It's over a decade since the launch of Investors in People (IIP) and councils have signed up in droves - 74% now have either full IIP status, or are working towards it. But what exactly does the initiative mean to staff? Is it helping people perform better, and improving their prospects?
Nick Cook, director of personnel and administration at Northumberland CC, says there's no doubt that IIP status is a worthwhile goal.
So what precisely does full accreditation mean? June Williams, director of quality and delivery partners at the organisation, stresses that the standard sets out a national target for the training and development of staff, leading to better management, improved communication and increased levels of motivation. 'It's about getting organisations to look at what they need to do that is better, and which makes staff feel better.'
The standard was developed in 1990 by the National Training Task Force with businesses and staff organisations, including the Confederation of British Industry and the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development (CIPD), and supported by the government. It set out a framework for improving organisational performance and competitiveness, through a planned approach to communicating objectives and developing people.
The standard consists of 10 points, divided into three stages: planning, doing, and reviewing. Under 'planning' comes business strategy, learning and development strategy, people management strategy and leadership and management strategy. 'Doing' covers management effectiveness, recognition and reward, involvement and empowerment and learning and development. 'Reviewing' focuses on performance management and continuous improvement.
To achieve recognition, organisations are scrutinised by assessment teams. 'The standard is outcome based,' says Ms Williams. 'It's not about filling in loads of pieces of paper: it's about what people in the organisation say.
'Do they feel valued, do they understand what the organisation is trying to achieve? Do they know what success looks like - and do they have access to training and development?' Assessors talk to a range of people across each organisation, from key decision makers to people working at all levels of seniority.
'It's about feedback and reporting,' says Ms Williams. 'We say, these are your strengths, and these are the areas where there is room for improvement.' Teams check organisations with IIP status every three years, though they will assess them more often if requested to do so. Organisations can also conduct their own internal reviews - both Sheffield City Council and Rotherham MBC are now doingthis.
Northumberland CC's Nick Cook believes the consultative approach definitely boosts morale. 'A key side benefit is the emphasis on how you communicate with employees and brief them about what you are doing,' he says. 'IIP doesn't prescribe how you do this - the extent to which you brief and inform staff is up to you. At Northumberland, we have team briefings, departmental briefings and corporate briefings.'
The scheme also benefits staff in that they are expected to have a say in the future development of their organisation. 'This empowers individuals,' says Mr Cook. 'We try to involve employees as much as possible in service planning. For instance, we link individual performance reviews to what the council is trying to achieve.'
Richmond upon Thames LBC, a newcomer with accreditation awarded in January, is already pleased with results, stressing that the training framework has meant the council is continually improving its commitment to staff and therefore improving services.
All of which can only lead to better employment practice, believes Eileen Arney, adviser, learning and development with the CIPD.
'We support IIP,' she says. 'It's an important standard for employee development, in that it helps organisations understand what they need to do if they want to invest effectively in staff.
'It gives councils the opportunity to show they are developing staff. The assessment means they can get feedback on what they are doing well - and what they could do better.'