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Building Foundations for Growth at the Priory Group

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DateSeptember 25, 2009 Posted by: Laura Overton   Keywords: blended learning, Evidence for Change, learner engagement, managing change

Over the past 4 years, Toward Maturity have been tracking the progress of the Priory Group’s journey with e-learning.  Priory Group is one of Europe's leading providers of independent mental health care for acute, secure, rehabilitation and specialist educational services. It depends on the skills of a huge diversity of staff ranging from clinicians to chefs, which present a daunting learning and development challenge.

The group started using learning technologies back in October 2005 under a programme known as Foundations for Growth.  Prior to 2005, each individual organisation within the group was responsible for the learning programmes of existing and new staff  which were delivered through face to face interventions either in house or off site. But in the face of rapid growth and an increasingly competitive market, maintaining these standards presented significant challenges and a radical reworking and centralisation was required. You can read more about how this programme started by clicking here.


When I first met the L&D staff at Priory Group back in December of 2007 and they were enjoying the first fruits of success- just over 4,300 staff were actively accessing the programmes and had completed an average of 17 e-learning modules each - over 38,713 training hours had been delivered online. However many new initiatives are often ‘one hit wonders’  that  fade away as e-learning  fatigue sets in and business priorities shift.

Like everyone else, the Priory Group has faced it’s fair share of change over the past 2 years - the organisation has been battling the recession and have expanded into new services but the Foundation for Growth programme has gone from strength to strength.  There have now been over 8800 active learners since the programme began  in 2005 and over the last 2 years the number of modules completed has increased by over 200%, the number of hours spent learning has increased by nearly 300% and staff are completing an average of 26 e-learning modules each.


But the real question is has this adoption made any significant difference to the growth of the business?

Matthew Franzidis, Chief Operating Officer at Priory Group seems to think so "Priory aims to deliver consistent services of the highest quality, and FFG is vital to this. It is wonderful to go to a Priory site and see staff of all grades using FFG as part of their work. The result is better trained staff, improved service delivery and higher patient satisfaction’’. 


So what has contributed to this successful adoption?


Priory group illustrate the 6 strands of behaviour that influence e-learning success (outlined in the Towards Maturity Model).

1. Aligning to need  - From the outset, Foundation for Growth has been aligned to the corporate vision of the group. But since it’s inception, the programme has now responded to new demands to support individual needs for CPD, is addressing an increasing number of clinical issues through distance programmes and is proactively supporting the rapid business growth.

Jan Cowie, the group’s  learning and development manager highlights how Foundations for Growth has helped  L&D  to respond faster to changing business needs and uses the example of staffing 4 new care homes- ‘ Traditionally, it would have taken us 3 – 4 months to bring new care home staff up to speed in a way that ensures that staff comply to industry regulations, with Foundations for Growth, we were able to reduce this time down to 2 weeks’.

2. Learner context – It has always been a priority to ensure that the programmes contained content that was relevant and practical for each user group. Now staff also have the opportunity to update a personal learning record online creating a portable CPD log critical for many roles within the organisation.

3. Work context – the programmes are closely aligned to working practices (such as probation periods) and line managers are involved in every step of the way – courses link out to local assignments and managers , supported by the centralised tracking system, are closely involved with  signing off staff progress.

4. Building capability of L&D – 2 essential elements of the success of this programme are the core infrastructure (LMS)that links all of the different businesses together which provides both efficiency and consistency and the focus on creating blended learning solutions that combine both online content, work assignments and distance learning programme (outlined above).

In addition, the L&D teams are now able to engage the extended  supply chain of the organisation – providing a platform for involving drug companies with clinical staff training or by providing training to external contractors on site at no additional costs. The success of Foundations for Growth has stimulated more demand and L&D staff are now engaged with clinical experts in designing new programmes – such as Managing patients with depression which has been created with the group’s professors of psychology.

5. Engaging stakeholders – the original implementation had a strong focus on engaging stakeholders across the business - a 19 strong internal working party from all operational areas was established and nurtured champions across each site that included unit directors or school principles and site learning administrators - a role designed to provide the link between corporate and local learning and development, and to ensure there is always a human face to Foundations for Growth. An extensive communications plan designed to motivate and engage also helped.

6. Demonstrating value  - the LMS has proved invaluable to Priory Group allowing, to be able to compile reports for different local services at the click of a button. She keeps track of costs, time and resources so that she can demonstrate value back to the business:


‘This programme was a business imperative for Priory Group, but in addition to the business benefits we have achieved through consistent learning through Foundations for Growth, we estimate that this programme would have cost at least £ 9 million * more to implement over the last 5 years if we had maintained with our original approach to learning.  This level of saving has been achieved as a result of time savings & administration efficiencies ( this doesn’t take into account the savings resulting from minimising travel and expenses!)’


 Jan also highlights back to the business how the quality of the interventions has improved through a number of specific examples. For example the group were spending over half a million pounds on sending staff on courses on how to manage violence and aggression – staff were exposed to  over 134 techniques  depending on the acuity of service and courses of up to  1 week in duration (during which the company had to pay to back fill).  A blended e-Learning solution has helped them to  reduce the course down to 2 days at the majority of their sites and provided focussed attention on 8 techniques that were more easily remembered and applied.

Getting started with e-learning may be daunting for some but the Priory Group’s journey has shown that  a strategic approach to implementation can help L&D professionals to deliver real business value and transformation.


This article was first published on Training Zone Sept 09

* Towards Maturity have spent time with the Priory Group to establish how this figure of £9m saving came about. It was based on an analysis of all the costs involved in attending, developing and administering Foundations for Growth since its inception compared with traditional approaches to learning used by the Priory to the event. Comparisons included time spent training ( where savings were calculated based on hourly wages, costs for cover staff) but cost comparisons erred on the conservative side  in all cases to arrive at this number ( for example the cost savings from travel and expenses were not included)) 

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