Unleash your own potential – Harvard’s approach to our people

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Lorna Hughes

11 Nov 2021

Putting people first means helping them understand and unleash their own potential, not dictating their future for them: Harvard’s approach to Learning & Development.

As a business, we have always been People First, not just in how we run things day-to-day, but in our entire business set-up. We know that with happy, inspired and valued teams, we can deliver the best work for our clients and maintain the culture we pride ourselves on – one where everyone from every background and with every personality “type” can thrive and ultimately Make Their Move, as is our entire business proposition.  

And in 2020, we looked at our approach to Learning & Development and assessed whether it still worked for a modern workforce and workplace. Previously, L&D – i.e. training, line management, performance reviews etc. – was more prescriptive. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s been the norm for the business to drive their employees forward, pointing out their strengths, developing weaker areas and so on. But the world has changed.  

In recent years, concepts like growth mindset and empathetic leadership have begun to represent modern business and, in that environment, we realised that our approach to L&D didn’t quite represent who Harvard is, nor did it send the right message to our people.  

We want to attract and nurture the best talent, and we want them to grab every opportunity to improve their skillset, gain experience, and ultimately grow with Harvard as we grow as a business. We’ll help them – mentoring, coaching, testing themselves in another discipline and so on. But ultimately, we want people to think about, and be excited for their own career.  

It was this ethos that led to the re-working and re-launch of Harvard’s L&D in 2021. Alongside the above, it’s based on three core principles:  

1. A clear framework

Our new Learning & Development Handbook begins with what has fast become this agency’s people mantra… “A great career at Harvard will be Driven by you, Guided by your line manager and Enabled by Harvard”.  

This is more than just a message. We have structured our entire L&D programme around the three pillars. Under each sits a tonne of programmes, initiatives, and support to help everyone here thrive. This includes new career guides that support people who may want to try different things before settling into one area, new Personal Development Plans, investment in external training, bespoke training programmes for people making major career shifts, and coaching for line managers.  

The list is endless, and it has given our people real focus, renewed vigour and we’re all feeling the positive impact.  

2. A culture of self-reflection 

Alongside the new L&D framework, and indeed as part of it, we are openly and loudly encouraging a culture of self-reflection and self-awareness.  

This takes inspiration from the growth mindset point. We want everyone to take a growth not fixed mindset in their career with us. We believe everyone’s talents can be developed through hard work, and input from others. We rally against the idea that a person’s qualities, so their intelligence or talent, are fixed. We don’t want people to just settle for and find ways to show off just the things they’re naturally good at, we want people to develop all skills – those that come naturally and those that do not. 

To do that means looking at yourself and analysing instinctive behaviours, and performance. We support our people as they do this – our line management is based on it, and we also run a ‘Career Vision’ session to help our people plot out who they want to be as a leader or a team member now and in the future. 

This may sound like pseudo-psychology, but it’s making a hugely positive impact on our people – management included. We’re all more aware, hungrier to learn and more respectful of what each other brings to the table.  

3. Honesty and maturity 

The kind of conversations we now have with people when it comes to their career is far more mature than sometimes seen previously.  

Everyone here knows that we want them to be brilliant and have incredible careers. There are plenty of programmes in place to help them, and there is a culture of constant learning coming to the fore (our internal training scheme is called Never Stop Learning for a reason).  

It’s all prompted people to take a more active role in pushing their careers forward. From JAE onwards, people are having conversations not just about yearly objectives, but about areas they’re enjoying and may want to pursue further, those they know they need to work on, and the behaviours they want to exude as they develop, whatever their level. It’s a very mature, empowering process and it’s genuinely amazing to watch people take it on.  

Plans for 2022

As we move towards 2022, our approach to our people and specifically their learning and developing is something we’re hugely proud of but we’re not stopping there.  

We’re investing in a new online learning platform which will support everything we’re doing, and we’ll be reviving much of the external in-person training which the pandemic put on ice a little. More is coming for all areas of the business and if you’re keen to be part of it, check out our current vacancies here or just drop us a note at Iwanttowork@harvard.co.uk