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A unique touch


E-learning drives staff engagement and business transformation at HC-One.

Creating and delivering a brand new blended learning programme for 15,000 staff working at 240 separate locations is no easy task. And when that programme has to be delivered in a working environment undergoing significant operational change and with very limited infrastructure, that task might seem nigh on impossible. But this was the challenge facing Alison Innes-Farquhar, Head of People Development and Engagement at HC-One, and her team in November 2011

HC-One is a new company, providing dementia, nursing, residential and specialist care for older people, with homes located throughout the UK. The company was created as part of the rescue of care homes formerly run by Southern Cross. The much-publicised demise of that operator left HC-One with a legacy of damaged morale among staff and its inevitable risk to service quality. But the dynamic new business has risen to the challenge and placed learning and development at the heart of its work to re-engage and re-invigorate staff.

Twelve months on from November 2011, and HC-One now has ‘touch’ - its brand new blended learning programme. Touch delivers a wide range of mandatory and specialist learning courses though structured e-learning, video, podcasts and other online formats, including groundbreaking courses in dementia care and dignity. It also allows learners to access a wide range of face-to-face training courses. Less than 3-months since launch, HC-One colleagues had between them completed a staggering 50,000 touch courses, thus transforming the experience of learning in their workplace. This transformation has involved exactly the kind of engagement with staff that the business had called for. So how did Alison and her team achieve it?

“We knew from the start that learning technologies could help us engage with every colleague in the business.” says Alison. “E-learning would give us vital benefits – helping to embed learning in the workplace, improving compliance with mandatory training requirements and opening up a great channel of communication in a very widely distributed organisation. By blending these new approaches with the best of the existing provision we thought we had a winning formula.”

“We knew from the start that learning technologies could help us engage with every colleague in the business.”

Alison Innes-Farquhar, HC-One

But there was a long way to go to solve the formula, and so HC-One partnered with learning solutions provider Acteon, specialists in driving the adoption of e-learning. The key was to reach a dispersed and disillusioned staff group with a learning initiative they can trust and that they understand will benefit them. Every aspect of the e-learning was developed with this objective in mind.

The process of learning content creation encapsulated the need to build trust and familiarity. Online course content is bespoke – created for HC-One and incorporating photography, illustration, case studies and scenarios from the organisation. “We wanted the learning to be all about our people and our work – and colleagues have really responded to that” says Alison.

A vital part of building engagement has been to include colleagues from across the business in the development of touch, and a variety of approaches have been used to achieve that. A working party of 18 staff from across the business steered the design of the programme, contributing valuable insight that helped align touch with daily workflow, working environment and learner expectations. All touch content creation is guided by HC-One subject matter experts in response to the specific needs of the organisation. And direct contributions from colleagues are an important part of the programme. Through audio and video case studies, anecdotes and scenarios, touch is allowing staff to directly contribute their knowledge and experience to colleagues across the business.

Designing touch to meet the specific needs of the organisation also extended to the learning management technology. Building on Acteon’s core LMS platform, interfaces and functionality were customised and configured to align with the user management and reporting requirements of HC-One. An example is the compliance dashboard. Meeting mandatory training requirements is a critical need for a care business like HC-One. Not only does this training underpin safe practice, but failure to demonstrate compliance results in sanctions from inspecting authorities. HC-One’s new compliance dashboard allows the business to see at a glance the compliance picture across the organisation and identify any associated risks. The tool provides each home manager with the same simple and direct monitoring, so that they can effectively manage regulatory compliance at the local level.

So both content and technology were shaped to the specific requirements of HC-One, under the guidance of stakeholders from across the business. But perhaps the greatest challenge of all was to drive adoption of e-learning by colleagues. HC-One had inherited a staff group wary of unfulfilled promises from senior management under the previous ownership. There was an understandable reluctance to trust and embrace ‘corporate’ initiatives. In order to win hearts and minds, we used an extensive communication and internal marketing programme that began six months prior to launch, and continues to support the embedding of learning. Bear in mind that these communications had to be designed for an organisation where only a tiny proportion of staff have company email addresses, and where there is very little access to computers in the workplace.

The name ‘touch’ itself has been at the heart of effective communication. Touch has a strong visual identity, and links the objectives of learning and development to HC-One’s core business goal to run the kindest care homes in the UK. The identity is used on all learning materials and on the communications that support the programme. “We used a raft of different channels to let colleagues know about touch and how it will help them,” reflects Alison. “There have been presentations, posters, postcards, newsletter features, a competition and lots of promotional material like pens and mugs and so on.” A highlight of the communication programme was the touch ‘roadshow tour’. During August 2011, we ran a series of events across the country for home managers and their administrators. This gave them the chance to see the content and technology behind touch and really understand what it could do for them and their colleagues. Alison recalls the impact, “There was great enthusiasm for what we were doing. The roadshows were a turning point, where we could sense we had achieved real buy-in from colleagues.”

And that buy-in was demonstrated when touch was launched across HC-One on September 10 2012. In an organisation with no previous experience of e-learning, and very little technology in the workplace at all, adoption of this new programme has been fantastic. Just 8 weeks since launch, over 10,000 staff (70%) are using e-learning. In that time, HC-One colleagues have between them already completed more learning courses (50,000) than in the 12 months prior to the launch of touch.

It’s early days to be assessing the impact of the learning on the business, although there is already very positive feedback from homes on how touch is allowing care staff to have more time with Residents, and on the enthusiasm of regulatory inspectors for the new approach to compliance training. But what is already clear is the impact the programme is having on business culture. “touch has reached colleagues across all our sites with a really positive message about investment and development in their careers, so that they can deliver that kindest care,” reflects Alison. “It’s got people talking, it’s got them engaged, and so it’s playing a vital part in the business turnaround we’re all trying to achieve.”