Career file: insurance policy for skills

John Baker, 47, learning and development director of insurance company Legal & General, describes the key challenges he faces in his role

What does your role involve?

A major part is working with senior management and the business areas to ensure their people are equipped to drive the company forward and deliver what our customers need. This ranges from customer-facing staff to managers, and across all our lines of business. I also get heavily involved in cultural change work across the business.

What are the best and worst things about the job?

The best thing is seeing people grow and the business performing better as a result of learning activity. I don’t really have a worst thing. However, what frustrates me most is trainers who are more interested in the purity of training and their approach than how they can help the business perform better.

What is your major training project?

We are focusing on reshaping the way we deliver our training to the business to take advantage of the full range of blended approaches now available – using distance learning, and more e-learning, thereby releasing trainer capacity to work with individuals and groups on improving performance.

What impact would you like to have on your organisation?

That the business performs better as a result of what I and my teams do.

Which of your qualifications do you value most and why?

Being a Chartered Manager, because it shows that I value ongoing personal development, have achieved a significant benchmark in the management profession, and understand what my customers in the business have to do.

How do you demonstrate return on investment from training interventions?

Wherever possible, it should be in terms of measurable business improvement. In some cases that is easy and in hard numbers – for example, did it result in more sales or lower costs? It can be softer – improved customer or employee satisfaction, or improvements in the key drivers of these. It can also be feedback from the participants or their colleagues that they are behaving differently and in a way that is likely to lead to improved performance.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing the training profession?

The challenge is to stay in tune with where the business is going, what its development needs are, and how these can be most effectively met, as opposed to get-ting seduced into pursuing the latest new idea that has emerged in the profession.

What do you think will be the core skills for your job in the future?

Being a translator. By that I mean having the ability to apply the entire range of learning and development methodologies (whether brand new or tried and tested) to a challenge facing the business and to help improve performance. That will mean having a sound understanding of learning and development, as well as business, and being able to work between the two.

How do you get the best from people?

I work with them to develop a clear vision of where we are heading, then give them the freedom to drive for it and provide support and counsel where necessary.

Which is the best management book you have ever read?

Maverick, by Ricardo Semler. It proved you can break all the rules and achieve a massive transformation.

Describe your dream job

I’m torn here, because it is either creating things with my hands through building or carpentry, for example, or it is working with people – without the pressure of deadlines and targets – to help them think through problems and find solutions. Perhaps I could combine both – the counselling chippie!

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