New culture, new ideas

Training: consultants apply commercial thinking to the public sector
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The Independent Online
FEW organisations have been more affected by the profound changes of recent years than local authorities. Not only must they deal with the different business climate, they are also having to face the fresh challenges being introduced in the public sector.

When Devon County Council hived off its property services division, the managers soon knew they needed help. They realised that although the division was a pounds 5m operation at the outset it was not really run as a business. Nor could they obtain the training they needed from the council, since - as a public-sector organisation - it lacked hands-on commercial experience itself.

The solution was to call in TDA Consulting, a human-resources consultancy which is currently advising many organisations on developing entrepreneurial cultures. In conjunction with Devon Property Services, it devised a scheme based on its existing tried-and-tested Entrepreneur Development Programme (EDP).

The Adjusting to a Commercial Environment scheme used elements in the old course, but recognised that they had to be applied to a totally different environment. While the EDP was aimed at people who had some idea of how commercial organisations worked, the ACE had to address "some fundamental differences of approach between the private and public sectors: for example, the fact that where a public-sector operation starts with expenditure, a commercial enterprise has to start with income", according to TDA managing director Chris Dunn.

Explaining the relationship between income, resources, business activities and the pricing of services was one of the first tasks of the programme. But it then moved on to developing a business strategy, marketing skills, client relationships and preparing budgets on a commercial basis.

Similar challenges faced the team that helped the National Grid Company come to terms with its new identity in the private sector. But, as TDA will be aiming to demonstrate at a seminar it is hosting at its headquarters at Kew in west London on Thursday, the techniques do not work only when the changes are so drastic.

For example, Lloyds Bank felt that about 40 per cent of its training effort was being wasted, largely because training was - in the words of Murray Johnstone, client relations manager at its training services arm, "being given to individuals not because they needed it but because it was thought to be `their turn' ".

Mr Dunn set up TDA in 1982 after leaving his job as a manager at Rank Xerox. His aimed to build a consultancy that had training and development programmes so it could implement changes as well as consult.

Thresher, the drinks retailer that is part of Whitbread, called in TDA when it decided to run some of its outlets as franchises. Paul Tough, Threshers joint venture manager, says: "We recognised that the concept of franchising could generate an appetite for change among some of our people, but it could also generate fear and misunderstanding. "We had therefore to nurture people's expectations of it carefully - maintaining the appetite while allaying their fears."