Learning is a lifestyle imperative issue, says director of the Barclays
University Paul Rudd, who is selling the concept to all employees. Simon Kent
Paul Rudd, director of Barclays University – known as bu – enjoys working in
an environment of ambiguity. Excessive, up-front planning, modelling and
subsequent restructuring doesn’t suit his style. Faced with the challenge of
introducing bu, his instinct wasn’t to sit down and hammer out the right
solution in terms of training provision, but to go to the staff themselves and
find out what they wanted from the university.
"The first thing we did was to invite staff across Barclays to come to
discussion groups and tell us what they thought the corporate university should
be," he says.
"I thought no one would bother, but we were inundated with interested
people. It ended up being the largest qualitative research exercise ever
conducted in the company."
Bu emerged from a communication event held by Matt Barrett when he became
group chief executive. Entirely aware of the slow-moving bureaucratic aspect of
large companies, he established a series of open forums through which he spoke
directly to thousands of staff over a very short time.
Having listened to their ideas, Barrett made a number of pledges, one of
which was to create a corporate university.
Rudd, at that time working in the communications department, was given the
task of making the pledge a reality.
"I do have a training background, but I’ve also been involved in
cultural and strategic change issues," says Rudd.
"In retrospect, I think that has helped with this project. It hasn’t
been channelled solely into training initiatives – it’s a more general
programme of change. We needed to progress quickly and enable staff to see
changes at the soonest possible moment. That couldn’t be done by just
restructuring learning and development."
Rudd feels employee interest in the corporate university and the impetus for
change is the result of changing attitudes towards lifelong education in the
"Learning is the new sex," he says. "TV adverts are promoting
it as a lifestyle imperative issue as opposed to sitting quietly in a
Rudd’s consultation process revealed that even long-serving bank staff
realised they may not have a job for life and it was their responsibility to
ensure their skills and talents were up to date and relevant in the job market.
"It was clear we needed to market this to our people in a way that
treated them as adults instead of staff," Rudd says.
While bu may not have had a pre-designed blueprint or masterplan, Rudd and
his team did identify three central principles around which the initiative was
built. These were: adult to adult, support and challenge and, perhaps most
importantly, personal responsibility.
Unlike existing training provision where employees were pushed into courses
according to their position and skills, bu operates by attracting and pulling
adults from within the company.
Learning will always be challenging, but each individual is given the
support they personally require to meet that challenge.
The idea of personal responsibility recognises that each person’s life and
learning is their own affair. "Everything we’ve done has been tested against
those principles," says Rudd.
"We’ve evaluated our actions according to those ideas through focus
group research and questionnaires."
One year into the project, bu is already making substantial in-roads into
the organisation’s culture.
Having found the company was spending more money transporting employees to
their training centre at Staverton Park than they were spending on training
itself, it was clear there was a good business argument for more regional
However, rather than adopting the usual model, Rudd and his team came up
with the concept of bu metro centres.
Three metro centres are open, or are soon to open, in Birmingham, Bristol
and Manchester. Rudd forecasts another four or five, established in staff-heavy
locations which will ultimately mean 80 per cent of staff will be no more than
an hour and a half away from a centre.
The buildings themselves are well equipped and designed to offer a range of
learning environments. There are straight forward training rooms, "buzz
rooms" for active brainstorming and interview sessions, a cafe,
Internet-linked PCs, a quiet study area and a forum area for informal
The overall atmosphere aims to be relaxed and inspiring, a place where
learners can pop in for a quick chat with the on-site learning adviser or spend
a longer period of time on focused training.
"There is a big ‘wow’ factor with these centres," says Rudd.
"Yes, there are traditional training rooms, but there is a lot of new
technology – the latest Internet-linked white-boards and Internet
While providing good learning opportunities, the appearance of the centre
also plays an important role in the internal marketing of the university.
"We are dealing with learning customers," Rudd stresses,
"They are not employees. We have to keep sight of that at all times."
On the surface, the bu initiative appears to be the result of impressive
financial investment, but Rudd won’t reveal the cost.
However, Rudd is clear that, at the end of the day, the university must
deliver in two ways. "This isn’t about being charitable to our people for
the sake of it," he says.
"It’s about adding value for the shareholders while supporting Matt
Barrett’s aspiration to be the employer of choice in financial services."
Rudd claims that, ultimately, bu means Barclays’ overall training spend will
reduce while the standard of training and value gained from learning activities
will dramatically increase.
This isn’t simply a matter of introducing new delivery channels, but of
gaining extra value from the training resources already present in the company.
A clear illustration of this is Barclays’ Self Development Library. Based in
Godalming, the library holds a wide selection of training books, CDs and videos
covering subjects within and outside the financial services industry –
CV-writing and even language courses.
Having been with the organisation for 18 months, even Rudd himself was
unaware of this internal resource until it came under his remit. Rather than
axe the facility, Rudd invested in it.
An extensive marketing campaign was undertaken and one storeroom turned into
an on-site study point.
As a result, the library has seen activity shoot up by 50 per cent over the
past five months.
In parallel to the creation of bu, the company has restructured its training
and development function.
This on-going process is focused on taking what were a number of separate
business-based training functions, prone to duplication and inefficiencies in
delivery, and creating a centralised focused learning development function able
to deliver cost-effective training for specific business needs.
The next 12 months or so will see the new department and the university
integrating their activities, enabling bu to become the overall brand for all
Such integration is not, however, a straightforward process. "The one
thing I’m avoiding at the moment is pulling stuff into bu that won’t
necessarily add value to the brand," says Rudd.
"We have to be very careful about this. We know the bu brand is
credible, it’s been well received and people like it.
"We have to be careful not to dilute the value of the brand by bringing
in old-world learning methods which are not up to that standard."
Rudd is aware that while internal training has been to a high standard in
the organisation, a lack of accreditation has meant such training was not
recognised in the outside world.
It may be impractical to find accreditation for all internal learning, but Rudd
is keen that training for key skills such as leadership should be of a clear
and recognised high standard.
Ensuring team leaders are proficient is particularly important since it will
be these individuals who coach other employees through their learning
Appropriately skilled team leaders are therefore crucial to the effective
use of bu throughout the organisation.
Accreditation is not the only area where bu has contact with the outside
Throughout its creation, Rudd has wanted the university to be outward-facing
as much as it is inward- focused.
His belief is that external partnerships would expose the university to
innovative techniques and best practice in the education arena, gaining new
ideas through osmosis as much as through identified strategic targets.
From an early stage, the company has worked closely with Learn Direct,
forming an imaginative partnership which will continue well into the future.
Among these initiatives is the idea that ultimately every bu centre will
also be a Learn Direct centre, open to the community beyond Barclays’
Already the Godalming-based centre has taken a step in that direction,
running a successful family open day during which staff and their partners and
children could take advantage of learning materials specifically aimed at them.
Rudd is proud that the bu metro centres have enabled the company to extend
their support of local communities beyond financial contributions.
The Birmingham centre is already working alongside the local Learning Skills
Council on social learning projects.
Not only does this place Barclays within the community as a source of
education, but offers the centre useful feedback for their own approach to
training and development.
Having started the initiative purposefully without a grand master plan, it
is only recently that Rudd and his team have identified a structure to their
The model which has emerged is effectively a training pyramid – a small
nerve centre overseeing and managing all activities at its apex, with three
ever expanding layers below it, distributing learning through metro centres,
local learning and Learn Direct centres, and finally through individually
focused channel – personal learning spaces including the use of dedicated
The structure is simple and flexible and as Rudd notes, simplicity is key to
success. "If you want to dilute shareholder value, increase
complexity," he says.
With its large workforce and extensive resources, the bank has been able to
pilot initiatives extensively.
Following the idea of Individual Learning Accounts, bu now offers employees
£150 cash to spend on whatever training they want – recipients so far have
studied diverse subjects from yoga to static line parachuting.
Take up has been 20 per cent among the pilot audience, but Rudd presses the
point that even the 80 per cent who haven’t taken up the offer, have received
the idea positively.
"If individuals don’t want to take the money, that’s their choice and
their responsibility," he explains.
"But they’re still glad and proud to work for an organisation which
offers that opportunity.
"At the end of the day, we believe that people with the ability to
learn are good for Barclays and good for the industry."
2000 Director of Barclays University, Barclays Bank
1999 Head of communication planning, Barclays Bank
1997 Partner responsible for strategic communications
consultancy, Watson Wyatt
1990 Responsible for organisation developments and change
management interventions, Lloyds
1985 Head of training, Access