Driving through structured development

Margaret
Kubicek learns how Lex Vehicle Leasing took the onus of staff training away
from line managers by implementing an in-house academy to boost learning
opportunities for its sales staff

Lex
Vehicle Leasing set out to revamp the training programme for its 200 sales and
customer service staff nearly two years ago, with the simple aim of getting the
most from its people.

The
process may have begun with a rather loose objective, but the end result was a
bespoke, in-house academy providing a highly structured development programme
of competence-based qualifications. The company offers blended learning
solutions to help workers attain those competencies – along with financial
incentives to boost their progression through the academy.

"Historically,
training in our business has been devolved to line managers," says Karen
Bush, Lex’s training and development general manager.

The
first step was to define the key roles in sales and "understand what good
looks like" in each of them – a massive undertaking, recalls Bush. Lex
conducted everything from staff interviews to research in other firms to
identify key areas of competence for each role: area sales managers out in the
field, sales executives working internally by phone, and account executives providing
customer services support to both sales functions.

Business
standards

The
academy is based upon the principle that staff must be able to demonstrate
their competence and capability against set business standards. Each role now
has a set number of competencies or modules, with four levels of attainment.
The company’s most technical role – area sales manager, for example, has the
highest number of competencies.

"They
have 10 areas of competence we measure them against, and they are a mixture of
their skills base, knowledge and aptitude," says Bush. "Each of those
10 modules are measured on four levels."

Level
one is assumed to be entry level, so assessment does not begin until level two,
where candidates are deemed to be on the right track but in need of some
development to improve knowledge, skills and capability. Once they have
achieved level four, they are considered to exhibit best practice.

"For
an area sales manager we would expect level two in all 10 competencies to be
achieved within 12 months, level three within 18 to 24, and level four after
two years."

For
each module, candidates undertake some self-development, including reading,
learning from others, research, and training courses, and must also compile a
portfolio of evidence throughout their programme.

Lex
has a range of development opportunities available for candidates, but there
are no set courses of study or training programmes. The company has used an
external provider to train all line managers as coaches, which helped achieve a
sense of buy-in for the academy among management teams. And when it comes to
internal training courses, Lex now offers more focused, ‘short and sharp’
sessions wherever possible.

"We
find  being able to release staff in the
customer service teams for full days is difficult and tends to lead to more
cancellations," says Bush. "Our customer service training now mainly
consists of two-to-three hour workshops focused on particular topics."

The
modules reflect Lex’s business goals, many of the terms associated with the
academy reflect the motoring and travelling nature of the business. For
instance, as candidates enter the academy, they are given a ‘dashboard’
providing an overview of each of the modules they must cover. Once they obtain
the highest level in all their competencies, they can maintain their status by
passing ‘an annual MOT.’

Higher
levels

Salaries
are now pegged to the academy structure, increasing each time a worker achieves
a higher level in all their modules. Lex awards ‘academy supplements’ as candidates
attain higher levels – up to £3,000 a year for an employee reaching level 4.

Lex
competencies are specifically tailored to the company. Pegging them to an
outside body such as NVQ simply wasn’t an option, says Bush. "We run NVQs
internally for our customer service team, but find our standards are higher. We
are a highly customer-focused organisation in a highly competitive environment.
We find NVQs very generic. Our candidates are going in at level three and
walking it."

In
the long run, Bush would like to explore the possibility of linking the Lex
academy programme to accredited professional qualifications such as those
offered by, say, the Institute of Sales and Marketing. Doing so would add value
and kudos to the academy, she says. "It’s about being able to recognise
sales as part of a profession rather than simply a means to an end, just a
generator of revenue."

Less
than two years into the process, Lex is already feeling the impact of success,
and the scheme is particularly popular with new recruits.

"The
commercial benefits are around staff retention and specifically around
providing a career structure in a role," says Bush. "Now staff have
the option of progressing visibly within their role. It has also put structure
around succession planning for us and will improve performance."

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