Global roaming

Some
people are prepared to go to enormous lengths in search of personal development
– even literally around the world. Travel may broaden the mind, but what does
it achieve for the sponsoring employer? By Peter Willis

In
case your office should ever keel over at 45 degrees and a giant wave wash over
your desk, it is nice to know you would be able to cope. For many people, the
link between arduous physical activities such as sailing the wrong way round
the world and the business needs of employers are about as tenuous as this.

Yet
many employers find that sponsoring members of staff to undertake seriously
major personal development challenges can have real benefits, both for the
individuals and the organisation as a whole.

“It
is becoming a significant factor in graduate retention,” says Carl Gilleard,
chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters.

“Developing
graduates is an expensive business. People need new challenges, and to feel
they’re working for an organisation which takes an interest in their personal
development and recognises the importance of life experiences.”

Jane
Baker, customer services manager at utilities company Hyder Industrial in
Cardiff, was sent by her employer on an Operation Raleigh programme in Ghana,
as part of her personal development programme.

“She
was moving into a more sales-oriented role,” explains Philip Lenz, Hyder’s
group development manager.

Action-oriented
learning

“The
programme was a good fit, and clearly right for her. We’re very much into
action-oriented learning.”

Jane
says, “I was unsure of what to expect from the challenge but I knew that it would
be very important in terms of team building.

“We
visited a Raleigh project site in the rain-forest. We slept in hammocks and
experienced the projects hands on.

“Seeing
the project in action really gave us an insight into the potential results of
our work. This was a powerful motivating force and provided a real focus for
the team.”

The
challenge included fund-raising for Raleigh projects from local Ghanaian
businesses, with a target of $100,000 in two weeks. Jane’s personal
achievements included securing an audience with the president of Ghana,
obtaining sponsorship from Coca-Cola after persistently cold-calling its MD,
gate-crashing a Rotary Club meeting and appearing on breakfast TV – all the
while adapting her presentation techniques to the differing requirements of the
local Ghanaian and inward-investment American and South African business
cultures.

“It
was one of the biggest challenges of my life, and totally exceeded all my
expectations,” she says.

“We
had very hard targets to meet, but the sense of achievement felt at the end was
very fulfilling.

“The
whole experience was hard work though with no free time to think or reflect.
Our feet didn’t touch the ground throughout the whole programme.”

Back
at Hyder, Philip Lenz reports, “Feedback from her line manager has been
positive – she’s developed confidence in approaching clients.”

Managing
expectations

But
he identified the problem of re-entry. “With an experience like that, you are
bound to come back at a different level – it is a matter of managing her
expectations.”

Her
targets have been raised, he adds, and she is now seeking a pay rise.

The
toughest organised personal development test around is, by common consent, the
BT Global Challenge, a nine-month, five-leg yacht race around the world the
“wrong way” – into the teeth of the prevailing winds and currents. It can be a
terrifying, but also life-enhancing and life-changing experience.

“I
cannot believe there is a problem so severe in real life that can compare with
surviving in the Southern Oceans,” says Humphrey Walters, chief executive of
management training firm MaST International, who shipped as a crew member on
Ocean Rover in the last race, in 1996/97.

“It
was a savage and hostile environment. We were all aware that death was around
the corner. We kept going despite great odds and looked after each other.”

He
learned many lessons, notably the importance of followership as well as
leadership, and that, “You cannot mechanise the soul. You cannot force people
on board a boat or at work to do something against their will.

“No
matter what systems are in place within an organisation you cannot force
individuals to care about something unless they really want to.”

Ian
Wolter sailed on “Save the Children”. As MD of recruitment company Eden Brown,
he was alert to lessons about teamwork and strategy.

“Since
all the boats are identical, that is what ends up making the difference. There
are good parallels for business – particularly one like ours which doesn’t
involve technology.”

Maturity

He
sees his experience reflected in an increasing maturity in the company – “We
are now more of an HR consultancy, and we are more partnering with than selling
to clients” – and a more supportive policy towards time off for adventure, and
voluntary work of any kind among the staff.

Most
crew members pay for their own trip, but boat sponsors have places allocated
for “leggers”, staff members who take part for one leg.

The
benefit to the company is summed up by Rachel Leggett, training and development
specialist at computer manufacturer Compaq, as “increasing internal employee
motivation”.

The
selection training for this year’s race, which sets off in September, meant
whittling 36 volunteers down to six over two weekends of strenuous activities
and was in itself a contribution to spreading the culture through the
organisation.

“Those
not chosen felt they had really benefited, and though some were bitterly
disappointed, they are still passionate about it and want to help with
fund-raising or in any way they can. They feel they have a role to play – they
remain bought into it.”

The
race is not only the toughest challenge, it is also becoming the most
monitored.

Comparative
research

“With
12 identical yachts, and crews drawn at random, it is the ideal environment for
comparative research on behaviour and teamwork,” explains Peter Mackie,
managing director of Inspiring Performance, which is working with the Henley
Centre to study “the characteristics of high-performance leaders and teams”
during the race and its build-up.

The
study, which will be shared among a forum of 25 companies, including some of
the boat sponsors, will be focusing on the importance of what Mackie calls
spiritual intelligence – strength of character and value sets – alongside
emotional intelligence, management ability and IQ.

Leggett
at Compaq sees it as an opportunity to “see what components make up outstanding
performances and take that learning back into the business. There is so much energy
in an organisation and you can either harness it for the business or you can
lose it”.

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