Athena Professional connect people and ideas and inspire confidence, capability, and creativity.
Athena Professional is a dedicated Learning and Development consultancy led by Nicola Jones. A former barrister, Nicola has over 20 years of experience designing and delivering outstanding learning. Through their award-winning blended learning programmes, the consultancy helps individuals and organisations to own their authentic sense of purpose and contribution.
With strong community ties to Lumina Learning, Nicola has previously worked with our world-class tools to deliver learning and development solutions, with collaborations on previous award submissions to the ABP. Indeed, Athena Professional has been twice crowned the winners of the Excellence in Training & Coaching category, in 2016 and 2017 and are listed as finalists for the 2021 Excellence in Learning award. An outline of their submission for the 2021 award based on the LawNet Business Skills 101 Programme is given below.
The LawNet Business Skills 101 challenge
LawNet, a client of Athena Professional, provides services, including learning development, to a community of over 70 SME law firms throughout the UK. A total of 36 lawyers from 12 firms, ranging from newly-qualifieds to those with up to five years’ experience in practice, completed the Business Skills 101 programme in two cohorts during the pandemic crisis 2020/21.
A shared view of future skills emerged through focus-group discussions with LawNet and representatives of their member law firms. Learning Outcomes were also informed by reference to the Regulatory Authorities’ Competency Framework and Athena Professional’s own expertise in the sector, including Nicola’s work as Co-Chair of Birmingham Law Society’s Legal Technology Committee.
It was agreed that, in addition to transactional commercial skills, using psychological tools would promote a growth mindset and open up thinking about transformational client services of the future.
Lawyers have a complex relationship with time; it is both a unit of value and a constraint on attitudes and behaviour. Newly qualified lawyers are high-achievers, under pressure to earn fees quickly for their firms, and not to cost much to employ. These constraints meant that Athena Professional had a modest budget of time, attention, and money, with which to deliver outcomes.
Athena Professional wove together educational and behavioural psychology with cutting edge learning methodologies, including personalisation and blended learning over a 5-month programme. Formal learning focused on key elements of legal practice which were then deployed in work-based learning and reinforced with social learning to minimise contact time and maximise impact. Project work brought together all these elements to produce proposals of real business value.
Programme design was informed by the six factors of Rhyff’s Model of Psychological Well-being, specifically through Athena Professional’s facilitative approach to teaching, coaching methodologies including reflective practice, and by integrating the opportunity to gain evidence of success of environmental mastery through project work.
Athena Professional created a community of practice through:
1. The co-creation of “ways of working” to contract for a safe learning environment
2. Facilitating social learning through Slack
3. Group coaching
4. Promoting communication and connection in breakout groups during virtual workshops, peer group work, and project group work
In feedback, participants said they valued the level of connection the programme offered. In discussion, it was noted that professional relationships between firms had already led to referral work between member LawNet firms.
Drawing on the work of Kirschner & Hendrick in educational psychology, Athena Professional offered opportunities for people to:
1. Accommodate cognitive bias, building from known context and integrating behavioural learning
2. Assimilate new knowledge and deploy it in familiar contexts e.g. with tasks and challenges within the virtual classroom
3. Work with cognitive capacity; the learners are extremely busy people with limited knowledge of some of the areas addressed and it was important not to overload them with novel information
Athena Professional integrated a behavioural approach using the Lumina Spark model in group coaching and Spark Coach for self-directed coaching. This enabled Athena Professional to personalise transactional skills e.g. the ability to communicate difficult messages to clients, which in turn maximised the possibilities for individuals to achieve transformational goals, such as developing empathy, a crucial element in relating to the emerging field of client experience, commonly known as CX.
The programme Learning Log was aligned to elements of the Solicitors Regulatory Authorities’ Competency Framework. Measurement was planned to be via a pre- and post-course self-assessment and line manager assessment. However, the pressures created by the pandemic and the tendency for perfectionism amongst typically high achievers, made this feel too onerous. Instead, Athena Professional used Mentimeter to collect feedback anonymously, and discussion with participants and the client.
During the first five years post-qualification, it is industry standard practice to focus legal technical competence to prioritise fee-earning and compliance. LawNet position the programme as part of their response to challenges in succession planning and retention. They are clear that without the programme participants would not receive development on non-technical, future-facing skills.
The move online precipitated by the pandemic allowed Athena Professional to space out learning and include a variety of elements. Historically, this would have been a one-off training course with little lasting impact. Feedback, though not as rigorous as Athena Professional would have liked, indicated that they were largely successful in combining transactional and transformational outcomes.
The programme will run twice in 2021/22 and will be improved by learning to date. In particular, at pilot stage, it felt risky to ask time-poor participants to work collaboratively to produce a project proposal. Indeed, one group could not complete because of pressure of work. In the next iteration of the programme, we will have better strategies to help keep project work on track.
Cohort 1 proved a tough crowd to warm up! For Cohort 2, Athena Professional provided more marketing material up-front and amended the introductory session to offer more informal small group conversations.
It is greatly to LawNet’s credit that they used the shift to remote working to pilot a spaced and blended programme. Learning in this way gives participants an opportunity to grow and develop over time. Lumina’s suite of digital tools added significant value to people on their learning journeys, and many reported finding it the element of the programme which they felt would have the most lasting impact.
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