A taxing issue

first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. A taxing issueOn 1 Feb 2001 in Personnel Today PaulStafford has won awards for his work on morale and skills at the InlandRevenue, yet remains anxious about measuring the value added.  Lucie Carrington reportsTheInland Revenue must be the least popular organisation in UK – seemingly taking ourhard-earned cash in ever more ingenious and complex ways.Hardlysurprising, therefore, that self-image and motivation can be a bit of a problemamong revenue staff.Headof training in the Welsh and Midlands region Paul Stafford and his colleagueshave spent the past four years using their resources to improve morale andconfidence among the 7,000 staff in the region. It’snot just the general unpopularity of tax collecting they have coped with, therehas been immense change at the Revenue. Massive downsizing that took place under the last Conservativegovernment was followed more recently by policy changes, such asself-assessment and merging with the Contributions Agency. This brought morework, but not significantly more hands.Thetraining team’s efforts have paid off. By the end of last year they had pickedup a Power in Partnership Award from Business in the Community, two awards fromthe Prince’s Trust and been short-listed for two National Training Awards. TheBIC and National Training Awards were a first.Staffordattributes his team’s success to the way members have used their expertise todeliver a broader people strategy covering everyone in the region. Thestrategy was the brainchild of former regional director Malcolm Kirk. Fouryears ago he and Stafford decided more needed to be done to help staff copewith change. It was about culture change too, and the aim to turn the revenueinto an enabling organisation – one that wants to help people get their taxright, rather than just catches them out when they get it wrong.“Ourvision is forward-thinking in public sector terms. We want people to becompetent, confident, involved, motivated and proud,” Stafford says.Oneof his key themes is the importance of recognising that different people learnin different ways. He and his team – called the learning workforce – havetherefore developed a raft of training and development programmes andmechanisms. As well as the standard conferences, seminars and workshops, theyhave set up action learning groups expanded the secondment programme andencouraged internal and external networking.Inaddition they provide what Stafford calls bespoke training programmes to meetthe needs of different teams, for example to back up teambuilding when managersare new in the job or if management structures change. Thetraining unit works closely with managers to develop a customised solution.“People learn in different ways, so we offer a range of programmes tailored totheir personal development,” says Stafford.Thetraining unit has to dovetail the way it meets local needs with directives fromthe revenue’s national training office. For example, technical training, suchas examination courses or fraud awareness, is developed nationally. TheRevenue is also establishing national management competencies and the regionswill have to work with these. However,it is often up to the regions to determine the means for delivering nationaltraining objectives. “There’san intention to get as much delivery as close to the customer as possible,”Stafford says. He prefers internal solutions insisting that it’s cheaper andmore effective. “Ourpeople look at what external providers are doing and bring back what’s likelyto work for us,” he says.Thetraining unit has £1.9m to spend out of a regional budget of £160m, butStafford says there are no restrictions on the amount of training anddevelopment people can get. However, nothing will get the OK unless it isproven to have a business benefit. Onceagain it’s about working with national and regional objectives for the Revenue.National objectives cascade down to the regions, which decide how they willdeliver these while adding their own regional objectives. For example, acurrent national objective is to harmonise the Revenue with the ContributionsAgency, while a regional Welsh and Midlands objective is to implement ano-bullying policy.Certainly,at regional level in Wales and Midlands, this link between training andbusiness objectives is firmly drawn with Stafford part of the senior team thatdraws up regional objectives. Each month they report back on their progress.This means Stafford himself has to be clear about the value training issupposed to be adding. The secondment programme for example, which Stafford hasbeefed up, is there to help improve staff understanding of diversity issues –gender, ethnicity, disability and so on.However,Stafford is less certain about how to measure value added from training. It’sthe age old problem training managers have in proving their worth and Staffordsays that he has no hard or fast metrics for working out the impact traininghas on the success of the business. Headmits that he and his fellow senior managers put a lot of faith in training.“But training will get the blame if we don’t achieve our business objectives aswell as the credit if we succeed,” he says.Stafford’sbelief in training perhaps comes from his own experience – he is a classicexample of how it can change your life. He moved from being a taxman to head ofthe training unit via a secondment with the Prince’s Trust and voluntary workwith the British Junior Chamber. This is the largest out-of-hours personaldevelopment organisation in the world and in 1993 Stafford was the first CivilService president.Havinggone a long way to achieving the region’s people strategy, Stafford and hiscolleagues now have to prepare for the next major change. The Revenue is aboutto alter its regional boundaries to match those of the Department ofEnvironment, Transport and the Regions. As a result Wales and the Midlands willsplit in two and Stafford will probably have to reapply for his job. Beforethat happens he wants to ensure that the achievements of the past few years arenot forgotten and lost when the split takes place.It’sall about sharing, he says. “The public sector should be proud of its ideas anddoing more to share them. I’m happy to share ideas with anyone.”Actionlearning boosts careersIfyou want to get on in the Revenue in Wales and the Midlands, a place on theannual action learning group won’t do you any harm. ALGs are designed to buildup the competencies that can lead to promotion. “Promotionisn’t guaranteed, but about 35 per cent of last year’s ALG participants havebeen promoted,” Stafford says.The10-month programme enables people to experiment with a variety of learningstyles, but project work is central to the scheme. The 60 participants aredivided into 10 teams who, between them, work on a list of business-relatedprojects drawn up by senior managers. Projects involve research, negotiation,presentation and a variety of other skills. The aim is for teams to implementtheir ideas, not just draw up a report. Theprogramme attracts active senior support with all the seven-strong management teamattending major events such as project presentations.OriginallyALGs were aimed at senior staff but a place is no longer based on hierarchy.“Anyone, from a word processor operator to the manager of an 800-strong unit,can apply. The people who make the best case will be selected irrespective oftheir grade,” Stafford says.Butapplicants must have the support of their managers and colleagues. It involvesup to 30 days away from the job and no extra cover is provided. Staffordsells the idea to managers on the basis that a team member taking part in anALG will have an impact on the rest of the team too. “We encourage people to goback into their offices and act as change agents,” he says.Secondmentsare on target Secondmentsaren’t new to the Revenue in Wales and the Midlands. Stafford himself spent 15months with the Prince’s Trust, which works with disadvantaged young people.But,as a result of the people strategy, he and his team set up a more extensiveprogramme involving up to 40 secondees a year.Secondmentscan be as short as 100 hours or as long as 18-months, and they can be full orpart time.Butparticipants have to justify a place on the programme and identify what theywill achieve. “Applicants have to show how they will benefit and what they willgive back,” Stafford says. So recruitment is tough and the drop-out rate islow.“Wehave to be sure that secondments are truly business-focused,” Stafford says.Diversity is high on the agenda for the secondment programme in line with theGovernment’s modernising agenda. Linkshave been developed with a broad range of organisations – for example, with thePrince’s Trust. Revenue staff are seconded as team leaders managing 16 youngpeople on a four-month project. These secondments tend to be reserved fornon-managers with management potential. “It’s a management challenge that wecould not give them internally” Stafford says.Longersecondments are also available to help people gain a specialism. For example,one tax officer went to work for several months with the local educationbusiness partnership. When she came back she took up a place in the trainingdepartment. Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Articlelast_img read more