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Alan O’Neill

July 22 2018 12:00 PM

As the economy continues to grow, it’s encouraging to see unemployment figures falling. It’s an employee market and finding staff is a challenge for many industries. Consequently, recruitment companies are reaping the rewards.

There is a very polished public-sector-funded body offering a very high standard of employment services to employers for free. The Local Employment Service Network (LESN) was established in 1995. It’s a not-for-profit publicly funded employment service, reporting directly to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP). It has 23 contracts around the country with a mandate to tackle poverty and disadvantage, especially with those deemed distant from the labour market.

A full-time team of professional career guidance counsellors works individually with clients to develop their core skills, resilience, self-belief and confidence. They support that client to become job-ready and placed into employment. For every job place filled, the LESNs are saving around €17,000 per person a year in social welfare payments. Each LESN is given a set of KPIs each year. In 2017, Kildare LESN – of which I am a non-executive director – achieved 35pc placement of clients in jobs through its five offices, against a target of 30pc. That was a significant saving to the Exchequer and there are 27 LESN locations countrywide.

I accompanied Clodagh Judge, the chief operations officer of KLESN, to a meeting in Killashee House Hotel and saw first-hand how delighted they were to learn of the services tailored to their needs. They really appreciate that all candidates come so well prepared by KLESN for returning to work. The bonus for any employer is that the service is funded by the Exchequer, so saving them recruitment costs. It’s a win-win for all concerned.

Challenges for LESNs

KLESN (a registered charity) celebrated its 21st anniversary recently. I’m always impressed with how the team have a high level of empathy with their clients. It reminds me of the vocational approach that nurses take to their job. The respect for the integrity of those that are marginalised and the commitment they have to matching clients with employers is admirable. Remember, there is no fee for the service. Despite that, the DEASP only ever awards a one-year contract to the LESNs, which is renewed usually just before the end of year. As you can imagine, that throws up a range of challenges. One I will deal with here is business planning and the need for all organisations to have a planning template.

Planning Tips

The POIC framework is an effective planning tool. It is a tried and trusted methodology that works for businesses and indeed projects of all sizes. Despite the uncertainty for KLESN, Clodagh gets on with the job, working under the assumption that the contract will be renewed anyway. Using this template, she and her team get on with planning as best they can until such time as they receive their mandate and new budgets at the end of each year.

1 Plan: Take time to engage relevant stakeholders and plan ahead;

Get a full understanding of the brief and what’s on the horizon, from all stakeholders;

Agree an ultimate objective. (eg if you were building a house, the objective might be to build a four-bed 200 sq m dormer bungalow);

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What are the deliverables, the key chunks of activity? (House plans drawn up, planning permission approved, builder appointed, finance in place, etc);

What obstacles can you anticipate? (By anticipating obstacles in advance, you can work to mitigate or remove them);

Draw up a schedule of activity, with timelines and names of who is accountable.

For KLESN, this includes exploring macro issues such as new business announcements or business closures, new training initiatives by various departments or training bodies, changes to legislation or processes, and reviewing targets. The actions to address these big picture issues are then incorporated into a plan for each of the five offices. Planning is done monthly, then weekly closer to the time.

2 Organise: Organise your resources, which include people, money, time and things (such as equipment, facilities, etc). For KLESN, that means allocating the new budget and making necessary amendments.

3 Implement: Execute the plan according to the schedule above. The role of a leader during implementation is to ensure appropriate distribution of tasks and to motivate the team. Clodagh does that through regular and open communications with her team.

4 Control: The control phase is where you monitor progress of your project against the metrics and timelines specified in your schedule. With this close monitoring, you can take corrective action, if necessary, to get the project back on track. That is much more sensible than waiting till the end of the project to deal with overruns or overspends.

While I do appreciate the temptation to just get on and do stuff, you’ll be familiar with the expression “failure to plan is a plan to fail”. People often say “because we’ve done it before, we know what has to be done”. Well, I’m not so sure. When a professor was questioned on why he gave the same exam questions every year, he replied that “as long as the world keeps changing, so do the answers”. Use the POIC planning framework because it forces you to look in from the outside and continuously update what you do.

Next week: read about how a head chef has solved the challenge of chef retention.

Alan O’Neill, The Change Agent Contact Alan if you’d like support with your business. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to

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