Wright, N. (2005) 'Dynamic Perimeters: Creating a Staff Development Policy', Training & Learning, Institute of Training & Occupational Learning, April, Issue 3, pp10-11.
You’ve been tasked with developing a new staff development policy (SDP) and you’re sitting at the desk wondering where to start. If this scenario applies to you, one of the first things you’ll notice is that almost everyone has a view on what should be included. That’s because almost everyone has an interest in what’s included; that is, they’ll be affected in some way by its practice implications.
Staff may want the policy to be as liberal as possible, supporting the broadest range of personal development opportunities. Managers may take a more conservative view, worried about time and budget and how to justify the cost in hard business terms. The first thing I’d suggest, therefore, is open discussion with a variety of interested stakeholders to find out what they’d like the policy to achieve. This helps create a sense of overall purpose before diving headlong into technical details.
When we developed our own policy in Tearfund, I met with the organisation’s Leadership Team and Staff Council at the earliest possible stage in order to sound out their respective priorities, ideas and concerns. All parties were united in their view that the SDP should enable the organisation to fulfil its mission in a manner consistent with its Christian values. This created an important baseline from which any potential future differences could be resolved.
We agreed an aim for the policy as: ‘to clarify the key principles and procedures upon which decisions concerning staff development strategy and support in Tearfund will be based.’ Sample objectives that follow in your own policy could include:
· Create an environment within which all staff are able to grow, develop and excel in their professional fields by utilising their gifts, talents and expertise in supporting the organisation’s mission.
· Ensure that staff have opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills and experience needed to fulfil their individual/team roles and, by doing so, enhance personal, professional and career development potential.
· Provide opportunities for interaction that enable shared learning, synergy of ideas and appropriate informing/influence of organisational strategy, policy and good practice.
· Increase the organisation’s ability to recruit and retain staff with critical knowledge, skills and experience through developing its reputation as a ‘preferred employer’, committed to investment in development of its staff.
· Develop staff holistically according to the organisation’s values, providing clarity, transparency, consistency and equality of opportunity.
The next stage in the policy development process may be to glance at a range of SDPs from similar and contrasting organisations to gain ideas on typical structure and content. In Tearfund, we benchmarked against 3 comparable agencies, Investors in People/People in Aid standards and read advice provided by Croner. This provided a helpful and efficient starting point.
I then invited a number of stakeholders to join a working group that would act as a sounding board and ideas forum throughout the policy development period. I also took work in progress periodically to the Leadership Team and Staff Council, a critical step for gaining shared wisdom, insight and buy-in as the policy progressed towards its implementation stages.
At the outset, the working group identified four basic assumptions on which the policy should be based:
That staff development and organisation development are interdependent
The organisation’s capabilities can be enhanced by increasing staff capabilities
Staff capabilities can be enhanced by the organisation providing appropriate opportunities for development
That responsibility for staff development lies jointly with staff and organisation
Staff are responsible for managing their own development
The organisation is responsible for providing staff with appropriate opportunities for development
That staff development initiatives should be resourced according to the degree to which they support fulfillment of the organisation’s mission
Resource allocations should be linked to strategic priorities
Initiatives should be assessed according to direct and indirect costs/benefits
That holistic development incorporates spiritual, personal and professional dimensions
In Christian terms, spiritual, personal and professional development are inextricably linked
The organisation’s development in each of these areas is integrally linked with that of its staff
It also identified a number of key questions that it believed should underlie decisions on the allocation of staff development resources:
Drivers Is there a legal imperative?
Is there a strategic imperative?
Is there a change imperative?
Is there a risk imperative?
Is there a good practice imperative?
Return on Investment Are there specific direct benefits?
Are there specific indirect benefits?
Will benefits outweigh costs?
Is this the right person?
Is this the right time?
Is this the best method?
Resources Are there resources available?
Can it be funded externally?
Will it attract additional funding?
In practice, we found it very difficult to represent these questions in order of precedence since relative priorities are so dependent on specifics of circumstances. We agreed, therefore, simply to present the questions in the policy as important considerations, especially for leaders involved in staff development decision-making.
The next stage may be to decide what areas to cover in the policy itself. At times, we struggled to draw clear lines between policy and procedure and so decided to concentrate on ‘philosophical principles’ and ‘general guidance’ as our main focus. Tearfund works in around 80 countries around the world in areas as diverse as community development, advocacy, disaster management and economic development. Practical application would need, therefore, to take into account regional, cultural and technical difference as well as logistical realities.
We settled on the following areas for inclusion which now form the basic framework for the policy:
1. Introduction – aim, objectives and overview of the policy.
2. Context – how the policy links to mission and values; underlying policy assumptions; how the policy relates
to other organisational policies; scope of interest.
3. Definition of terms – how various terms are used in the policy; e.g. personal development, professional
development, career development.
4. Opportunities – a sample range of staff development opportunities along with terms and conditions of
5. Norms and eligibility – organisational expectations; mandatory training; attendance requirements;
probationary support; post-employment support.
6. Career development – opportunities and constraints; support available.
7. Responsibilities – of leaders, staff, teams, L&D/HR teams, trainers and consultants.
8. Resources – what resources will be budgeted; where resources will be held; how resources will be
allocated; decision-making protocols.
9. Organisational learning – how individual learning links with organisational learning; opportunities for
involvement in organisational learning initiatives.
10. Evaluation – how learning and development will be evaluated at individual, team and corporate levels.
The policy closes with a statement about how it was developed, who was involved in the development process, when it will be reviewed and who to contact for further information. It’s published on the organisation’s intranet and available to all leaders and staff. Feedback to date from all parties has been positive and the policy has enabled a greater degree of clarity and consistency than was previously possible. By way of conclusion, I would recommend the following as critical success factors: (a) consult with all stakeholders throughout and (b) ensure clarity of aim, principles and focus.