Interview: Amy Gilman at La Fosse

This week I spoke to Amy Gilman - Director of HR and L&D at La Fosse. La Fosse has an incredible track record, having been in the Top 20 Best Small Companies to Work For in the Sunday Times for the past 5 years and in the Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies in the Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 2011, 2013 & 2014, so I was keen to hear what they were up to behind the scenes.

As a recruitment company does La Fosse have special HR pressures or advantages?

There’s certainly a lot of pressure to deliver results in the recruitment industry. 80% of our new hires are at the graduate level, and we’ve got a clear career path for people to be earning life changing money and managing people within a few years. That combination can create a lot of stress for someone who is still relatively young and inexperienced. We’re starting to realise that we need to give the team the right tools to manage their mental health and emotional wellbeing better in this environment. For example, we offer hypnotherapy to help people stop smoking, sleep better, manage their energy at work better and so on. Very recently, we’ve also started a trial with Sanctus, who aim to help drive positive mental health in the workplace, using qualified coaches.

What does training look like for someone as they move up the business?

We’ve got 4 people in L&D for a company of 100 recruiters: myself, a L&D Sales Consultant, a Systems Training Consultant and an L&D Coordinator.

Our Career Roadmap itself took 8 months to build. Typically, people start out as Associate Consultant for 12 months, experiencing a comprehensive Induction programme to help them get promoted to a Consultant. For Consultants we have a blended, modular programme that is roughly 60% skills and 40% mentality. For each module there’s an in-person workshop, with a forum 4-6 weeks later and coaching on a 1:1 - 1:3 ratio to embed the content.

After the Consultant level, the career path splits and people can either move up the management route or become a Head of Practice. Not everyone is suited to management (at least not straightaway) so we want to support their continued progression as an expert, but that means fighting social norms were success means people management.

What are the key metrics that you’re watching in L&D, and what insights have they driven?

We report target promotions vs. actual promotions and retention at our monthly board meeting. Retention is important because we want to ensure people having long and fulfilling careers at the company. Target vs actual promotions data prompts a useful conversation about whether we are providing the right training and whether we are we trying to promote people too fast. We look to see if gaps are localised in a particular team or role. Other metrics we track in L&D are utilisation of the team actually delivering training on an "hours per month" basis. This suggests the business is getting the right level of support from the function. Additionally, quality of training content and delivery and the impact of the learning on performance is all rated by participants.

What has changed to your approach since you started at La Fosse?

La Fosse is the smallest, nimblest company I've worked for. I’ve had to adapt to working at two different paces: a faster, more reactive pace, and a slower, more planned pace. For example, we’re currently developing our Consultant Programme, and have already delivered 3 out of 6 planned modules. I would have preferred to work out the details for all the content before launching it, but we needed to start ASAP because of the pace at which we're growing. That meant we started delivering initial workshops before the later workshops were finalised. This has worked really well and has helped me understand the real need for adaptability in a scale up environment.

Where should someone just starting to think about L&D start?

You need to work out what the career roadmap looks like for your employees. That means defining each role, and the skills and behaviours required for success. Then you can compare that to where people actually are, and you have a basic gap analysis that spells out your training needs. You should also be able to spot where more experienced people have specific expertise, and then you can work with them to transfer knowledge across the business. This is easiest when there are groups of people doing similar roles, as there are at La Fosse. The fundamental principle has to be that you identify a problem and then work to solve that via the right learning methodology - if you don’t have a rationale for why people are learning what, then the culture of learning can start off badly and people become resistant to it.

What does best in class L&D looks like?

Whatever is required to deliver commercial benefits to the business. You need to be able to show a positive return on investment, which is why data is so important. In practice that probably means some sort of tech to support L&D efforts, and a learning management system when the business is ready for it. Of course the biggest challenge is always determining how much direct impact you can show from a learning intervention. Blended learning that mixes formal and informal learning, including coaching, is likely going to give you the best results.

You can connect to Amy Gilman here and find out more about La Fosse here.

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