The Good Employment Learning Lab

Lead Research Organisation: Manchester Metropolitan University
Department Name: Management

Abstract

Whether you work in private business, the public sector, a charity or social enterprise you can probably relate to the challenges associated with managing a team. In fact, there is a wide body of research on the effect of different management styles on workers and organisations. The Government is interested in creating 'Good Work' which means work that is both engaging for the worker and productive for the business. Sometimes we all get frustrated if our work is not so good due to our line management. For example, if we cannot contribute the way we want to because we are not allowed to work flexibly, have a say in how things are done, feel stressed due to conflict or are not given work that uses our skills (or are not developed so we can keep learning and progress). Equally, anyone with management experience knows that managing people can be really challenging. Even experts believe there is no 'right way' to manage people. Yet, managers must manage and, often, line managers and owners of small firms do so under conditions of scarce resources and short-term pressures. In fact, many are 'accidental managers' who have pretty mixed feelings about their roles and receive very little support to reflect on, and develop, their skills.

So what can be done to help managers become more effective at people management, for the good of themselves, their staff and organisations? That is the key question we are addressing in the Good Employment Learning Lab. It is what we call a 'tricky question' - it's not easy to answer because managers, workers, workplaces, sectors and places of management vary so much. We are tackling this challenge by forming a Learning Lab. This is a space where researchers, policy makers and managers collaborate to understand and address shared problems. They frame ideas for better practice and outline the 'theory of change' that is the logic of why they think this will work. They then experiment and evaluate 'what works'. At a deeper level, Learning Labs support long-term, trusting and creative relationships so researchers and practitioners can work together to learn via a process of Engaged Scholarship. We are zooming into two contexts to develop Good Employment Learning Labs:

- The Greater Manchester Good Employment Learning Lab will partner with the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter (a coalition of local government, employers, trade unions, workers and other experts who aim deliver good jobs in Greater Manchester with opportunities to progress and develop, and a thriving and productive economy, by promoting 7 principles of Good Employment). We will work in three Greater Manchester districts (Manchester City, Oldham and Salford) to run Workplace Trials to raise management capabilities and share this learning across Greater Manchester - and with other places - to support widespread learning about 'what works' in different contexts to improve people management.

- The Social Care Good Employment Lab will also run Workplace Trials, but this time focused on managers of adult social conducted at home or in residential care. Some of these trials will also be in Greater Manchester, so we can compare findings with the Greater Manchester Lab. The Social Care Lab will also share learning nationally.

Our third Learning Lab will raise capacity for researchers and practitioners to get involved in joint problem solving and research via Engaged Scholarship. Activities will including workshops introducing this method, sessions for early career researchers on 'Becoming an Engaged Scholar' and workshops for academics and practitioners involved in Practising Engaged Scholarship.

The outcomes of the Good Employment Learning Lab will be new learning, new communities and new evidence-based ways of supporting people management. Each of our Labs will also produce an open access Digital Resource Bank that anyone interested in people management or Engaged Scholarship can use.

Planned Impact

Learning Labs Shaped Via Engaged Scholarship With Partners
The ESRC has invited us to build capacity in Engaged Scholarship due to our passion and experience. We have conducted an accelerated phase of Engaged Scholarship to relate this ESRC brief to practitioner interests and our own expertise and it is from this process that our Learning Labs model has emerged. Our partners include the many providing Letters of Support and in-kind investment; many more conversation are ongoing and we are set to build an exceptionally strong network through which to create impact.

Building Capacity for Engaged Scholarship and Researching our Practice
Our Engaged Scholarship Learning Lab will build capacity for academics and practitioners to exchange knowledge, design research projects together, test ideas and reflect on the implications of findings to address the 'tricky' problems in their contexts. Pragmatically, we propose to build capacity through Introduction, Becoming and Practising Engaged Scholarship workshop series where we will promote our Digital Resource Bank, Network and Festival. We will also be responsive and proactive in 'taking learning out there', engaging practitioners in particular.

The Greater Manchester and Social Care Learning Labs will draw on the Engaged Scholarship Learning Lab to raise the capacity for Engaged Scholarship in our team and partners. They will access dedicated Workshops and we will conduct reflective learning on our Engaged Scholarship processes and seek to raise the curiosity of a core of policy and practice stakeholders so we form a reflective community. Rouse and Woolnough will facilitate and develop both peer-reviewed research that helps deepen the method and a 'crossover' book on our Learning Lab and Engaged Scholarship experience, aimed at policy makers, practitioners and researchers.

Learning 'What Works' Through Realist Evaluation
Realist evaluation structures investigation to see how mechanisms relate to contexts to produce outcomes. We will raise capability for our Learning Lab members to understand that our Mechanisms are Workplace Trials delivered to address a specific Workplace Challenge via a particular Mode of Intervention (Masterclass, Peer Learning Set or Coaching, combined with an Enquiry Tool) and our Contexts are particular managers (gender, ethnicity, education), organisational settings (Public/Voluntary, Private, SME) and places. In the Social Care Lab, context is more specifically designed as adult care services delivered in particular modes - domiciliary or nursing home care.

We will empower managers and other stakeholders to consider how the sets of relation that seem to work (i.e. particular interventions, with particular managers, in particular settings) may be related (approximately) to their own situations and how this context-sensitivity can build a logic for planning their own interventions and, ideally, Workplace
Trials and Engaged Scholarship.

We expect that our evaluation and research work will have the direct impact of shaping place and sector making in GM and social care, by influencing services commissioned to raise people management capability, and will work towards impact in related places (e.g. city regions) and sectors (e.g. low-paid; care).

Impact Mechanisms - Greater Manchester and Social Care Good Employment Learning Labs
- Launch and Closing Conferences - building communities and engagement
- Advisory Group - to reflect with multiple stakeholders including MPEE projects/Hub
- Pro-active and responsive relationships - to create learning moments
- Networks - for engagement, learning and co-creation
- Digital Resource Banks - including Workplace Trial materials
- Workplace Trials - reaching c.750 business
- Formative and Summative Evaluation Outputs - including video, animation and infographics as well as reports
- Roadshows - taking learning to Westminster, devolved Governments and all English regions

Publications

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