Blended learning options
Blended learning options can be aligned to the leadership capabilities at low or no cost. They should reflect the regional context, chosen objectives, performance development needs and learning preferences.
Some options should be tested in advance, perhaps with colleagues, to check on timing, pace, clarity, questions raised and equipment needed. Colleagues can offer new perspectives and options may be combined for variety and impact.
Case studies are an important and engaging way to share stories of success, best practice and learning, discuss critical incidents (positive and negative) and encourage collaboration.
Asking participants to do pre-reading or consider questions in advance helps secure their interest and it shows that the information is important. Consider using different methods for variety when sharing case studies (e.g. video, storytelling or inviting presenters). Guided discussion points prepared in advance can be adapted as topics emerge and experience is shared. Some case studies may cover particular corporate messages or focus areas, so a balance between preparation and flexibility will maximise learning.
Case studies do not need to be complex or too formal. Some can be explored through a series of activities over time, with different facilitators helping connect the information and ideas.
Recent case studies included:
- Morawa Education and Industry Training Alliance is an example of government best practice in mining and agriculture
- Great Southern Development Commission and the University of Western Australia e.g. the Perth International Arts Festival Great Southern Festival program
- The Port of Broome ‘Work Safety Awards Western Australia public sector leadership for injury prevention and management’
Conversations (e.g. informal brown bag lunches) are a useful and engaging way to explore topics of interest and encourage collaboration. Discussion leaders and topics can be listed on a schedule - perhaps bi-monthly or quarterly - for planning, based on agency and business needs. Allow some flexibility for emerging topics and consider how to gain manager support so employees can attend. Over time, a conversation series can be rolled out across agencies or locations.
Leaders talking with leaders
The Australian Taxation Office holds teleconferences three or four times a year about topics such as preparing for change, strategic leadership and the development scorecard. A senior Tax Office leader has a conversation with a guest, and they are joined by individuals or small groups who have dialed in from across the country. Questions can be emailed in advance or by SMS during the hour timeslot. Past conversations are available on the Tax Office intranet for reflection and further discussion across teams, business and service lines.
Regional leadership content and key messages can be incorporated into existing programs through discussion points, online materials, guest speakers, forums and follow-up activities. It is essential to strongly connect objectives, activities and outcomes to make best use of the time.
The Premier’s Awards
The Premier’s Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management recognise quality service delivery and innovation across the sector. Recent regional achievements included:
- The East Kimberley development package transitional housing program (Improving Aboriginal outcomes category winner, Department of Housing)
- Esperance cleanup and recovery project (Managing the environment category winner, Department of Transport)
- Pilbara Cities project (Revitalising the regions category winner, LandCorp supported by Pilbara Development Commission and Department of Regional Development and Lands).
- Joining the dots: Aboriginal workforce development centres (Improving Aboriginal outcomes overall and category winner, Department of Training and Workforce Development).
The Public Sector Commission’s Graduate Future Leaders Program and the Public Sector Management Program partner with the Premier’s Awards to learn from winners and finalists, share best practice and promote future nominations.
Exchange visits and secondments
There is no substitute for first-hand regional experience over an extended time. Exchange visits, and particularly secondments, give leaders valuable exposure to metropolitan or regional agencies, networks and decision makers, beyond their normal roles. They can explore different regional issues, opportunities and challenges and work with local government and communities. Exchange programs, be they at a state or international level, achieve strong outcomes.
Zoos worldwide are increasingly collaborating across borders for conservation and species management. Perth Zoo’s keeper exchange program allows employees to work in a different location to learn from others, share information and contribute to the profession and body of knowledge.
Perth Zoo keepers find a colleague interested in an exchange and secure the support of managers and the organisation. They are paid by their home employers during the exchange, but travel and other arrangements are self-funded. Keepers have exchanged with Germany, Ireland and Switzerland in recent years. Zoo horticulturalists have also taken advantage of the program with an exchange to San Diego recently occurring. While exchanges happen infrequently, they are seen as a privilege for participants and an important part of the Zoo’s professional development and global focus.
When leaders are travelling to different regions or agencies, structure and context is critical. Agencies could design workshops or discussion points for individuals or small groups covering:
- overview and objectives for participants, agency and the sector
- key contacts during the exchange at both agency and local level
- mentoring process
- maximising benefits from online collaboration tools
- strategies for success (e.g. information from a past participant)
- OSH considerations
- evaluation and reporting.
Industry groups, professional associations and training and development providers all provide important contributions to regional leadership development, but they should not be the first option. When external providers are used, leaders can be supported to share information and learning with colleagues back in the workplace or perhaps trial a presentation or facilitation style which worked well. This promotes capability building in both content and delivery.
Information about various providers is given in Appendix E.
Leaders mentioned difficulties in attracting and retaining suitably skilled and motivated staff in the regions, so it is valuable to look beyond immediate work areas for backfill and relief work. Agencies are encouraged to find opportunities for short-term higher duties across regional and metropolitan areas. Formal and informal networks can help leaders identify and facilitate arrangements.
I would like to see more sharing of employees for higher duties within and across regions and agencies. It offers variety of work, new perspectives and a sense of us working together. We need to look more widely instead of just ‘my team’, ‘my office’ or ‘my people’.
Metropolitan public sector leader
Structured job shadowing helps leaders learn from others, share experience and build a whole of sector perspective. A metropolitan leader can shadow a colleague with regional responsibilities to gain a better understanding of demands and opportunities, or a regional leader can spend time with a colleague from another agency. It is useful if job shadowing is arranged around important meetings, key initiatives and events or to reinforce formal training.
Meetings, presentations and events
To increase regional understanding, agencies are encouraged to build opportunities for collaboration through meetings, presentations, events and similar. Some suggestions are:
- inviting regional leaders to present or facilitate at metropolitan meetings and vice versa, to share examples or experience and increase regional awareness
- using Westlink to invite regional leaders into metropolitan managers’ discussions
- recording regional presentations and activities for sharing across regions and the sector
- encouraging further use of online resources including presentations from senior managers and leaders in real time-live streaming. These can provide valuable perspectives and useful prompts for local discussions.
In 2013, Northam hosted one of seven Regional Outlook conferences held across the nation. The one day conferences promote innovation, productivity, community vitality and environmental sustainability and offer many strategies for regional leadership development.
The Northam conference covered topics including impacts from the global economy, future directions for the Wheatbelt, change management and regional communication. Facilitated sessions offered strong variety and regular time for questions.
The conferences are an important opportunity for leaders to collaborate, network and share good practice.
Well-matched mentoring pairs provide a rich learning experience for both parties. Mentoring requires trust, respect, open communication and commitment. Benefits include:
- new perspectives and approaches to consider
- enhanced relationship building skills
- recognition of experience
- increased motivation and work satisfaction.
Mentoring across the regions (e.g. a regional leader in the north west and a metropolitan leader) and agencies (e.g. colleagues who worked together previously but are now in very different roles) are two examples which support capability building.
The Commission provides ongoing support for mentors and mentees.
Professional development assistance
For maximum benefit, professional development must be well structured with clear links to the agency business direction and performance management system and sound preparation, approval and reporting arrangements.
Professional development assistance program
At Perth Zoo, learning and development extends well beyond the training room. The professional development assistance program links employees’ passions with the Zoo’s values and goals through activities such as volunteer work, projects, visits, conference attendance or research.
Employees initiate and drive the process which is subject to satisfactory performance, recommendations of senior staff, the Zoo’s financial and operational capacity and overall merit. Limited funding is available. A report or presentation to staff must be provided on return.
The program strongly promotes career development, workforce capability building and the sharing of best practice. Types of activities initiated by staff and supported by the Zoo include attendance at conferences in areas of professional relevance and volunteer work in conservation projects locally and overseas.
Relationships and networking
The study showed regional leaders highly value their relationships and networks. There is scope to further develop networks in some regional areas and events can be arranged so leaders can collaborate, share success stories and learn from others. Technology offers many options to bring people together.
The Department of Training and Workforce Development (DTWD) makes good use of technology to connect colleagues across the regions.
Blackboard Elluminate is an online meeting/training facility accessed using a computer, internet connection, headphones and camera, if available. DTWD sends login details to participants and instruction is given through the program. Participants often learn to use it in just ten minutes.
Elluminate promotes democracy in meetings. Participants click on an icon to contribute, names are automatically placed in order and emoticons allow them to give feedback about clarity, agreement, disagreement and similar. A noticeboard is used for written comments in real time and information can be uploaded for sharing and review.
DTWD believes Elluminate is easier to participate in than a teleconference or videoconference, and much cheaper. While there are sometimes problems with sound quality or logins, this can occur in any medium.
Relationships and networking also includes collaboration about professional development. The Department for Child Protection and Family Support, for example, have a statewide learning and development network to actively support blended learning by identifying opportunities, sharing resources and promoting best practice.
Stretch assignments are a key development activity to put leaders outside of their comfort zones, knowledge and expertise. Stretch assignments need to be more than ‘sink or swim’, and leaders should be encouraged to develop networks, find a mentor and include reflection time to enhance learning. Clear key performance indicators (e.g. goals which are specific and measurable) are needed so leaders can work towards achievable outcomes. Results of stretch assignments may inform future case studies, presentations, activities or initiatives.
Targeted work-based projects can be helpful for consolidation of training and development and to build upon other blended learning options. For maximum outcomes, it is useful to incorporate content (e.g. the chosen issue, approach, results and future directions) and process (e.g. the leader’s development, expressed personally).
The Public Sector Management (PSM) Program includes a structured project proposal and report focused on the needs of participants, agencies and the sector. A similar approach can be used for regional leadership, with information shared widely.
Recent PSM Program work-based projects
The PSM Program concludes with a significant work-based project where participants highlight their achievements, personal development and the relationships they have established.
Regional projects such as a Human Resources strategy for Kalgoorlie/Boulder and a knowledge management study in the Southern Wheatbelt Primary Health Service supported innovation, research capacity and good practice across the state.
Many short, topical video clips are available for discussion or reflection. The challenge is to be discerning about what is used and have clear reasons for time spent. Agencies may need to investigate dedicated logins, terminals or mobile access based on IT policies.
Online information supports leadership development processes too, such as blended learning:
Page last updated 23 July 2014