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Case study The Defence School

of Personnel Administration
October 2015

From best to
good practice HR:
Developing principles
for the profession
The CIPD is the professional body for HR and people
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working in HR and learning and development.
The Defence School of Personnel
Administration case study

Background As the Commandant of the School, The military concept of mission

The Defence School of Personnel Group Captain Adrian Bettridge, command setting defined high-
Administration (DSPA) is a OBE, explains: level objectives while allowing
training, development and individuals to deliver on those to
education establishment for We are preparing people to be the best of their ability is central
military personnel. It provides physically and mentally robust to the model of delivering the
different levels of education and prepared to do quite difficult transformation programme.
including training and continuous things. We are growing their ability
professional development for to respond to change quickly and The transformation plan outlines
the HR function of the armed robustly. the end state in 2018 alongside
forces as well as maths education 15 outputs, and states: Whilst we
for some technical trades and Were encouraging a more have described what the outcome
development for potential officers. interactive learning style, one of each looks like, how we get there
A transformation programme is where the student is invited to is up to you. Use your talents and
currently taking place to merge think about what it is that theyre initiative to seize opportunities for
with other elements of the doing. We are inculcating a continuous improvement that take
parent organisation (the Defence discipline, where the students are us closer to the innovative, learner-
College of Logistics, Policing and not spoon-fed the whole time, centred training organisation that
Administration) with the aim of but expected to take personal we wish to become.
centralising services to deliver a responsibility for that process.
greater range of innovative and What that means is that we are The leaders aim for the mission,
efficient training for the three inculcating into people habits team and individual to meet in the
armed forces British Army, Royal which should serve them well middle, but there are times when
Air Force and Royal Navy on a through life and through career one has to be given more weight:
single site. and, as the situation changes as
it will they will have a discipline We talk about the three circles
The transformation is happening of thinking about whats happening so youve got mission, team and
in the context of wider changes and how one might need to do individual. What youre trying
in UK defence, which is being things differently and always to do is keep everything in the
restructured to a contingent continue developing personally. intersection of all those three
posture, building a force that is circles. There are times when you
prepared to deal with unknown Balancing competing interests with would flex your priorities within
future commitments or operations, an eye on the end goal that model when the mission is the
whatever those might be. In this The transformation programme most important thing because it
model people are viewed as a comprises three strands of has got to be done. But generally
centre of gravity, contributing to improving training delivery: speaking you try and meet the
the strategic edge through their engaging and developing staff needs of your individuals on the
skills and agility to understand to support the new ways of team to get the mission done.
and cope with unknown future working, as well as updating
challenges. Loyalty and flexibility the infrastructure, including In recognition that difficult
are highly valued (on top of ability), replacing nearly all of the schools decisions will have to be made,
to enable the organisation to build buildings. Such a major change one of the DSPA areas outlined
up a reserve of human capital. They presents the organisation with an ethos that sets a framework
invest in people with high potential, the challenge of moving towards for guiding the decision-making
developing them to build on that the future state while keeping process. The ethos intends to
foundation and provide a return on the school operational, delivering empower individuals assessing
the investment from the value they the usual volumes of training alternative courses of action in
will add in the future. and to the required standard. their day-to-day roles, but equally

1 From best to good practice HR: Developing principles for the profession case study
The military sets a high-level guideline for
what a good way of approaching
point, jobs will go, jobs will be
created. And there has been a lot
concept of mission the decision would be in order to of work to minimise the impact on
achieve the end goal. For example, individuals of that change, to time
command setting do not take shortcuts requires an the movement of an individual
informed and considered approach so that at least they have had a
defined high-level to decision-making, while brook decent length of time in the current
objectives while no sense of class requires that
everyone is treated consistently,
job, and they have established
themselves. But equally to then
allowing individuals regardless of their background. prepare for the fact that their job
will be changed in the future.
to deliver on those The ethos also draws on the
individuals responsibility to When managing such a complex
to the best of their challenge, as it is seen as the route process, the organisation
ability is central to pursuing excellent decisions
ones that meet the end goal,
inevitably faces questions
around fair treatment of staff.
to the model of but also the standard of how it
is achieved. This is why focusing
This is complicated by the
challenge of managing different
delivering the on doing the right thing becomes categories of workforce (civil
more important than slavishly service, RAF, Navy and Army),
transformation following the opinions of others. who will work side by side as
programme. One leader said: a result of the transformation.
However, despite working in
I think there are lots of different similar roles, these individuals are
ways of looking at how you manage effectively employed by different
people in organisations. Its quite organisations, with different sets of
useful to [find] different ways of terms and conditions.
looking at what is always a complex
point. However, if you dont have One particular example highlighted
some clear principles at the heart in the interviews is the difference
of how you manage people and in career management for military
how you apply human capital to and civilian staff. In the military,
your organisation, youre probably progression is determined by
not going to be successful in your the needs of the organisation,
organisation. and people are selected for
promotion based on their ability,
Managing size and capability but also provided that there is an
of a diverse workforce opportunity for them to progress
The transformation programme somewhere in the organisation.
requires a significant change both Military staff are regularly moved
in terms of the composition of onto new jobs in different
the workforce and its capability. locations, with the support of a
This is associated with the career manager. Decisions are
merging of the previously discrete made with regard to appointing
training facilities, but also with people to jobs by balancing
the changing nature of training individuals personal circumstances
delivery. The tension between (including family, experience
managing the future sustainability and length of service) with the
of the organisation and the impact demands of the organisation. One
on people is described by one individual explains:
Expectation management is a
At the moment we are aspiring huge part of that. You need to have
to reach our new future operating that open dialogue with them,
model, people-wise. So at some to say, Well, actually, you are

2 From best to good practice HR: Developing principles for the profession case study
not the number one candidate. If
people that are ahead of you on
one of us, biologically unique. If you
try and set conditions that result
The shift to
the waiting list dont want it, then in absolutely equal outcomes for central services
yes, of course we will look to assign everybody, youre going to find that
you there, but there are alternative very difficult to achieve because has encouraged
options available to you. So you everybody is unique. It doesnt
might want to think about the really matter what system you more online
alternatives as well, and what suits
you best.
come up with, youre never going
to achieve equality for everybody
learning and self-
because it isnt possible. What you service for personal
Sometimes there are no absolutely should strive to do is
alternatives, and they have to to ensure that everybody has an development.
accept that where they are going equal opportunity and that means
to is all that is available to them. access to the right sort of help and
But you have to try and sort of take assistance to make the most of
them down that journey, and help themselves.
them understand, and manage their
expectations. That is a large part The way we look at it in the
of what we do; its called career military is that this isnt about
management. So just make sure giving handouts to people; it is to
that they understand that process, enable people to make the most
and how they get there. of their own talents, to achieve
the best outcome for themselves
For civil servants, progression so that they can be fulfilled by
is less structured. They are the fact that they made the most
expected to take control of their of their natural talent, accepting
own training and development that different people are talented
to progress to the next grade, in different ways. Everyone needs
and are no longer supported by to feel theyve made the most
on-site HR officers as a result of of themselves. Thats what were
the transformation programme. trying to do.
The shift to central services has
encouraged more online learning Key points
and self-service for personal The critical challenge at DSPA is
development. Providing equal working in an organisation that
development opportunities for the prioritises different principles for
diverse groups of employees is a the diverse groups of staff. This is
key challenge for the organisation. being tackled through:
putting people at the heart of
Equal opportunity is the ultimate the transformation programme
principle in the way the schools (its centre of gravity)
staff and the students are treated giving individuals autonomy to
while recognising individual achieve the end goal in their
differences. This is why, although own way within the parameters
the formal structures do not of mission command
always allow treating individuals maintaining integrity of
in exactly the same way, day-to- behaviours on the way to
day decisions seek to ensure fair achieving the end goal
participation, which may require providing equal opportunities,
providing additional support for recognising individual
some. One leader explains: circumstances.

Taking it back to the principles of

it, there is no such thing as equality
because we are all, every single

3 From best to good practice HR: Developing principles for the profession case study
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
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Issued: October 2015 Reference: 7124 CIPD 2015