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Denise Hudson-Lawson


Enterprise Learning Architect

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Get out of the classroom


Denise Hudson Lawson, last year's winner of Training Manager of the Year at the IT Training Awards, gives the community a unique insight into life as a training manager in the houses of parliament.

Working in Parliament we have a diverse range of customers, coming from all walks of life with a broad range of skills. This means that we have to have teams who understand not only how Parliament works as an institution but ICT experts to boot. The Parliamentary ICT Team (Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology) was created in 2006 and was the result of a decision to merge a large number of IT functions into a single joint department to service both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It was a unique move and required an Act of Parliament to form the organisation. There are four directorates consisting of resources (1), programmes and development (2), technology (3) and operations and members services (4). My team, the ICT Training team, and I sit in the operations and members services directorate. We offer a dedicated ICT support training and coaching service.
When I was asked to present the keynote at TrainingZoneLive 2011 I knew the message I wanted to deliver was around getting out of the classroom and understanding your business. This has always been my passion.

The old way of working

When Parliamentary ICT (PICT) was first formed classroom training, some one-to-one and floor-walking was all we did. There was also a partnership with an external training organisation which provided classroom training to constituency staff. We delivered what we thought people wanted to learn and did it rather well. We spent hours designing MSOffice courses with what we believed added value to the business without ever actually talking to the business. Our classes were full, often turning people away, and we never cancelled anything. We got brilliant happy sheets with almost 100% across the board each month so why change what we did? Didn't we know what was best for our customers? 
"I have an excellent team of dedicated trainers and each one will put in the time required to deliver a professional solution. But even I had to admit we couldn't always cope or measure what we needed to measure."
We never got involved in any projects because we never heard about them until it was too late. Generally the question about training end users cropped up about 5 days before deployment and we were either told, "'s only a small project, the trainers can cope..." or "...we don't think that training is required, its simple enough to figure out..."
By stating that the "...trainers can cope..." was flattering to the trainers as they were highly skilled in what they do, but at the same time it didn't value the customer and there was no way we could measure the impact of the delivery and ultimately the learning experience.

What we wanted to say and what we actually said

So what we really wanted to say when approached like this was "I don't think we can add anything of real value. You have left it too late to carry out any meaningful analysis". But what we actually said was "leave it with me I'm sure we can pull something together". I have an excellent team of dedicated trainers and each one will put in the time required to deliver a professional solution. But even I had to admit we couldn't always cope or measure what we needed to measure. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. But trainers all around the world will work so hard to make sure it works and that the business is left with the feeling that everything went swimmingly and that they got the support they needed at the time that they needed it. When this happens the business often questions why you want to change things.

So... how have we changed?

Changing the way you approach training customers is always a hard sell, unless you can come up with a good strategy and benefit plan. We as a team have become less focused on what we think the customer needs to be trained on and more focused on asking the question 'what do people need to do their jobs?'. Getting out to the customer base and talking, analysing and listening ensures you get exactly, or as close to it, what the customer needs. Working closely with the support teams ensures we can build focused briefings and performance support assistance for some of the most frequently asked questions. We have also become more consultative in our approach, putting the business in the driving seat. We doorstop project managers and programme managers and ask them what they are doing - in the nicest possible way of course. This has resulted in regular update meetings so we know what is happening, or going to happen, and when. Understanding the business PICT plan is also of utmost importance, and matching your own strategy to the business means you lift your service to another level of professionalism.
Trainers are encouraged to join working groups, forums and social groups to listen to what is happening on the ground. I have even joined the knitting group and have discovered some interesting learning gaps that I was able to offer advice on and start to develop some drop-in sessions. Knit one, pearl one, merge loads!
Part of our new and improved service includes having a presence in the House of Commons members centre where we offer a bespoke advice service on a range of products and services. This really keeps us in the front line. There is also a greater freedom in personal choice training and coaching, whereby a more holistic approach is used to making better use of technology to do the job at hand. We have also partnered with different organisations offering joint drop-in sessions on technology where a member can meet both the product specialists and trainers and discuss their options.   
Recently the training team have completed 'live' support and training in closed committees, which is a first in Parliament, whereby tablets were being trialled to replace costly paperwork and the team was on hand to offer support as needed. One of the best advancements is that the training team is now at the forefront of assisting the R&D team and regularly work with product trials.
"Getting out to the customer base and talking, analysing and listening ensures you get exactly, or as close to it, what the customer needs."
What we do now as a team is to bring people together, we are seen as the 'must-have' on technology project boards. People listen to us as the experts. All this has been done in a matter of a couple of years. I won't say that it has been a painless process but I will say that with a determination to provide a professional service we have been accepted as an integral part of deployments.

Challenges for the future

So, what are our challenges for the future? Do we sit back and enjoy our new found popularity within the business? Of course not. When has a trainer ever stood still for five minutes? Within Learning and Development, especially in the ICT training arena, there are many challenges. One big challenge is how we are going to deal with the Cloud and the supposed intuitiveness of all the applications we are going to use; where does that leave classroom trainers? The Cloud gives us the ability to work anywhere anytime on any computer, so how do we deal with that? These are all important questions that need to be looked at and hopefully, with a consultative approach with the business, we can create an excellent supportive learning experience for everyone .
Denise Hudson Lawson is ICT training manager for UK Parliament. Denise came to the Houses of Parliament from the private sector where she had considerable experience in managing and delivering training. Her knowledge covers a wide range of business sectors, with a career spanning training, consulting, change and executive coaching

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Denise Hudson-Lawson

Enterprise Learning Architect

Read more from Denise Hudson-Lawson

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