Conflict Management Training – From the perspective of an ex – retail employee.

Christmas is coming, for many of us this an exciting time that we will be spending with our friends and family, away from the workplace. However, we tend to forget that while we are enjoying our time away from work, for many, it is the most dreaded time of year. In this case, I am talking about those who work in retail.

Having worked for one of the “big four” supermarkets for a few years, progressing through the ranks, I’ve experienced first-hand the kind of conflicts that your average retail employee can face on a day to day basis. If I had a pound for every Christmas I supposedly “ruined” and an extra pound for every disgruntled customer I had screaming aggressively in my face because an item they needed was not available just before Christmas day, I would never have to work again.

Now, I can admit that overall, I was fairly good with dealing with these kinds of conflicts, mainly due to the fact that I had worked my way up to a higher position and had the advantage of watching experienced managers deal with conflict situations. However, I had never received any formal training in this area, and unfortunately, disgruntled and angry customers do not have a radar which allows them to focus their anguish at the most senior colleague in the building. Everybody is effectively a target in these situations, it doesn’t matter if you’ve worked there 30 days or 30 years, in the retail environment, anybody could be thrust into a situation where he or she are dealing with conflict of some kind.

Too many times had I seen fellow colleagues in tears because they did not know how to deal with a situation like this, which often as a result merely made the situation worse. This was no fault of the employee, if they have not been trained in how to deal with conflict situations, then they can’t be expected to resolve it, as far as I’m concerned.

During my time in retail, events like this occurred on, more or less, a daily basis, and it was often just passed off as “the norm.”

However, once I was away from retail and focusing on getting my training qualifications, I was sent on a Conflict Management course by my current employer, this opened my eyes to the training that I could have (and I feel that I should have) received when I was working in retail.

This 2 day course was straightforward, and the knowledge and techniques that it bestowed upon me were, in theory, extremely simple. Over this period, I found myself constantly saying the same things: “I wish that I had learned this when I was in retail…”, “That would have been handy to know when I was working in retail…” etc, you get the idea.

Now, as far as I’m aware, members of management in retailers do get some form of conflict management training. However, management in retail is not the front line, and their skills usually only come into practice because of some form of escalation. This is due to the majority of those on the front line, the shop floor workers, have little to zero training in conflict management. When you consider that they are the ones who will be bearing the brunt of the initial conflicts, this just seems wrong. Just imagine how much time and aggravation could be saved if the initial spark of conflict could be extinguished by those on the front line!

There are undoubtedly a number of reasons that retailers won’t give all their employees sufficient conflict management training, with cost and time being the main two. But, speaking as an ex-retail employee who did conflict management after his time in the sector, I really, really wish that I had this training, and I’m sure a lot of my colleagues would have as well.

These are not just skills that one can apply to their retail career, these are skills that you can apply to almost any walk of life. The knowledge someone can take with them is invaluable.

Within the workplace, colleagues could feel safer and confident that they would know what to do when conflict inevitably arises.

I feel that many of us underestimate just how far conflict can go with customers, although it is rare, there has been instances where I have seen (and been told stories of) violence being used towards employees. Violence, that could have been avoided had the right training been delivered.

Consider Conflict Management, for a safer, more secure working environment.

By Jake Wade.

Is “Blended Learning” right for you?

So, what is ‘Blended Learning’? Just a buzz word or something that saves time and money?

“Blended learning is an education program (formal or informal) that combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods”

So, what does that mean in reality? Well, let’s take the First Aid at Work qualification and explore two ways of completing it: First, the traditional method, then the Blended Learning method.

As you know, the Health & Safety Executive require employers to provide adequate First Aid provision for these employees and visitors. Most employers will send staff on a First Aid at Work course to gain a recognised qualification and therefore the employer can demonstrate they have exercised their duty of care.

A standard First Aid at Work course will require the student to attend for three days, during which the course will deliver a range of training through powerpoints, discussion, demonstrations, practical sessions and finally assessments. The student will spend three days away from the workplace gaining the knowledge and understanding in order to carry out the practical skills required to administer First Aid in the workplace.

If the First Aid provider offered a blended learning approach then the student could be enrolled on an e-Learning portal, which would allow them to complete the learning elements of the course in their own time, whilst remaining in their workplace. This saves on travelling time, possibly accommodation costs, and it is also more efficient. The student can log onto the portal when they wish, and complete the learning in stages. Each module has assessment questions to ensure that the student has understood the content, and allows them to repeat any areas where they are unsure, as many times as they want.

Having completed the e-Learning and received an online certificate there are then two routes to follow: The first is for those students who don’t require a formal qualification, in which case the record of e-Learning may be enough for them and they do not need to do anything else. For those students requiring a formal qualification, or confirmation that they have indeed understood the training and gained the correct knowledge, they can attend a

For those students requiring a formal qualification, or confirmation that they have indeed understood the training and gained the correct knowledge, they can attend a two-day course which will consolidate their learning with a range of discussions and practical exercises, finished off with some assessments. Once the assessments are complete, the learner will receive an accredited qualification.

What are the benefits of blended learning? Well, it isn’t for everyone, but a lot of people will prefer to complete the e-Learning in their own time, at their own pace, and then only attend atwo-dayy course.

Blended learning will often be cheaper because the provider won’t have to supply a trainer for three days, and the savings to employers are both financial ( course costs, travel costs and possibly accommodation) and efficiency (the employee can complete the e-Learning over a period of time, without impacting on three whole days of work at once).

If you’d like to find out more about blended learning options, please email us on info@rpeel.co.uk

Thank you for reading!

 

 

Employability in the International Development industry.

What makes a good international development professional?

The international development industry is populated by a diverse group of people from a wide cross section of disciplines. These include special forces soldiers, to softer skills, such as experts in human resources and community engagement.

How then, does someone wanting to enter in to the development world prepare himself or herself for their career choice?  The answer is the same for all questions: “it depends”.

In this case, it depends on two things: First, the area of development they want to get in to, and second, their current skill set or qualifications. Each will drive the other.

The international development world is (at its most basic level) split in to two branches.  First, the humanitarian Non – Government Agencies such as International Red Cross, Medicine San Frontier,  Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam and a whole plethora of others.  Then there are the private companies, some not for profit, who do contracted and sub contract work for mostly western government departments and international government agencies such as the U.S. state department, EU Development Funds, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the United Nations.

NGA’s tend to deal with issues such as agriculture development, water supply, public health, education, child protection etc. Whereas the government organisations deal with security, justice, policing, and governance usually in partnership and very close liaison with the host country government.  This is not exclusively the case, however, and there are a lot of crossover programmes and contracts.  NGA’s also tend to be able to go to areas where governments are unable to, except when they are engaged in direct intervention, such as live war zones and across closed borders.

In terms of skill sets all programmes will have common elements.  There is almost every conceivable type of programme, from high-level government capability development (around such things as government financial controls and policy) to building affordable housing.  All programmes need managing so there are a lot of people drawn to the industry via programme management experience and expertise.  There is always a financial control required so financial managers are part of the structure as is supply chain, warehousing, procurements, legal services and security.

There is then an element of technical expertise around the design and implementation of the programme, so for instance, if the aim of the programme is to train and mentor the police of a certain country, you would expect to see a heavily weighted programme to support this with a number of policing experts.  The same would be true if the aim of the programme was to supply heavy equipment for infrastructure building, it would be reasonable to expect technical experts with construction experience to be an integral part of the programme staff.

The first question anyone aspiring to get in to the international development world should ask themselves is: What sort of organisation do I want to work for?   The answer will once again depend on what they want out of the experience personally.   Do they want to be involved in humanitarian work for NGO’s, funded by charities and international agencies? Or development work funded by governments? Both options have pros and cons attached which could be discussed extensively, but eventually it comes down to an individual choice.

The second question would then naturally be: What do I want to do within the career path I have decided on? Followed by, what skill sets will I then require and what have I already got? All are fairly obvious questions, but surprisingly, ones which don’t appear to be very common.  Most people who are in this field tend to have arrived without giving it much thought.  Some tend to believe that their previous position or experience is enough to secure themselves a second career. However, some do see the career path before them and do plan.

I recently delivered a lecture for a master’s course in a northern university, when this subject came up.  Every student in the class of 35+ considered that they did not have the required skills and experience to enter the international development world.  I suspect if I had been speaking to a similar group of American students they would have had a totally different outlook on their own employability.   The group I was addressing were second year psychology students most of whom were interested in criminology and criminal psychology; not a natural fit for the international development industry at first glance but, once you break down what they have studied in terms of human behaviour and how people interact with each other in stress situations the picture starts to become different.  When further questioned about what students did outside university, the picture changed again.  Some worked in banks and financial institutions, some were members of reserve armed forces and others had previously been engineering and media graduates.  All are skills that are in demand in the development industry.

University degrees are not compulsory for this line of work but if you have other skills and qualifications a suitable degree can only enhance your employability.  Some international government agencies, such as the UN insist, on a minimum of a master’s degree for positions above a certain pay grade.

There are several universities which offer degrees up to master’s level in international security, governance and development.  (As well as terrorist studies at diploma and certificate level.)  More are becoming available all the time, Liverpool University is about to launch a new degree course which centers on the development industry professionals and people who want to enter the industry.  The course is modular, so it encourages the use and enhancement of existing skills as well as providing academic underpinning of their knowledge.

None of the above prevents anyone who wants to enter the industry just going for it, as extra skills and qualifications can be acquired whilst in the industry. The advantage of this strategy is that you would have a better idea of what you wanted and needed to obtain for your chosen path.  The opportunity to speak and learn from others about what is required and the different methods and career streams can also not be underestimated once immersed in the industry.

I have personally worked with people who are on programmes because they are: Lawyers, police officers, soldiers, analysts, researchers, programme managers, linguists, town planners, builders, engineers, politicians, experts in communications, IT, finance, supply chain, procurements, project management and HR. I’ve also worked with specialists in land mine clearance, bomb disposal, first aid, emergency rescue, strategic communications and marketing.

Living and working away from home is not for everyone, but if these are things that you can deal with, then there are many rewards that come with international working.  The chance to travel to otherwise unattainable places (or at least unusual) is a big pull for some people.  The financial rewards can also be excellent, but be aware that there is usually a reason that you are being paid well, that could be because the programme is in a dangerous or hostile environment, or because the living conditions are challenging, for example. All of these factors should be considered when you are presented with a contract.

Can you manage an investigation?

Several organisations are finding themselves embroiled in controversy because of complaints not being dealt with correctly.  Some of these are internal complaints from their own workforce.

Southern Medical Trust have recently been heavily criticised and sanctioned for a series of malpractice incidents. Irrespective of circumstances of the actual incident they were additionally criticised for not investigating these incidents correctly.  Some of this criticism was avoidable, the fact that they attracted significant reputational damage just because they failed to investigate properly would appear to be a serious own goal.

No organisation is immune to exposure of this kind of criticism.

The number of complaints recorded in Universities and High Education establishments, for instance, has grown significantly in recent years.  Complaints regarding the actions and conduct of both students and staff encompass a range of subjects: From cheating and plagiarism, allegations of inadequate teaching and support, as well as a range of serious criminal allegations.

Surrounding opinion of the younger generation and entitled millennia’s aside, it is clear that people are more ready to engage with litigation.  Coupled with this, they also have an improved awareness of the complaints process and improved support from trade organisations and representative bodies and a highly competitive legal system hungry for work.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has a statutory role to investigate a number of student complaints. Their 2015 report shows that the trend continues to rise (See Fig 1). An increasing number of which are seen as justified or partly justified (See Fig 2).

 

Figure 1
Figure 2

In the meantime, support and resources for senior managers tasked with investigating these complaints has failed to keep pace with the changes.

So, the question should be: Does my organisation know how to investigate? Have we got systems and policies in place? Do they have people within their organisation who can run or manage an investigation effectively?

Dependent on the organisation, the responsibility to carry out at least the initial investigation, lies with senior managers.  HR departments may take the legwork away from managers but ultimately the buck will stop with them.

Senior managers now find themselves increasingly burdened with this arduous responsibility, often without any formal training or guidance of the investigative processes.

Managers, or their nominees responsible for conducting an investigation, will benefit greatly from having some basic investigative training.  Now more than ever, there is increased scrutiny into the conduct of an enquiry/investigation. Adherence to the legislation, policies and procedure of your organisation is paramount in the process.

Developing knowledge and understanding of the investigation process enables the individual manager, as well as the organisation, to evidence their accountability, proportionality and reasonableness in their dealings with complainants irrespective of whether the initial complaint is upheld or not.

Demonstrating a thorough and ethical approach to your investigation may potentially help you avoid costly civil litigations and mitigate the risk of reputational harm.

Managers need to develop knowledge, understanding of the process of investigations and its key elements.  They also need a detailed understanding of the legislation, policies and procedures that governs an investigation and the significance and impact of non-compliance.

As a minimum, when an investigation is commenced the responsible manager will need to understand his or her role in the process along with all the ethics, principles, legislation, policies and procedures.

Investigators will need to develop the investigation strategy and demonstrate all decisions made as a result.

Anyone involved with the enquiry will need to understand the principles of

  • Securing and preserving evidence
  • Management of written material and associated evidence
  • Skills and techniques in investigative interviewing
  • Recording evidence in statement form
  • Case file preparation
  • Skills to present evidence in formal proceedings

Help is available. The legal experts will be able to supply you with hand books and text books which will tell you what you should and should not do, as well as the penalties for getting it wrong.

What the books will not tell you is how to do them, or not do them. The only people who can assist you in this regard are experienced investigators who have been through the fire of court and tribunal hearings, people who have had their every decision scrutinised and questioned in minute detail.

These people will be able to guide you through investigation strategies by helping organisations to put robust working practices and policies in place, which will protect the individuals and the organisation.  Systems, which can ensure the continuity of evidence so as to avoid the embarrassing questions in the middle of a hearing. Experts who can work with individuals who are managing investigations and give them skills to carry out robust, transparent, and impartial investigations which will stand up to the most rigorous scrutiny.  It’s not enough these days to be fair and impartial, it’s sometimes more important to be seen to be so.  You may inevitably need to prove and justify that you and your investigation have been thorough, impartial, fair, and professional, by producing incontestable facts or evidence to support decisions made and actions taken.  Ask yourself, can you manage an investigation correctly?

The Importance of Managing Risk

Cyber crime is making all the headlines at the moment and it was recently reported[i] that cyber crime and fraud are now the UK’s most common offences. Any company that operates online is exposed to the risk of cyber crime and the bigger and more dependent the organization is on the internet, the greater the damage that may be done. Note the use of the word ‘may’ because that is what a risk is: something that might happen. If and when it does happen it is no longer a risk but an issue…… that needs resolving.

So we can see that risk is the possibility of something (normally bad) happening with consequences that will damage the business. Damage or impact could be financial, reputational or on the people connected with the business. This concept of risk being two dimensional is important to recognise because people will sometimes focus too much on the impact forgetting or ignoring the probability. The fear of flying, for example, is irrational because the likelihood of an incident happening when you are flying is extremely small but the impact/consequences may, of course, be catastrophic.

Human beings have always managed risk: our ancestors use to live in caves to protect themselves from animal attacks; the Romans maintained a well-trained army in case of insurgency: the plimsoll line was created to help prevent ships from sinking when cargo was being loaded. Nothing has changed to this day save for the fact that most organisations nowadays have to actively demonstrate that they are managing risk. In other words, there has been a move has been from implicit/informal to explicit/formal risk management. This move from implicit/informal to explicit/formal risk management has manifested itself in businesses setting up risk registers, appointing Chief Risk Officers and supporting staff and even developing methods to quantify risk exposures as a basis for providing reserves should such risks manifest themselves.

So where do you start if you want to be more explicit with your risk management? The first thing to do is to understand the process of risk management which typically has four phases:

Identification – a subjective exercise in identifying all the risks that might affect the business. These are often grouped into areas such as financial, operations, IT, legal and so on. The aim is to develop a list of risks without ignoring any that are identified.

  1. Assessment – a subjective evaluation of the likelihood of a the risk occurring and the impact that it would have if it were to manifest itself. There are various scales that can be sued for this process and the starting point is to consider these risks as if there were no controls in place (see next step) to mitigate the risk.
  2. Selection – selecting a suitable way in which the likelihood or impact may be reduced. Mitigation techniques are often referred to as the four Ts:
    1. Treat – techniques which implement or improve controls to prevent the risk from occurring;
    2. Transfer – techniques which move the risk out of the business (insurance is the best example of transferring a risk);
    3. Tolerate – accept the risk and choose to do take no further action, may be because the probability is too remote;
    4. Terminate – avoid the risk completely by, for example, deciding not to move into a new business line.
  3. Implementation – the final stage in the process involves re-assessing the likelihood/impact with the mitigation actions in place, implementing the agreed actions and then providing a follow-up/monitoring plan to ensure the risk remains ‘under control’

Risk identification is, by definition, an ongoing process as new risks emerge (such as cyber crime) but that doesn’t mean that the process needs to be done on a daily basis. In fact, once the process has been documented in a suitable risk register[ii] then it is just a question of reviewing the results every 3/6 months to make sure that nothing has changed. Of course, if there is an unexpected external event (such as a terror attack) which may affect your business then a review can take place immediately. In fact, scanning the external environment for new and emerging risks is part and parcel of the risk identification process.

An assessment of the risks facing a business should be broadly based and look at both internal and external risks. Typically the former are easier to control whilst the latter are harder. First aid is one area that should be included in your risk assessment as, not only is it a statutory requirement, it is also good business practice to prepare your business for the types of eventualities where well trained employees are able to react to an emergency in the workplace. More information on first aid risk assessments can be found on the Health and Safety Executive website[iii].

At this point, it is worth pointing out that the negative connotations of risk management thus far described need to be balanced against an organisations requirement to take risks. Any new business is taking risks when it first sets out. Any new venture for an existing business is risk-taking. The very simple message that comes from this is that an organization has to manage risks to protect the business and take risks to grow the business. As always in business, there is a balance to be struck between the two and achieving that balance is down to the directors.

The litany of failures caused by poor management of risks is endless. The consequences of poor risk management can lead to huge financial losses (witness the global financial crisis) or even loss of life (witness the Mid Staff NHS enquiry). Many of these failures hit the Press with headlines that “this should never be allowed to happen again”…….but sadly they do. Such catastrophic events may be confined to larger organisations but smaller businesses are not immune and can protect themselves without creating too much bureaucracy and recognising that good risk management is a necessary part of doing business in today’s complex working environment.

Keith Blacker is director of RPI. He holds a doctorate in Operational Risk Management and co-authored the People Risk Management published by Kogan page in 2015.

[i] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/19/fraud-cyber-crime-now-countrys-common-offences/

[ii] If you would like a copy of a simple risk register template with instructions on how to use it please contact admin@rpi.co.uk

[iii] http://www.hse.gov.uk/firstaid/needs-assessment.htm

The Chicken or the Egg? The frustration of tendering.

The Chicken or the Egg?

One of the most demoralising ‘tender’ phrases to read, for any Small to Medium Enterprise (SME), must be ‘experience of delivering in similar contracts is required’. This raises the question of how SMEs are ever going to get the experience required when it becomes a pre-requisite of tendering?

We have been there several times ourselves, and have spent many days and weeks writing comprehensive tender bid documents, demonstrating our capabilities, our technical expertise and the quality of our people, only to be told that we scored highly in technical ability, but were let down by previous contract experience. This has been particularly true of the FCO/DFiD tenders.

The big ‘Primes’ continue to hoover up the contracts, brushing aside anyone who dares to try and compete, at times immediately sub-contracting the work straight out to the very SMEs who were not able to win the tender themselves.

So, would SMEs provide a better service? They would have a greater vested interest in providing an excellent service for a start, their livelihoods depend on it. They are more likely to remain in the office until midnight to solve the minor issues that crop up, or personally manage the delivery. Their customer service is likely to be personal, rather than corporate and the personnel will be known quantities, as opposed to ‘someone to fill a post’.

SMEs will be able to provide project specific expertise, knowledge based on experience in the respective field, and the ability to deliver across Strategic Aims, Operational Plans and Tactical Delivery.

Our experience of the big Primes is that they get so consumed in their own importance that they cannot accept that an SME can deliver any significant contribution. There is almost an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ syndrome that things are rosy on the programme, because they have to be, and anybody who suggests otherwise is just being negative. More credence apparently being given to which University their degree came from, rather than the problem solving that 30 years of operational experience can bring to the table.

Is the answer to work as part of a consortium with a Prime? Maybe, but what about those Primes who take everything they need for the bid, then cast the SME aside, and then contacting the people whose CVs they have included in the bid to work for them direct. It has happened to us, and others we know, with little or no redress.

Has the ASI ‘incident’ been a turning point for SMEs? Will the contracting authorities start to use SMEs more often? Let’s hope so.

Until then, unfortunately, the ‘Chicken and Egg’ situation around tendering and experience seems likely to continue.

Welcome to our blog!

It’s another day, and it’s another new addition to our website. Welcome all, to the Robert Peel International Blog!

We feel that it is quite fitting that our blog is making it’s debut on Valentine’s Day, because we love what we do here.

Without going in to too much detail about the background of our company, (That’s a whole desperate blog in itself!) for anyone that is familiar with us, you will know that we are a fairly new business, and with that comes plenty of twists and turns that constantly keeps us on our toes. This isn’t just a business, it’s a journey as well, and this blog is the perfect way to share that journey with you.

So, what can you expect from us? You’ll be hearing plenty about what we’re doing and what’s coming up. But we will also be sharing our expertise and our stories with you, we pride ourselves on having “over 150 years combined experience in the policing, medical, security, military and justice arenas”, so now it’s time to share that experience, and show you what we are all about.

If there is anything that you would specifically like to hear about, then please do get in touch with us!

Stay tuned, there’s plenty of content on the way.

Until the next time!

The RPI Team.