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How Did I Get Here? Des Woods, Global Head of Learning and OD, Linklaters


Des Woods reveals how training priorities are established within a legal partnership and how Linklaters evaluates its training and development activities.

1. Please describe your role and responsibilities.
I am Head of Learning and Organisation Development (OD) at Linklaters, one of a small group of very large global law firms who assist banks and large corporate businesses with their complex legal issues. The firm has a presence in every major economy in the world and several thousand highly specialised lawyers who work together in fluid, changing teams to service our clients.

My job is to keep them at the leading edge of legal knowledge, make sure they have the skills to work together effectively and serve clients well.

2. How are training priorities set within your organisation?
We are a partnership with 500 partners (who own the firm). Each individual; and team of partners, operate entrepreneurially in the market. Training priorities are never 'set'. The real issue for me is about how well and how quickly we can respond to and predict emerging training needs. Our success in doing this is about being deeply networked into the business so we know what is going on and who needs what training.

3. How closely aligned is training and development to the over-all organisational strategy?
I suppose like most organisations, we have a segment of delivered training which goes on day-in , day-out; the basic building blocks of the firm's skills and capability. Another segment is specifically trying to catch up to where we think we should be and a final segment is being designed and delivered specifically to exploit changes and opportunities in our markets. I hope all of this is aligned to our strategy.

4. How does your department keep your organisation one step ahead?
I really think there is only one way to do this - get very close to the internal client and see the business and the external market in the same way that your client does.

5. How does your training department operate?
We spend quite a bit of time planning but then operate in a frantic and responsive way - always seem to have too much to do, but have a high standard of quality which we would never compromise for example do in-house trainers deliver the majority of courses or are all/some outsourced? Has the department taken on more of a consultative role, helping managers to identify their department's training needs? Are there set courses that run regularly or is training strictly on a 'when needed' basis?

Law firms have a long history of in-house teaching and in our firm there are probably 500 or more people who are regularly involved in training others. We are progressively outsourcing some of our lower-end legal training as our people are very busy with clients and we want to focus on the complex areas of law that our clients need. In other areas of training; interpersonal skills, commercial skills and client service for example we often use external experts.

Our L&D people all deliver training - that is why we are in the job and that is one of the ways we get the credibility as practitioners to operate in a consultative role with our clients.

Training tends to run in a product cycle of innovation through to commoditisation. So when a new need emerges we find a solution and run the training as needed - if the need persists and we have to keep responding to it then we will attempt to commoditise it and put it online for on-demand access or run it as a regular calendar event.

6. How do you evaluate training and does this vary according to the learning intervention?
A better question would be 'what proportion of training do you evaluate to what depth?' I would need a department about twice the current size to really do a good job at training evaluation - but that is just not economically viable. We do evaluate more or less all of our training at some level and are making more and more use of online surveying to do this. I think you have to use a bit of judgement here - some stuff is so obviously necessary that it doesn't have to be justified by evaluation. Some can be excellently measured simply by the impact it has in the market and other things need evaluated to near death to make sure they are doing what was promised.

7. Do you feel that training and development is under-rated? If so how can training professionals improve its credibility?
I really don't think you can generalise about this. Training is valued when it and its practitioners have credibility and have demonstrated value. One way of improving credibility is really, deeply, understanding your clients business or organisation and markets as well as they do themselves.

8. How do you prove the value of your department within your organisation?
I think if you are ever in a situation where you are always having to 'prove' your value you are probably in a bad place and need to go and do something more useful with your life, because you are either working in a stifling organisational culture or a lot of people don't like you very much.

9. What is the biggest current challenge for your department?
Its the heady mix of organising and designing global training, with all its multi-cultural issues and where it hits the use of technology such as web-casting, video streaming and virtual classrooms etc. We are inventing (or 'borrowing') new ways of delivering learning that are stretching our skills and we are having to learn to organise ourselves in new ways and do new things.

As I am typing this, one of my colleagues is sitting in front of three computer screens trying to get to grips with a very wizzy piece of software that rapidly edits bits of video, synchronises them with pre-built flash animation, attaches power point slides and sub titles to them, uploads onto our intranet and squirts it out to people around the world (it also makes tea - but not very well). Yesterday she was running a presentation skills course.

10. What do you see as the main challenges for training professionals in the next five years?
See nine above!

11. What influences do you think have had the greatest impact on the training sector in recent years?
I honestly don't know the answer to that - I just focus on my clients. So if you where to ask me what was happening in the legal market I'm sure I could bore you for a few hours with the answer.

12. What is the best lesson you can pass on?
If you can understand the organisation and/or the business as well as your clients then you will usually be doing the right thing in your training. And keep away from software that can't make a good cup of tea.

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