Transforming Wyong Shire Council through learning and development

One of the privileges we have at Voice Project is to help organisations track organisational improvements, and to celebrate with them when they succeed! Our Change Challenge Awards are designed to identify successful change and share the learnings with our clients and partners. However, occasionally one of our clients will stun us with their improvements, and we can’t wait to showcase what they’ve done. Wyong Shire Council is one of those organisations. Like many in the local government sector, Wyong Shire Council has been facing a number of important challenges, not the least of which was turning around a multi-million dollar budget deficit. They embraced a new corporate strategy and large organisational transformation that emphasised the need to cultivate a motivated, capable, educated and qualified workforce. At the heart of the changes, Wyong Shire Council’s Learning and Development initiatives have resulted in an overwhelmingly positive organisational transformation with a number of measurable results.

Wyong Shire Council’s Organisational Development Partner, Linda Sutton shared with us some of their learnings from this journey. Firstly, Wyong ensured that their Learning and Development framework was aligned closely to the long term vision of the council – “what does the corporate strategy say we want to focus on this year?” From here, Wyong were able to set their learning and development priorities in a way that was able to justify budgets for Learning and Development initiatives that contributed to this overall vision.

Nevertheless, Wyong Shire Council had to balance the strategic needs of the organisation with the development needs of individuals to carry out their roles on a daily basis. “For us, it was not just about Wyong Shire Council but also to create more career opportunities and a better educated community as 45% of the Wyong community don’t have post school qualifications”. They did this by focussing on accredited learning, including apprenticeships and traineeships. The value in focussing on accredited learning came from a structured process of learning that required supervisory involvement, the earned buy-in of employees who saw the value in a transferable qualification, and financial rebates provided by the federal and state governments.

Secondly, Wyong’s Learning and Development Team were able to partner effectively with different arms of the business to deliver a Training Needs Analysis (TNA). Wyong Shire Council’s TNA involves populating a spreadsheet with the necessary regulatory compliance training requirements of teams as downloaded from a Learning Management System. Professional development initiatives (e.g. seminars) that meet the strategic development requirements are included, and consultation is conducted with individual supervisors to finalise the training needs of teams. From here, Wyong Shire Council are able to identify what training needs are consistent across the organisation as well as implement budgets fairly and accurately to deliver the most effective training solutions. Importantly, Linda pointed out that “if supervisors don’t do the training needs analysis, then they do not get a budget for training”, emphasising both inclusion and enforcement as a part of the TNA process.

Thirdly, Linda says “having leaders that are motivated about developing people and about achieving results through capability” was key. Managers needed to address fear of failure and negative attitudes toward learning and school. “It is all about making a safe environment for them. Getting people that are motivated around them to help them.” For example, “we ran some training on using computers. People objected to the idea of a test, however the trainer was fantastic and encouraged them and showed them that they could achieve success”.

Fourthly, Wyong Shire Council successfully linked their Learning and Development strategy into other HR processes to embed a learning culture. For example, Learning and Development reports feed into succession planning, individual performance appraisals, as well as linking leaders’ performance appraisals to the L&D of their team. They also have an effective onboarding induction process. This is characterised by delivering formalised training in code of conduct, workplace behaviour as well as involvement in council customer service to instil an understanding of organisational purpose through exposure to typical challenges faced by Wyong residents. Finally, supervisors are charged with establishing the role expectations and performance objectives as well as integrating new members into the team.

Wyong acknowledge that “it is very tough to put a dollar sign to return on investment” when it comes to evaluating L&D, however, Linda believes these initiatives have contributed significantly to Wyong Shire Council’s success in delivering a sustainable financial surplus. Their Staff Engagement Survey with Voice Project showed staff satisfaction with Wyong’s commitment to ongoing training and development of staff improved 14% in comparison to their previous survey. Other key success indicators include Wyong Shire Council’s recognition in securing the NSW Training Award as large employer of the year, and numerous individual industry awards (National Sports Turf Association Award for an apprentice landscaper) and nominations (e.g. in Central Coast’s ‘Apprentice of the Year’).

Top tips for learning and development

    analyse individual and organisational needs From the top down, organisational strategy should inform what capabilities will be required to reach the vision for future success. From the bottom up, a Training Needs Analysis (TNA) can be used to gather information regarding where training is required.

    structure learning activities Formal and informal means of learning should be encouraged and resourced, acknowledging 70% of learning generally comes from on-the-job experience, 20% from feedback and coaching, and 10% from formal courses and reading. However, on-the-job learning needs to be facilitated by creating opportunities to practice, reflect on, and share learnings.

    leaders model learning Managers should lead by example to demonstrate best practice and facilitate on-the-job learning for others. Manager KPIs and rewards for people development can further encourage modelling.

    integrate learning practices It is important to view learning and development as a ‘system’ and not a one-time ‘training’ event. To reinforce a learning culture, integrate learning and development into core workplace processes such as performance appraisal, rewards and recognition, recruitment and orientation.

    evaluate Questions to ask include: How appropriate is the investment in relation to needs? How well are we meeting our needs? Are we achieving the desired outcome? Where possible, try to evaluate the impact on multiple individual and organisational performance criteria.