“The MAP analysis was extremely insightful as we were able to get an impartial perspective on the business and our ongoing staff development – something which is often difficult to achieve when you are so close to the day-to-day operations,” “I’m still bowled over by how accessible and relevant the programme was to our business and sector, and I would fully recommend it to other social enterprises and small business here.”
Cara Cash, Stepping Stones
|Sector||Social Economy - Training and Employment|
|Status||Currently participating in MAP programme|
|Key Results||Improved communication throughout all areas of business. Significant benefits from specifically tailored training in areas such asmotivating staff and performancemanagement.|
Stepping Stones NI Ltd was established in 1996 with the aim of providing adults with learning difficulties/disabilities the opportunity to access accredited training towards gaining employment. A community business, Stepping Stones provides a realistic working environment for these adults to avail of vocational training as a stepped approach to employment. The organisation comprises of a training and employment service, two cafes, a catering service, a picture framing business and a craft workshop specialising in wedding stationery.
In recent years the global economic downturn has meant that for companies working within the social enterprise sector, sourcing funding has become a competitive process. As a social enterprise organisation, Stepping Stones has clear social aims but has to compete in the marketplace like any other business. It actively pursues commercial success using its profits from the various enterprises it operates to support its social purpose. According to Cara Cash, Business Development Manager for Stepping Stones, the community and voluntary sector has changed dramatically in recent years with funding currently being cut by up to 25 percent for some projects. “We believe the work we are doing is essential and therefore we need to operate as a successful, profit making business to remain viable. A successful business needs strong leadership, effective communication and strategic organisational goals, so to help develop these we decided to look externally for training.”
Stepping Stones began its development process by signing up to the Investors in People(IIP) framework led by the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL). In laying the groundwork for this, the business was introduced to ‘Made Not Born’- DEL’s Management and Leadership Programme. Cara explains,
Through evaluating the IIP criteria, we realised the need to further develop our staff, particularly the management team, and DEL recommended that we participate in the Management Analysis and Planning (MAP) programme as a perfect starting point. We were delighted to hear that as a social enterprise, Stepping Stones was eligible to participate in the programme, and more importantly qualified for funding support – a huge benefit to us.”
As part of MAP, Cara formed a relationship with an external business advisor who came on-site and analysed the management and leadership skills gaps in the business. The advisor spent time in each area of the business to ensure she was as integrated as possible and personally interviewed the whole management team on their training and development needs.
“The MAP analysis was extremely insightful as we were able to get an impartial perspective on the business and our ongoing staff development – something which is often difficult to achieve when you are so close to the day-to-day operations,” said Cara. “Using this analysis we were able to really highlight the areas across the business which needed attention and to design personal development plans for the whole management team. For example, delivering consistent communication emerged as a development area. With so many aspects to our business, and six department heads working alongside an Operations Manager and myself, this was an area we really wanted to improve.”
For Cara, the most impressive aspect to the support was tailoring the training programme to the specific needs of the business. “I was able to work with the advisor to source training opportunities which addressed our specific core issues. These included training courses on motivating staff, communications, dealing with difficult people and performance management - all pertinent issues in our line of business. It really was as if the whole programme was designed specifically with Stepping Stones and with our sector and staff in mind!”
According to Cara, the business benefits resulting from the training are already beginning to show. She explains, “Feedback from the staff has been extremely positive and overall the team feels more ‘invested in’, ‘recognised’ and ‘important to the organisation’s wider goals’. Communication within the business has improved massively and the management team is now working more closely to share best practice and key learnings from the specific training sessions.”
Stepping Stones to Success
Whilst Stepping Stones has only recently embarked on its Management and Leadership journey through ‘Made Not Born’, the assistance it has received to date has been coined by Cara as ‘a lifeline’. “I’m still bowled over by how accessible and relevant the programme was to our business and sector, and I would fully recommend it to other social enterprises and small business here. Another fantastic aspect of the programme is the networking opportunities which arise from the ‘Made Not Born’ events. I’ve personally taken back a lot of key learning from the speakers, as well as meeting likeminded business contacts and potential customers."