Philippa Lamb: Hello and welcome to the podcast. This time we’re looking at CPD – continuing professional development. Now most professions require it: some of them demand it but what’s it for when so many people just see it as a box-ticking exercise, or worse a complete waste of their time? What could, or should employees get out of CPD and what about the organisations they work for? Are they seeing useful and measurable business benefits for the time, money and effort that’s poured into the CPD pot? If not, why not?
Now with me to discuss all this I have David D’Souza who’s an OD consultant, speaker, blogger, writer on HR, and now also Head of CIPD London.
Simon Collins is Talent Manager at Caterpillar, that's the giant earthmover end of the business rather than the boots.
And Bec, Rebecca Normand is now with the CIPD’s own International team. She's a former member of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, that's the body for people working in governance, risk and compliance, like company secretaries.
Now I know you've all been members of professional bodies, CIPD and other otherwise, you’re all career-focused, so professional development is very much more than theoretical for all of you, with that in mind can I just kick off with a very simple question to all of you, what is CPD for? David.
David D’Souza: So traditionally it’s been the way that there's been a formalised expectation and people continue their development and keeping their knowledge up to date within professional bodies. That's changing over time in terms of the more that we understand around training and learning and development as to whether that's appropriate but it’s been that structured way of ensuring that there's investment in people’s profession.
Simon Collins: From my perspective the key letter in that acronym is ‘P’ for professional. I think CPD is all about ensuring that people are able to maintain a standard of professionalism which matches the requirements of whatever professional body they happen to be a member of and in so doing enhance their skills, ensure that they’re up to date with relevant legislation and so on, and also that it’s something that people feel that they want to do, as opposed to something they have to do.
Rebecca Normand: For me personally CPD is about having the most relevant knowledge, having the most up to date information and being able to apply that in a way that’s useful, both for me personally and for the job that I'm doing within the organisation. So I think that it isn’t just about me, it’s about what it also gives back at the same time.
PL: Well Bec raises an interesting point doesn’t she? Is it primarily for the individual or is it for the organisation?
SC: I think it’s both. I think for, certainly in my organisation we are encouraged to have individual development plans, but of course they can't be in isolation to the overall strategic goals of the organisation. So both the individual and the organisation benefit from a programme of CPD.
PL: Now David, obviously most professions have it don’t they? They have various ways of doing it – mandatory, obligatory, voluntary – we’ll get into all that but I think perhaps more interesting is how the schemes work and there's input schemes, output schemes, outcome schemes. Can you shed a little light for us?
DD’S: Well I suppose there's a sliding scale from an expectation that you do formalised investment in certain courses that are pertinent and prescribed by your professional body, through to doing a fixed amount of time each year, through to, I suppose, the looser version is that you just keep yourself developed and current and if you were reviewed your skills would be appropriate and you've been keeping those up to date.
PL: So it’s largely about where the focus lies, whether it’s about stuff you do or stuff you take out of it?
DD’S: Yeah I think there's a balance between professional development, as Simon said, and personal development and knowledge acquisition as well. So if you look at HR for instance employment law changes, you need to be aware of those and cognisant of those changes to be a relevant professional, but you also need to be aware of some of the broader issues that are happening in the economy and be able to keep your knowledge and relevance pertinent within an organisation.
RN: That's really quite the same really for a company secretary, given the employment law changes, change in legislation, governance requirements changing. So I think there's probably a lot of synergy between the HR profession and the company secretary profession from that point of view.
PL: Now interestingly Kingston Business School have been looking at CPD for quite a while now, since 2010 and looking at their findings I mean they do seem to feel it’s rather muddy waters, quite a lot of confusion about what CPD should look like, where the responsibility lies, whether it’s employees or their bosses, and perhaps most concerningly a widespread sense that a lot of it is quite poor quality and unhelpful. I don't know what you think about that? Does that chime with your experience?
SC: I think the value of CPD is probably something that people only start to appreciate the further they go in their career and that also will coincide with an increase in their self-confidence. So for me the best kind of CPD is a combination of required learning but also when the individual themselves recognises a development opportunity that they would benefit from. So I think, if I recall, way back in the mists of time at the beginning of my HR career I wouldn’t have had the confidence, let alone the foresight to really do that myself so I was more reliant on the organisation to really tell me what to do. Whereas now a big chunk of my CPD is stuff that I want to do and it isn’t necessarily delivered by my organisation. So, for example, the work I do with CIPD is at my choice as opposed to the organisation saying I have to do it.
PL: You see now that is interesting because I know David you've got strong views about what CPD consists of, so it’s not necessarily going on a course is it?
DD’S: Well I think traditionally it has been. I think the challenge is that if you prescribe learning activity for people, the motivation to do it isn’t there so what you see is an unholy rush towards the end of the year to clock up enough hours to get it done. Whereas if people are genuinely interested in their own development and you’re allowing that to happen in a more fluid way, in a way that suits the way that they want to learn I think you get a very different result in terms of actually the quality of output and improvement for both the individual and the organisation.
PL: And probably worthwhile at this point just to run through the sort of things we’re talking about. I mean what might people be doing?
DD’s: Traditional classroom-based learning means that you, and this is the way that most professional bodies judge it, look at the amount that you've learnt based on the amount of hours you've done, whereas in fact we know that the quality of improvement of learning actually very much depends on whether that suits the way that you learn, and also the kind of environment that you've done it in. So actually researching topics on the internet, undergoing online courses, different community work, learning from your peers, they’re all things that can really accelerate your development that aren’t normally acknowledged as professional development or CPD.
RN: I take part in a monthly online book club where there's a book that's chosen, generally around leadership or neuroscience or governance. We’re all expected to read it and then there's an interview with the authors of that book, conducted by a third party, and you get the chance to interact with them online – to ask them questions or challenge them around it. And I think that's a really interesting way of doing CPD that wouldn’t traditionally be considered CPD. And it’s something I really enjoy doing so I think that's something that we want to think about in the future if we’re looking at what CPD could look like.
PL: You see that's really interesting because I wanted to ask you, because I know obviously when you were a member of the ICSA, presumably you had to do very formal CPD did you? What did that consist of?
RN: Yeah very much so. Initially when I was an ICSA member it wasn’t mandatory and then in 2011 that changed and it became that you had to do 20 hours so I guess historically I would have gone to a course which had a set number of hours of attendance, a number of hours of attendance, a number of points, now that's got to be five, that's mandatory points from particular providers and the rest of it is generic.
PL: You see it’s interesting that isn’t it. So I think that's probably what we might loosely call rather old-style CPD but now that you’re in-house at the CIPD, sorry it’s acronyms central today, what do you do about your own professional development?
RN: Webinars, seminars, I guess more stuff that I'm interested in.
PL: And who drives that? Is that you or your line manager?
RN: Probably more me than my line manager but CIPD provides financial support and time out of the office to attend workshops and training courses should I so need, that are in line with what I'm doing now, particularly from an international perspective.
PL: Now as we mentioned different bodies do have very different ways of structuring CPD, there is the box-ticking, there is the simply trusting people to progress their own skills and experience, the sort of thing that Bec was talking about there, interestingly for me there doesn’t seem to be much consensus on which route is best yet as you say, your original body, the ICSA they beefed it up didn’t they? But I was very interested to see that solicitors have been toing and froing on this haven’t they? So I think last year the solicitors’ regulation authority they scrapped their 16 hour annual requirement but very fascinatingly the Law Society wasn’t at all happy about that, so actually solicitors’ own body they felt that it undermined the professionalism of their members, I don't know what you all think about that? Is there a sense that professions require rigorous, catalogued CPD?
DD’S: I think it’s understandable if you’re going to a professional you would expect them to have a degree of competence and knowledge that’s relevant and up to date. I think attempting to prescribe that through a number of hours is probably quite an old-fashioned way of doing it. So one of the things that we know through research is that it’s actually a minimum amount of the way that we learn in the workplace is actually in formalised learning, so the 70/20/10 model has kind of become more acknowledged. So actually if 70% of your learning, or more, is coming through informal channels it seems bizarre that we would attempt to anchor being professional and keeping knowledge up to date on something that we know is a minimal way of the way that people learn.
PL: Well there's some debate about this isn’t there because I think the teaching profession disagrees don’t they? I understand they’re thinking of making CPD requirements more rigorous because they want to bolster their professional standing. What do you think Simon?
SC: The 70/20/10 model for example is the foundation of learning in Caterpillar and I think it’s a great model, the hardest part of which is actually getting people to recognise that 70% of experiential learning. However I do feel quite strongly that, as an organisation, CIPD does not test me vigorously enough on whether or not I'm maintaining my professional standards.
SC: I get my annual reminder to pay my subs and not really since I upgraded to chartered status about ten years ago have I had to demonstrate to them the kind of activities that I'm undertaking to maintain those professional standards.
PL: You see this is very interesting because I had a look at the CIPD’s site to see exactly what it says to members about this and I thought it was a rather enlightened approach actually because as you said there’s no official requirement for record keeping now is there? It’s about HR’s managing their own learning and growth and it’s results-driven: so this is about where individuals want to get to, how they’re going to get there, but you feel that as a professional body there should be more box-ticking, more record keeping?
SC: I think it’s more a case of our institute is one which I think is now far better recognised for the professional standards that it has than it was ten or 15 years ago and that's because of the kind of leadership that the CIPD is now giving us which is all about really recognising that we as HR professionals we need to broaden our horizons, we need to achieve better business acumen and so on and so forth, but at the end of the day I would like to see, in some way, shape or form, the institute saying to me, “Okay can you give us your continuing professional development record for the year.” It’s not a tick the box exercise, I mean my Caterpillar CPD record is a list of the things that I've done using that 70/20/10 model, so I could easily submit that, as evidence that I'm maintaining my professional standards and continuing to learn as I go through my HR journey.
PL: Yes I mean obviously as you say for you that is a very straightforward process for other people who don’t have that sort of structure around their CPD at work it would be more arduous I guess?
SC: It would but I think it would encourage other organisations to look at something like the 70/20/10 model as a more effective way of actually measuring the effectiveness of their CPD.
PL: So a nudge, quite a useful nudge.
PL: What do you reckon Bec you've done both?
RN: Anecdotally when the requirement changed to mandatory in 2011 I would say the number of hours people spent on their CPD actually went down because then it was, “I've got to do 20 hours to get my record, to submit my information, I've now done that – end of,” whereas I think you want to play to a higher common factor, you want to play to people’s sense of professionalism, their sense of worth and therefore when it’s not mandatory I think generically most people will do more.
PL: That is a really interesting point, what do we think?
DD’S: It very much depends on the organisation that people work within. So I think if we can get organisations more focused on keeping their people’s skills up to date and having cultures where development is a legitimate activity rather than actually detracting from the day job then I think it makes it easy for people to invest in their own development and keep their skills up to date. So I think there's a local issue as well as the issue at the professional level.
PL: Simon tell us how it actually works at Caterpillar? I know as an organisation you have an ambition to lead HR in your field, it’s a big ambition and obviously this plays into that, how do you do it?
SC: So let me give you an example of how first of all we measure the effectiveness of our learning in our annual employee opinion survey and within my own group, within corporate HR, the metric for growth and development in 2013 was disappointing so we made a real effort during 2014 because we recognised that people just weren’t getting the 70/20/10 model. So one of the ways we got around that was we started to have what we call ‘Lunch and Learns’ which are literally, come along, bring your lunch and you might learn something. And we invited members of the team to basically come along and talk about, not just work issues, but also their hobbies and interests. So, for example, we had ‘Lunch and Learns’ on beekeeping, on rugby, on barbecuing, and it was great, it worked because all of a sudden people realised, ‘Oh learning isn’t just about the things I need to do for my job.’ We mixed it up obviously with more work-relevant topics as you can imagine. But ultimately what we saw in the 2014 survey was a massive increase in that metric that said how effective we were being at growth and development.
PL: And you're guiding the subject agenda behind the scenes are you?
SC: Yes so ultimately it’s about getting people to actually understand that learning can be fun and that it isn’t just the tick the box, the annual exercise, it’s something that can also include topics which are not specifically work-related.
DD’S: I think there's a couple of points there, one, genuinely hope that in years to come the CIPD focuses more on beekeeping, there’s kind of a core competence there. Secondly there's a piece of work that's starting at the moment called Profession for the Future, which is very much focused on what HR will look like in the future and what the CIPD needs to be doing to support that. So I'm hoping that there will be progression. I think there are two things with CPD I suppose, depending on the angle. One, is the professional – you want it acknowledged that you've reached a certain standard and you can be proud of that. And secondly for organisations when they’re hiring they want confidence as to the capabilities and knowledge of the person they’re hiring. So I’d agree there's always an opportunity to keep reviewing that and the way the CIPD s dealing with that.
PL: Simon you say you invite people to these lunches, what do you do about people who don’t engage with the idea of CPD at all?
SC: We have a formal CPD which is called Enterprise Required Learning, which is the horrible, old-fashioned, you must do this or else!
PL: Right, so many hours?
SC: No it’s a series of e-learning modules that you have to undertake and actually it’s tailored more towards the level in the organisation that you are as opposed to what your profession is, because for example if you reach a stage in the organisation in which you’re authorised to make purchase decisions then you have to do modules about the governance behind that, for example. So for me the mixture of that Enterprise Required Learning and the fun learning, if you like, the part of learning that I've just described, is one that we need to get a better blend on in our organisation, but certainly, with the exception of the Enterprise Required Learning, the Lunch and Learns, for example, the attending employment law updates, those are to a large extent voluntary. But I like to think that in the culture that we’re creating – a learning culture – that people are more and more recognising the value of undertaking those extracurricular activities if you like.
PL: So that's interesting because that plays into what you were saying doesn’t it Bec, you have a combination don’t you? You have a benchmark, you have a foundation level that everyone has to do and then for those who are feeling really motivated they can do more. Does that sound good?
RN: Yeah I think so. I mean similarly at CIPD we have Discovery Hour, where it’s the same sort of idea, Discovery Hour is quite often in an afternoon, probably around lunchtime. There's probably some teas and coffees to encourage people to come along, but that could be on our latest research, it could be on a particular department, but it could be on something completely random as well that someone wants to talk about. And again varied attendance from sort of 20 to 80. And you never really know, and it’s always a strange subject that gets the greatest attendance. But also we get the formal learning, the e-modules as well. So I guess quite similar in our approaches.
PL: This bit of the conversation plays into this work they’re doing at Kingston University Business School about the rigour and value of CPD, which has obviously been a problem, quite a widespread problem and it’s the fact that it often focuses too much on technical rather than softer skills. What are your thoughts there?
DD’S: I think it very much has to be a blend. So if you were an IT professional and you hadn’t really progressed much beyond Windows 97…
DD’S: …you’re an irrelevance. So I think HR’s a very broad church. So I think within that we have if you’re working in employment law are you keeping your skills and your case knowledge up to date? Is one key part that can't be left out, but there's also that richer personal development which you would hope and expect, particularly on the soft skills side, or what people call soft skills, that people are also maintaining. So are you becoming better at your capability to do your job as well as maintaining the key knowledge and I think it’s up to organisations to actually drive support and legitimise both of those.
PL: And we’ve mentioned business benefits, it’s business benefits, business costs. If we’re talking about measuring soft skills – more problematic, how do you do it?
DD’S: I think we just need to become more mature about the way we treat learning and one of the wisest things I think anyone’s said to me is if we’re going to grow the company 10% next year we need to find a way to grow the people 10% next year. And I think it’s this understanding that if you’re not investing in your people, particularly in an environment as dynamic as the one we face now, you’re going to lose that element of competitive advantage and lag behind. So I think there's a macro-challenge to your organisations to focus more on investment in people.
PL: It’s a productivity driver?
DD’S: It is it’s a productivity driver for the country and for the nation as a whole, creating this mindset of continuously improving the skills base that we have, but it’s also, at an individual level it’s very much about are you improving the employability skills of your people and investing in them so that they feel valued.
SC: That plays nicely into – we’re just in the process of rolling out our new enterprise people strategy and one of the priorities is called People, Value and Commitment, and I was working on the project team that came up with that and one of the fundamental aspects of that is that we want people to feel valued and one of the ways that we feel that they can do that is by feeling pride in themselves and in the organisation that they work for. So we have very low turnover in Caterpillar and I like to think one of the reasons for that is that we do constantly emphasise the fact that you’re a part of a great and successful company.
PL: It’s interesting you raise that because it brings me to a point I did want to just get into which is CPD as an enabler for the longer working lives. I think all of us around the table are going to be involved with this idea that we may work in different areas or at different intensities during a much longer working live, CPD’s got to have a role there?
DD’S: I was speaking to a major insurance firm recently and they’re changing the emphasis of their L&D programmes to look at employability, so they’re acknowledging that you’re probably not going to stay with them for life and saying, “Actually if you come here we will invest in you to such a degree that you can move about more freely in the economy,” and I think it’s taking that broader view that will really make a difference. And I also think, just touching back on the point we had there, yes it is hard to value the intangibles in the same way that we had but if you speak to any learning professional they know that classroom hours is the hollowest measure of how much people have developed over the course of a year so that focus on that remains unhealthy I think for most people’s development and investment.
PL: Bec does that thought about CPD as an enabler for you as a working person does that chime with you? Would it be an attracter for you?
RN: I've had four or five roles in the seven years I've been at CIPD and I've worked in five departments I think over that period of time, so I've done a lot of different roles. I've been a company secretary. I ran the code of conduct on the professional side. I've been part of the sales team for the commercial side of the business. And all of those have required transferrable skills, but also some more specific knowledge and some of the soft skills as well. So for me my CPD has really supported that change in role and that change in focus and I see that going forward being the same.
PL: I suppose I'm getting the sense from all this that CPD’s evolving into something far more useful than perhaps a lot of organisations have really understood and perhaps this is a good moment for us to encourage HRs to really think about what it’s for because the wins are many and varied aren’t they? We’ve mentioned productivity, creativity, engagement, retention and I just think it’s not about blowing the budget either is it?
SC: One of the things I've noticed in the graduate recruitment space over the last five years is I used to get asked on campus at graduate recruitment fairs, “How much are you going to pay me to come and work for your organisation?” Today I get asked, “What’s your organisation going to do to develop me?” and I think there's been a really significant shift in the expectations of people about what is an organisation going to do for me, it’s not just about the compensation package – although that's obviously important – it’s about how are you going to develop me as a person and as a professional? And I think if organisations are going to be able to win in the war for talent they’ve got to be able to demonstrate that they are committed to continuing professional development.
PL: Yeah David we hear a lot about that don’t we, Generation Y, their expectations?
DD’S: And I don't think they’re fundamentally different to many other generations, I don't think there's been a generation that hasn’t wanted to be invested in the workplace, I think the macro conditions they’re operating in, in terms of the expectation they’ll probably move jobs and have more varied careers, meaning that it’s possibly a more pertinent question. I think the broadest way of approaching CPD, that I’d like to see more organisations involve, is to make the expectations set by institutes and professional bodies an absolute bare minimum and deliver such a rich learning experience for people that actually that classroom number is irrelevant because you've surpassed that in terms of the informal learning proposition and the development of the individuals. So I think it’s about adopting that cultural piece rather than attempting to look at and see what’s the bare minimum we can achieve here.
RN: And just building on that, allowing people time within their normal day to day lives to step back and actually do some of that CPD, both in work as well as outside of work, I think would really benefit everyone.
PL: So there you have it continuing professional development, an untapped, I think it’s fair to say, opportunity for a lot of organisations of every kind to seize the initiative, do something smart and see a good raft of business outcomes in return. Thank you all very much: David D’Souza, Bec Normand, Simon Collins. Thank you.