An Interview with new Consultant Alison Phelan

Alison Phealn

A recent addition to the team, Alison Phelan has a background and degree in Educational Research, which is proving very useful in the 360 Analysis element of her work with MatchFit.

We asked her about her background, her impressions of the MatchFit programme, and how her skills add value to the offer.

“I’ve worked in a number of management and professional roles in further and higher education in relation to workplace learning across a wide variety of industry sectors. Much of this involved engaging with employers in developing responsive training and development programmes. In order to build relationships and support the delivery of training, I had to become quite adept at quickly tuning into each industry’s unique challenges, developmental needs and culture. This experience has helped me, when interviewing people during the analysis stage, to understand and consider their comments within the context of the sector they are working within, their own workplace and their individual perspective.

Having experience of leading teams through restructures, evolving strategic aims and changing government priorities provides me with an insight into how we emotionally respond to change and uncertainty in the working environment. This has been very useful for my work at MatchFit, as I talk to a wide range of people throughout the analysis process, including managers and team leaders.

I started my career as a training assessor for government-funded vocational training programmes delivered by private training companies. The recipients included disadvantaged young people and adults who were very vulnerable and had a range of social problems and barriers to employment and further education.  I undertook a lot of one-to-one reviews and individual training plans with this group, some of whom were suffering from trauma and extreme anxiety.

Then for a couple of years I worked in recruitment, specialising in headhunting sales executives and managers within the IT and reprographic industry. This was for a small company that worked nationwide, so I got really good at doing remote interviews by telephone. I had to be able to draw out from potential candidates what they had achieved and the value they could bring to their next role.  

In my spare time I’m involved in supporting education and the NHS. I’ve recently been an advisor and one of the co-authors on an academic journal article which has just been accepted for publication in the British Journal of General Practice.”

How did you become aware of MatchFit?

“I met Bradley many years ago when I was consulting for a training company he was working for at the time. We kept in touch over the years, so when I was looking for some consultancy work recently I asked him if any of his clients might have something. He said that he was looking for someone to help with the MatchFit programme, so here I am!”

What do you think is different about the MatchFit approach?

“It is different from other kinds of staff development and leadership training because it doesn’t just provide a short-term solution. It’s a very personalised approach to each client and it’s a long-term proposition.

I also think that by involving staff at all levels, not just management, it provides a more inclusive way of working and a continual development framework. This supports improved performance and a better culture. A lot of training and development is about compliance; about the way things must be done.  The MatchFit model is more about developing a high-performing culture, and I just think it’s the right kind of offer for people right now. People are looking for something a bit different, that’s going to work long term. We’ve all seen staff development training programmes where someone comes in, delivers a great training session, and everybody goes back to their jobs fired up. But then nothing actually changes.

The way we work with our clients is via partnership, rather than the client just saying ‘here’s a problem, let’s pay someone to come in and make it go away’. The organisations we work with are really invested in the long-term vision of how the MatchFit model is going to work, how it’s going to be kept on track, revisiting it and checking in with the people involved. It’s a really good approach!”

MatchFit Consultants all come with unique skill sets. What does your experience bring to the programme?

“I think my experience of extensive one-to-one interviews and discussions with a wide range of people from different settings is extremely useful in this role. Often this has included sensitive information, which people have trusted me enough to share. Being able to accurately reflect in writing what has been said, whilst retaining both the important details and the anonymity of the person, is essential.”

Your work with MatchFit CLIMB involves the 360 Analysis – can you expand on this?  

“The 360 Analysis interview section is a range of open-ended questions which bring out people’s views about the culture and place where they work; about how they perceive their work within the team and how the team sees them. It also looks at how they feel about wellbeing within their organisation – is it good, bad, indifferent; are they supported? It examines perceptions of management and senior management and whether teams feel they are approachable; can they talk to them; do they feel respected by them.

There are also some questions about HR which are more about efficiency, and whether people are treated fairly and consistently. Clearly, it’s important that I ensure interviewees feel completely safe and comfortable talking to me, which is where my background comes in extremely useful. People need to feel assured that I’m conducting the interview from a position of absolute objectivity and will write it up in a way that is completely anonymous. People have been speaking very openly indeed about how they feel about certain issues, and it’s very interesting, as many of them have a lot to say, and there are some very different and mixed views!

This analysis is usually conducted after the organisation’s HR team have performed their own staff survey and analysis and reported their findings to us. Of course, what people will say to their organisation’s HR department might be the same, or slightly different to what they tell us. It’s important to get these two different views because then we can start to triangulate the findings and identify the similar themes and/or disparities.  One of our consultants will then speak to the Senior Leadership Team and see if their perceptions match what the staff are saying in terms of how things are run, how good or bad things are going.

I write up the analysis and include a number of the comments in order to give a balanced view and a feeling of what people are saying. I then make some recommendations for interventions that I feel the SLT would benefit from focussing on based on their short, medium and long-term goals. This is then added to the HR and Senior Leadership teams recommendations. The MatchFit CLIMB programme then starts from this point on.”

Have there been any surprising elements?

“What’s been surprising for me is that there can be such an assorted range of perceptions! Some people say everything about their job is absolutely fantastic, and then someone in the same department will give a completely different view.

What’s also very interesting is that people can have very mixed views within themselves – they might say everything is terrible; they never get to hear about anything; people don’t respect what their team does; and then in the same breath say ‘my job is the best job I’ve ever had, I love it!’ So there might be many reasons why they think their job is great, such as the camaraderie they have with the team, but on the other hand they’ll be listing all the things that are wrong, such as not having any resources.”

How do you see things progressing in the future?

“I’m really motivated by helping people, and for the work I do to help them fulfil their potential in both their organisation and their personal lives. People are more interested and aware now about emotional intelligence as well as just being good at specific elements of their job.

So I think the MatchFit approach is absolutely the right one for our times, and I look forward to helping build on this success.”