Showcasing best practice: People Programme’s push for continuation learning
Showcasing best practice: People Programme’s push for continuation learning
In line with the promises made within the Fire and Rescue People Strategy 2017-2022 published by the NFCC’s People Programme, a body of work that has taken a great deal of time, sweat and quite possibly a few tears has now come together in a suite of resources that is ready to be shared with services across the UK. These resources, in the form of easily accessible hubs, toolkits and portals, have been developed and designed to showcase best practice and support fire and rescue services in accessing and supporting all community groups, recruiting and recognising talent and coaching and mentoring on a national scale, allowing a continuation of learning throughout the sector.
This collaboration of both fire and rescue personnel and external experts has been conducted under the supervision and management of People Programme Executive and Chief Executive for Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS), Ann Millington. In the true spirit of someone who describes her work for the People Programme as a labour of love, Ann made time amid a difficult moment in her personal life to chat with me about the development of these highly anticipated projects.
Ann joined KFRS in 2007 as one of the few senior managers who did not arrive at her position through the traditional ranks of the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS). Ann’s qualifications and expertise are in HR and occupational psychology, and in an article for FIRE in 2011, celebrating her promotion to Chief Executive, she said: ‘After completing my degree I always knew my natural orientation would be towards a people-based profession… Most of my career prior to KFRS was spent in organisational development, involving a lot of training, coaching and counselling, developing systems and managing change projects’, and of her feelings towards her position within KFRS, Ann continued: ‘It’s hard to put this into words, but having worked in different organisations I get the feel of places quickly, and I could just feel the sense of purpose and heart at KFRS’.
More than ten years later, Ann’s background and extensive experience, combined with her passion for leading and developing a service with “heart”, have been the driving force for the development of the four new toolkits: the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Hub, the Recruitment Hub, the Talent Management Framework and Toolkit, and the Coaching and Mentoring National Portal. It was Ann who wrote the existing NFCC People Strategy, and following her own advice within the strategy, that ‘there needs to be a collection of tools to help every service with implementing what needs to be done’, she has expertly supervised a vast collaboration of minds to achieve exactly that, and it is now time to share and implement the results.
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are prominent in terms of how society engages with and understands its communities. At the heart of all these new resources is what Ann has been most passionate about over the years and is most keen to raise awareness of: access to services. She says: “We are incredibly complacent in fire about the idea that everybody knows we’re here and they know what we do, and there is a general feeling that fire is so well understood, but it isn’t. It’s understood in certain groups, and it’s understood in historic terms by certain groups, which isn’t helping us because we’ve still got historic images which aren’t very effective in terms of what we’re trying to do.”
The EDI Hub is one place where all services can access a host of tools and information designed to improve how different community groups can be recognised and encouraged to access the services offered to them by their local FRS. The Hub includes a collection of equality of access documents about different community groups, including LGBT, black and Asian communities, neurodiversity and re-housed homeless people. These documents are a resource that provide guidance, best practice and data for all services to use and adapt to their own strategies and polices, in the hope that, as the sector improves and develops, the documents will evolve and change as services share their own experiences.
Ann is passionate about the effectiveness of the equality impact assessments and has been known to promote them at conferences for some time now. She says: “Having an intention to be inclusive is not enough, you’ve got to put tools in place and action them. The access cases are there as an immediate resource for [services] to download and fill in with their own research that they then do locally. The EDI Hub is not just a product. Hopefully it will evolve and start triangulating more data around these sorts of issues.”
The access statements contain a lot of sensitive information about the different community groups; information that requires validation. Ann has engaged a number of charities and organisations that are experts in their field to assist with the creation and validation of each document. Blueprint for All (formerly known as the Stephen Lawrence Charity), the homeless charity, Porchlight, Stonewall, The LGBT Foundation and Opening Doors are just some of the organisations that have contributed invaluably to the access statements.
Blueprint for All’s mission is to ‘work with young people, communities and organisations to create an inclusive society in which everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity or background is provided with tangible opportunities to thrive’. They have just completed some “tremendous” work for KFRS, as Ann described it, which she is on the cusp of sharing on a national scale. Ann asked for their help in accessing the black and Asian communities in Kent to enable more appropriate access to fire services that they might not be aware of, such as safe and well visits or having smoke alarms fitted in their homes.
Ann explained that Blueprint for All is constantly asked for help with official documentation, and when Ann made her initial enquiry, the policy officer told her that for every 100 requests they can only accept one, and they accepted KFRS because they recognised that there was a genuine intent to make a difference. Working with Blueprint for All is helping to access communities that are difficult to reach. Ann says: “It’s not that we’re not getting it right, we’re doing lots of good work, but how do you get to older people in certain generations where you still have language issues and issues of felt discrimination, whether or not there’s been discrimination, all those really complex issues; how do you get to them? We want to say, not only are we here, but you are absolutely entitled, and it is our privilege to serve you. Some of that needs a lot of clever thinking, and I think the setting up of the EDI Hub especially is saying that this sector takes it really seriously. There are lots of great tools in there, but the tools are really just the mechanism for where do we go next?”
The Hub does not only supply information for accessing communities, it also offers tools and guidance for supporting the internal workforce. Ann continues: “The EDI Hub is trying to pull together not just access for services, although I do think we have to start there, but also making sure the workforce has access for joining in the first place, and when they get there, we need to make everything accessible to them in an obvious way. All the tools and products we’ve been pulling together are all on there.”
Ann continues our discussion with the example of neurodiversity. “How do we carry on being inclusive? Something like 20 per cent of our workforce is neurodiverse.” Within KFRS, people with dyslexia, or any other condition that makes using language challenging, are encouraged not to agonise over written communication, but rather to add a by-line to their messages stating something along the lines of: Expect big thinking but with small typos. This eradicates time wasted trying to check spelling and grammar and allows each individual to be themselves and get their point across in their own unique manner. Ann says: “It’s ok to make errors in communication as long as the message gets across.” [I conquer! -Ed] This is just a small example of the many ways in which services can support staff with needs.
Three years ago, Ann discovered a maturity assessment of workforce issues that she was able to utilise and re-invent for the FRS. The FRS Maturity Models and Workforce Good Practice Framework highlights ten workforce areas, including EDI, succession planning, learning and organisation and talent management, to name a few. Each of these areas has development levels on a scale of 1 (starting your journey) to 4 (highly developed in this area). Ann has designed self-assessment tools for services to apply to their own policies and procedures. She says: “Part of the reason for doing this is saying that this is what level 4 will look like, and this is what you need to work on to get there. You may already be doing bits in level 4, and bits in levels 3, 2 and 1 – you can absolutely be at different places across the levels, and then gradually build up to a well-developed level 4.”
In terms of recognising talent within the organisation, KFRS has introduced a process called a Talent Benchmark Review. This process replaces the traditional (and somewhat old-fashioned) appraisal system of meeting once a year with employees to discuss objectives and training, etc, and introduces a constant dialogue with employees which will monitor, for example, wellbeing and personal development. Then once a year, the benchmark review will involve a career aspiration conversation that is underpinned with the dialogue and knowledge gathered throughout the year. From this review, management can gauge what level of talent each employee is at, for example, emerging or advancing talent. It is a means of recognising when it is the right time for each individual to progress or make changes, or just continue where they are. Ann says: “Talent benchmark reviewing is about readiness. How ready is this person? And there is now a portal for coaching and mentoring, which will also be part of that.”
Mentoring and Coaching National Portal
Kent Fire and Rescue Service has joined a coaching and mentoring network with Kent Police and Kent County Council which offers a vast collection of expertise and knowledge to be utilised. This effective collaboration has inspired the creation of the Mentoring and Coaching National Portal, which is available to all personnel within the FRS and Ann describes as: “the best dating agency you will ever find!” The recent turnover of CFOs has created both a host of suitable coaches and mentors and a new generation of leaders who now have access to expert guidance at the click of a mouse. The idea is that the mentors and coaches create a profile for the portal, through which all personnel can then browse and choose the right expert for their enquiry.
Along with NFCC Chair Mark Hardingham and CFO Wayne Bowcock, Ann recently organised a successful event for new CFOs to attend – a day to reflect on the challenges ahead. Ann, Mark and Wayne all talked about their own experiences and opened up about their methods for discussion, facilitating a debate about how to manage the challenges that might arise during their first year.
Ann says of the subsequent development of the national portal: “You don’t need to be heroic leaders, you don’t need to be the experts, it’s completely cool to be in a sector where you can reach out to other people and ask for advice and guidance. For me, coaching is always going to be about narrowing it down to what you want out of this, in your style and in your skill set, with me hopefully enabling a process that you can think through and tweak along the way… The portal is set up to enable the appropriate matching and equally provide the tools underneath it.”
It is not likely that services lack the will to improve on how they look after their people, it is more the capacity to do it in terms of funding and resources, etc. Ann says: “The NFCC is trying to create some of the work for [services] and say, here you are, feel free to tweak this to your own circumstances. Hopefully, what this is removing is the inequality of the capacity to do this stuff. So you can be in London, or you can be in Cumbria, but the management team can pick up the same information and apply it. They still need to apply it, but they haven’t needed to utilise three people spending days and months looking at best practice and what’s the best way of going forward, they just pick and mix what works for their organisation.” Ann hopes that once new policies have been implemented, services will be willing to share what they have learned.
Ann says: “One of the things that KFRS has been really good at, and I’ve been really keen on this from day one, is that we do share. It would have been easy to keep all the access cases and the maturity level assessments for us, but what’s the point of that? The whole point is that if somebody is doing something clever, you don’t just want it to help save lives in [your service area], it could be helping to save lives everywhere.”
It is clear that an incredible amount of work has gone into the creation of the People Programme’s newly available toolkits and portals; there is so much more than has been touched on in this article. Ann reiterated throughout our conversation that there are many wonderful people who have been willing to give so much of their time to the growth and development of the various projects. She says: “This is very much the product of a collaboration; a bucket load of energy from so many people has gone into this. The one gem of the nature of the whole thing is the nature of the collaboration.”
The next steps for the People Programme, following a slight pause while the new toolkits are accessed and implemented around the country, is a focus on leadership and the development of the new 2022-27 People Strategy. Ann has decided, after 11 years at the helm, it is time for her to stand down as the Chair of the People Programme and allow fresh eyes and ears to influence future policy. She will, however, continue as Chief Executive for KFRS for a few more years yet, and be available for coaching and mentoring as and when the new People Programme team require her knowledge and experience. Ann says: “I have to say, it’s been an absolute labour of love. It is, and has been, massively rewarding all the way through, there’s no doubt about it.”
To access the new toolkits and portals made available by the NFCC’s People Programme, visit: www.https://www.ukfrs.com/people.
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