget last year allowed for a small sum for each person to align their training, like workshops and other paid-for options, with their objectives but the financial pressures hit at the beginning of 2017 and we had to show savings rather than spending. Such a difficult situation, but one that my team took considerably well. Because of a transitioning team (people going, people coming), our team gains new skills sets fairly regularly to get the things done in the here and now – but we need a better eye on ensuring everyone is expanding their knowledge and skills to become future fit.
At best at the moment, I share learning I have explored (podcasts, PR blogs, invites to webinars and team members raise an event they’d like to attend. I am hoping 2017 is our year to nail it – each person to go to plenty of workshops, to explore a qualification, and to feel they’ve come on much further than a year ago.
But it does start with us, so I want to complete a marketing qualification, and hopefully inspire my team through actions.
Joy Hale, Head of Communications at East of England Ambulance Service
Firstly learn from each other. Unusually when I took my first Head of Communications role I had no direct media experience. What I did have was an excellent Senior Press Officer and he taught me everything I know. I listened, I learnt and I challenged and, as a result, I’d like to think we both became better at our jobs.
If you haven’t already, engage with social media. Build your networks, watch, join in and you’ll have a world of advice, tips and information at your fingertips. There are also plenty of groups that meet up on a regular basis. Join them. As communicators we have 100s of years of experience between us – let’s share them.
And when you do have a budget, spend it wisely. There are some great paid for learning opportunities out there, look for recommendations and make sure they actually meet your development needs.
Victoria Ford, is a leading, senior communicator with experience across central government
I remember being asked exactly this question at interview for my current role. Recognising how little money is left for training is a real issue for most in local government these days. We try to make use of two important resources: the talent and skills within the team - where we provide internal expertise, support and challenge - and the growing range of low cost opportunities in the sector.
We are members of LGComms, who provide fantastic value for the membership fee, especially in terms of training, (declaration of interest– I’m LGComms’ National Secretary!) and we try to get people to events like CommsCamp, so the team is hearing new ideas, networking and - most importantly - understanding our own strengths. I think it’s important to understand too, that the needs of our customers and clients should guide our development, and also that learning and development is something we should own as individuals, and that we need to take responsibility for our own progress. It can’t be something we expect done to us, or for us.
Eddie Coates-Madden, Head of Communications at Sheffield City Council
Training and development: In the era of reduced/no training budgets how do you ensure that you and your teams continue to learn and develop?
With training in the age of austerity we comms bods have to be a bit creative - but that's our forte, right? So in a nutshell, a few tips for making sure we continue to learn and develop with limited cash:
- Align training to priorities and strategy - if video is your focus for the coming year you'll obviously need to build those skills in the team. We're past the golden age of 'I quite fancy doing this...'.
- Spread the love - send one team member on the training then get them to cascade it to everyone else. It embeds their learning, brings others up to speed and helps with team-building.
- Share existing skills - all your team members have expertise in different things and they can help upskill colleagues.
- Do free stuff - yes, there are still free things on offer through some groups and organisations. There are webinars and online fora too which are great for learning.
- Attend virtually - comms bods who are lucky enough to be on training courses are often generous in sharing them on Twitter or Facebook and through their blogs.
Sally Northeast, Deputy Director, Organisational Development Communications and Participation
While budget constraints have clearly impacted on training I think the larger problem is pressure on time because of smaller teams. But in n the modern world development and learning isn't always formal training. Low cost or even free stuff is all around us through blogs, networks, webinars, thought pieces and how to guides.
You can learn so much from having mentor or coaching sessions so seek out someone in your own organisation or from within the industry to spare a bit of time and offer some practical advice - you'd be surprised how many people will happily help you out.
Aside from that tenacity will often work. Make sure you seek out the right opportunities and can explain to your boss why this development is important to you and what direct benefits it can bring to the business.
Ross Wigham, Head of Communications and Marketing, QE Hospital Gateshead
As funding reduces, the expectations and demands made of comms teams rise. Often faced with cuts to our own teams we have to ensure those who remain are performing to their best ability and are motivated to do so.
It’s worth pointing out to colleagues that training in its traditional sense - an out of the office, paid for experience is by no means the only option available to us. Thinking in terms of personal development can help us to find creative solutions to assuring continual development and improvement within the team.
Once we move from that traditional mind set of what training should be, many options open up. Shadowing another team in a neighbouring organisation is a quick and simple thing to set up and can yield considerable benefits in terms of the broader partnership working agenda.
In house team sharing works well for us in Warwickshire. A member of the team will do a short session on a particular skill or area of expertise they have at the monthly team meeting. We’ve had things such as photography and how our elections campaign was put together and are looking forward to the next one on the use of Canva, a library of professionally designed layouts for social media platforms, which will be delivered by a junior colleague.
Delegation provides a great opportunity to offer colleagues new experiences and alleviate work load on others. Done with appropriate consideration planning for delegating is a useful activity in itself in terms of assessing workload and priorities – there are lots of tools available online and this article in mind tools is a quick and helpful read.
Finally, there are lots of great training sessions and workshops offered by LGComms and comms2point0 which are often free (to members in the case of LGComms). We all appreciate how tricky it can be to take the day out of the office, but personal development is vital not just to our ability to stay on top of our game but also to our sanity and survival!
Jayne Surman, Communications and Marketing Manager at Warwickshire County Council
Obviously I'm going to do a blatant plug here for LGcomms - aside from the fact the seminars are free to attend if you're a Member there is also the excellent Future Leaders course which is worth the membership fee alone in my opinion. Throughout my career I've also found the Local Gov network of people and knowledge you gain through meeting them as valuable as any training course. I've learnt many lessons from being around amazing people and watching how they handle things and sometimes not very amazing people how they don't!
Reading is also a great way to expand your knowledge - books, magazines, blogs all provide insight and learning. It is also worth remembering that just within your own team people have experience and knowledge that is valuable, and making sure that get shared is important.
There is so much information and knowledge out there now for free that training and development doesn't need to happen in a 'traditional' way with a certificate after an expensive day spent listening to experts with PowerPoint presentations.
Eleri Roberts, Assistant Director, Communications, Birmingham City Council
I'd say don't forget informal networks and think about approaching training and development in a different ways. One of the best things I ever did was ask for a week's secondment in DCLG's media office. I learned a lot, particularly about the relationships between ministers, special advisors and civil servants.
Also, don't discount the value of a bit of wider reading or watching, particularly in terms of giving you a context for work. The other week I went to see a dangerously nerdy documentary on Jane Jacobs, the revolutionary urban activist and planner. She worked in New York in the 1960s, but there was so much relevant to the modern cities agenda particularly around creating a sense of community.
Finally, I've lost count of the number of courses I've been on which were, well, just not very good.
I still remember attending a course on PR soon after I moved into communications in which a tutor - and a degree level one at that - suggested sending a fax to a newsroom because journalists took more notice of them!
This was in the mid-2000s, well after the email revolution!
If you find yourself on a duff course with a duff tutor then just don't go back. Life is too short and there's too much learning to be done by doing.
Will Mapplebeck, Strategic Communications Manager at Core Cities UK
When your organisation’s facing a budget cut of £40m over the next two years, the comms team’s budget for training and development is unlikely to be much of a priority. But though your budgets may be shrinking, the need to sharpen up the skills you’ve got and acquire new ones has never been greater.
Luckily, public sector communicators are a generous breed, happy to share their time and experiences for the benefit of others. There a huge depth of expertise out there and there’s always someone willing to help out and support less experienced members of staff. This happens internally within the team and also across networks such as LGComms, CIPR and, of course, comms2point0. All of them have a brilliant range of resources accessible online at no cost, including toolkits, guidance and case studies.
It’s important to take the time to look at development in the context of workforce planning, so that individuals and teams are developing the skills the organisation will need in the future. Here we try to encourage everyone in the team to take a creative approach their own personal development. This has led to team members visiting other organisations to find out how they do things, attending user and special interest groups and sharing skills across the team members themselves. Getting away from the office to learn from practitioners in other sectors, take advice from mentors and network brings huge benefits and the opportunity to look at new ways of doing things.
Local government communications and digital teams in Scotland worktogether nationally too, collaborating on training and development activities across Councils to bring economies of scale. Recently Falkirk Council has led the launch of a national user group for the Firmstep product and we’ll be hosting over 30 Council representatives here in September to share experiences and skills.
The local government communications group for Scotland also plays an important part. We deliver an annual conference, with delegate fees kept to £100, and guest speakers are in regular attendance at our quarterly meetings.
Caroline Binnie, Communications & Participation Manager at Falkirk Council
Many thanks to our 10 communications leaders for their insight and advice.
Talking Heads 10 x 10 will be back next month with a fresh new discussion – ‘Working in pressurised environments: Top tips for remaining calm under pressure’
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd
image via the Library of Congress