A well-led organisation is a good place for employees to work, and also a place good leaders can get more from their staff. At the Metropolitan Police, a winner in the Computer Weekly Best Places to Work in IT 2005 awards, this emphasis on leadership development extends across the whole of the force.
"The Metropolitan Police places leadership very high on its agenda, and has a corporate-wide leadership programme," says Tom Conway, group director business services at the Met's directorate of information (DoI), its IT function.
"While a high proportion of DoI staff have attended the corporate programme, at a local level we have decided to provide additional training to meet the specific local management needs and devised a complementary programme ourselves," says Conway.
"We're setting the bar higher for good IT leadership, and people are responding."
The programme is targeted at upper middle and senior IT managers initially, and over the next few years similar initiatives are planned for junior/middle managers, says Conway.
"We began by undertaking a detailed analysis to identify the development needs of our staff. We focused particularly on good decision-making and problem-solving abilities, linked with influencing skills. We were also looking for team development skills such as listening, delegation and fairness," he says.
"The DoI programme formally kicked off in early summer with a reception with the director and group directors. Around 50 staff are going through the programme now," says Conway. "There are one- to two-day workshops which are highly interactive and dynamic.
"One thing we are very keen on is that participants don't just go away for a few days on the course, then come back and nothing has changed. So, we've initiated project learning sets where pieces of real work the DoI is undertaking are passed out to participants - they use the skills they are learning to tackle the real problems."
"For example," says Conway, "we'd done some preliminary work on a DoI graduate scheme, which I've now handed over to a group of ten or so people on the programme for them to develop into a working proposal. What they produce will be presented to the directorate's senior management team in November and will hopefully get the go-ahead."
Although it's early days for the leadership programme, experience so far highlights a number of key points, says Conway.
"You need to ensure you are moving forward in a purposeful way," he says. "You can design a programme that is relevant for, say, a year or two, but then those needs will have largely been met. You need to reassess the programme, identify new needs, and move on - it's all too easy to get locked into running the same programme without catering for changing requirements. Things are too dynamic in this business for that to be allowed to happen"
Identifying those leadership needs accurately, both from an organisational point of view and for the individuals concerned, is crucial, believes Conway.
"You really need to understand the needs of the staff for this to work, and I'd like to think we could make improvements upon our existing processes. Our staff appraisal system has evolved but there needs to be more emphasis on qualitative aspects," he says.
One of the more sensitive issues that any leadership development programme will need to address, he points out, is that not all those who the programme targets will be equally receptive. In any organisation there will be those who do not feel a personal enthusiasm for the programme.
"In the end, leadership development takes time - you've got to be prepared for the long haul," says Conway.