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Case Study: Developing Commercial Awareness with Hackney Learning Trust

As winner of the prestigious ‘Outsourced Provider of the Year’ award at the 2011 Education Investor Awards, Hackney Learning Trust (HLT) was recognised for transforming education in Hackney.

But they face the opportunity and challenge that funding has been transferred directly to schools to buy the services they want from whoever they want. This has led to increasing competition from other local authorities and the private sector.

This article explains how =mc helped them to become a more effective (and competitive) commercially minded organization by developing training programme and toolkit to raise commercial awareness throughout the organization.


HLT (formerly The Learning Trust) formed as an autonomous organisation when Hackney Council relinquished control of its schools support services – due to poor performance in its schools. In 2012, Hackney Council brought HLT back under its control but gave it a semi-autonomous status for a trial period of 3 years. If HLT performs well, the status is likely to continue; if not it is likely to come fully under council control again.
HLT has set itself ambitious revenue targets. In order to meet them it must not only retain its existing schools but also win new business from inside and outside the borough.
The service delivery staff are mostly professional educators or other experts in their field. Many did not see a need to sell their services and few had the knowledge or skills to do so. It would not make economic sense for HLT to appoint a sales force so service delivery staff – or at least some of them – needed to have the skillsets and mindsets to retain and win business. They wanted help and support to do this.

=mc’s brief

=mc was asked to do two things:

  • Design and pilot a bespoke commercial awareness training programme for groups of service delivery staff. The programme needed to be in a form that could subsequently be delivered in house – and it needed to bring on-board a skeptical staff team.
  • Develop a commercial awareness toolkit specific to HLT’s needs. This needed to include training materials, process guides and a set of forms relating to customer interaction. The forms were needed as a forerunner to the introduction of a full CRM system.

What we did

We undertook a commercial awareness audit involving interviews with key stakeholders and an online survey. This helped identify the key issues to be addressed. We also developed a strategy map with the traded services senior management team to clarify the strategic direction and where to focus attention to secure more business more profitably.
The next step was to design a modular training programme and toolkit, based on the needs identified in the audit. While the programme was still in draft form, we piloted it to ensure it met HLT’s needs. We further developed it, piloted it again and after some final tweaking, handed it over to the HLT trainers.
The resulting training package and toolkit included:

  • Training materials – slide deck, programme delivery guide and trainer’s notes
  • A 130-page workbook with tools for dealing with actual selling – improving mindsets
  • CRM tools – co-developed with HLT staff in preparation for the CRM system


The Traded Services management team at HLT were impressed with the thoroughness of the programme design and workbook.
They have scheduled many of their service delivery staff to go on the programme during 2014 and are expecting improvements in customer retention and new business to follow.

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