So you've been on all the compulsory courses, you've reached competent status and you're now involved in continuing professional development (CPD). But how much more new business have you gained as a result?
If the answer to the question is "none" or "I don't know" then you've got a problem. CPD will cost you time and, as you know, that means money.
I want to focus on four issues: the link between CPD and business performance; real performance problems and solutions; transfer of learning to the real world; and, finally, the future.
Let's first be clear just what CPD is.
Continuing professional development
Over the past few years, there have been a number of significant changes within our industry and the pace of change continues to increase. So it is important to keep on acquiring new knowledge and skills, not only to keep up with current demands, but also to ensure current and future employability.
CPD is a process of planned, continuing career development encompassing:
Short-term targets to achieve specific goals, usually for skills or techniques that are lacking or show potential for improvement.
Mid-term planning, where short-term goals are seen as stepping stones towards higher-level performance.
Lifelong learning to achieve personal well-being as well as material reward.
Good news, bad news
Within the industry, the good news is that everyone is "doing training". The bad news is that it needs to relate more specifically to individual requirements.
This doesn't mean to say that such attempts are not made, just that we need to get better at it.
Not every supervisor is sufficiently skilled to identify and tailor development to the needs of both the individual and the organisation.
Adding value to your business
For any business this means:
Forming a business plan.
Establishing business performance measures.
Identifying what people have to do in order to achieve those measures.
These then form individual key performance indicators (KPIs). As performance against KPIs is monitored and performance gaps closed, business measures are achieved and plans met.
Since the plan is measured against market requirements and changed according to that market, so too should business measures and KPIs.
The result is that continued development against changing market and organisational needs is achieved.
Not as easy as it seems
Having linked CPD to the business, the next step is to get to the real performance issues and solutions, which affect the bottom line.
Forgetting for a moment all the compulsory development you have to do, such as fact-finding, product development, FPC and so on, ask yourself what was the last "training" programme you attended and why you went.
Did it emanate from a conversation with your supervisor in which they expressed a notion that "what you need is…"?
Were you told to attend a particular programme, simply left to your own devices, or was it because of some specific identified difficulty you were having with business development? If it was the latter, that's great – but was it accurate?
There are four reasons for the existence of a performance gap:
Business knowledge. You can't do your job if you don't reach minimum technical standards.
Business skill. Would you go to a dentist who had been on all the courses and read all the books but never pulled a tooth?
Motivation. You can teach, train, coach and support people until you are blue in the face, but if they don't want to learn and if they don't really want to do the job, then they won't. The problem is that some people are good at hiding their feelings and you don't always find out until it is too late.
Business environment. Sometimes an adviser will "fail" through no fault of their own. Business may go off the books because of poor administration, the adviser may work in an area of low employment or there may simply be little support or development from the line manager.
These are all examples of environmental issues which very often get overlooked.
You can see that identifying real performance problems and solutions requires some expertise. To comply fully with the latest PIA guidelines for CPD, it is an approach that needs to be adop- ted. So how can that expertise be gained quickly without vast amounts of money being spent?
Training cannot deliver
It should now be apparent that training may not be the required solution.
In fact, many real performance problems can be "solved" without recourse to "training" and perhaps the emphasis on such formal methods is indicative of a general lack of expertise in the development arena as a whole. In any event, how many organisations can afford the amount of off-the-job training which would be needed to keep staff up to date on all aspects of current and potential work activity?
People have different learning styles and it is difficult to meet their individual needs with formal training. Other learning mediums may be more appropriate.
Training is not learning
What do I mean by this? Well, to many people, training is what you do on a course or when you sit down and read a book or perhaps attend a lecture or seminar.
This is a fallacy. Training is about changing behaviour, changing what you do to something that is more effective. It is only complete when learning is implemented and practised in the workplace.
So organisations have to focus more on the "what are you going to do as a result" issues and away from the "arranged training events where nothing happens afterwards to make it worthwhile, but do make sure your CPD card gets stamped" approach. Does that ring any bells?
Traditional ways in which individuals develop themselves are well known.
For example, attending training courses, working through paper-based distance learning materials, coaching, reading professional magazines and the trade press, watching business TV broadcasts and even video conferences.
But don't forget project work, secondment, delegation, network/business contacts, problem-solving with a colleague, acting as a mentor or the example and experience of good and bad leadership.
Technology is becoming increasingly advanced and it is noticeable that multimedia and PCs are becoming more widely used within the IFA community. It is a fun way to learn, using a combination of computer-based training and sound and video clips, which offer an amazingly creative and effective way to deliver training.
Needless to say, since it reaches so many different senses it can cater for different learning styles. Research shows that it decreases learning time while increasing retention and has the advantage that you can learn in your own time.
Of course, the internet is becoming more a part of everyday working life, with several hundred IFAs signed up to use various websites. Information contained on such sites is always up to date and I can see the day coming when you will be able to obtain a whole list of training material over the internet.
Getting learning into the workplace
The real world is different to the classroom, isn't it? And things don't always work out as you hope, do they? So what's the easiest option? Give up!
Don't! Stop to think about what you're doing and what you should be doing. Ask yourself what you need to do differently to get back on track. Learn from your experiences and make appropriate changes.
This is the learning cycle. You may find you go round it several times until new skills are used without thinking and become habits. Some people need help – that's their manager's job, but it could also be a colleague who helps out.
It is important to review where you are against your objectives, because goals change. What you need today you may not want tomorrow. If you won the lottery this weekend, would you go into the office on Monday?
People learn in different ways. Some people are thinkers, others are doers.
Thinkers require understanding before they attempt things, whereas doers will tend to get on with things and learn directly from their experience.
A sort of think-do-think approach, compared with a do-think-do approach.
The situation is complicated, however, by the fact that learning style can vary according to the task in hand. So which style should you use and how do you know? For supervisors, the answer is simple – ask. If you are the learner, you will already know.
Time and cost
If these two factors are a worry, you are missing the point. Focus on the business problem, not training.
For example, suppose an adviser completes four cases a week, earning £300 per case (that is to say £38,000 a year, assuming 220 working days per annum) but needs to complete six cases a week.
This is a business problem of £18,000 a year, so is it not worth spending, say, £1,000 to get it resolved? It seems a reasonable investment to me.
In an organisation with just three or four advisers in a similar position, the business problem faced is between £54,000 and £72,000. How many companies can afford to ignore that?
It is not time or money that is the issue, it is value for money. Show someone how learning can add to the bottom line and time and cost cease to be factors.
Everyone should be able to invest £2,000-£3,000 in their own development, with the cost easily being recouped in the first year.
If development is not adding to the bottom line, there is a problem, so think back to the solutions that you have read.
In the January training and development communication from the PIA, it was stated that CPD should concentrate on quality, not quantity.
Development therefore needs to be tailored and, arguably, the use of regional meetings for CPD purposes has a limited life.
The sheep-dip approach appears to fall outside PIA guidelines.
Given the volume of training, formal courses are not the ideal method of delivery and there has to be a move away from such programmes. This in turn requires a greater professionalism within the training arena itself.
For product providers to give training of value, both they and IFAs have to work more closely together and avoid the shopping-list approach, perhaps aiming towards joint training and dev- elopment projects, which will add real benefits to business.
Beyond the future
What is the difference between an actuary and a computer? The computer is more interesting.
There is an emphasis in the industry at the moment on technical training, some emphasis on skills, but hardly any on people.
To me this seems strange and, if you think about it, you may feel the same, because it raises a number of questions. For example, "aren't selling and advising about people?" and "aren't relationships and management about people?"
When I started in this industry, I used to be told "it's a people business" – and it still is. At some point we have to get back to people skills.
CPD is an investment, not a cost.
It should add to the bottom line – if it does not, you need to make changes.
Real performance problems and solutions come from an analysis of four areas – knowledge, skills, motivation and environment.
Getting learning into the workplace means using it but making adjustments against experience (the learning cycle). You may need help, and don't forget learning styles.
CPD does not necessarily mean attending formal training events. There are other methods more suited to you – multimedia, for example.
Product providers and IFAs need to work closer together for the benefit of both.
Don't forget people skills – this is still a people business.