HR specialisms: Training and development

An army may march on its stomach but it is usually the quality of its
training that makes the difference between triumph and defeat. And in the
business world this idea is just as relevant. Whether you are interested in
securing contracts, hitting sales targets or reorganising your admin system you
cannot hope to be competitive without effectively training your troops.

The role of a training director is to make sure that this happens. And while
it may appear to be a case of simply rolling out training programmes, it is
high-level strategic thinking that occupies most of a training director’s time.

Ian Lawson, director of training and development at Lyreco Office Supplies,
says: "Training is an integral part of planning and managing the whole
business. But if a training director wants a long-term career they have to
address the business problems facing the company and not merely be a course
provider."

To do this, a training director has to be able to take a step back from
day-to-day duties and focus on the long-term cultural and business aims of the
company. It is only by taking these factors into account that they can properly
focus on the needs of the organisation and create effective training
programmes.

Lawson calls this the role of an ‘internal consultant’. At Lyreco he
achieves it by holding monthly meeting with department heads, line managers and
board members. This enables everyone at the firm to give him an idea of where
they are heading and the sort of training that would complement the journey.

"You have got to be a good communicator and get the board or managing
director enthused about training. Otherwise you’re three to four removed from
the decision making process and not in the front line of the action,"
Lawson says. "That’s no good if you are trying to pursue big strategic
concepts."

A training director can expect to be rewarded with a package of about
£50,000 plus benefits, according to David Goodson, head of training at Marriott
Hotels. Further down the scale SSP research shows that a training manager is
likely to be offered anything from £30,000 to £40,000 depending on the sector.

For Pip Thomas, training and development manager at One2One Retail, the role
has led to a mix of strategic and practical duties. At any one time she may be
running a training needs analysis, employee development programme or helping
with cultural change in the business.

All of which requires a high degree of flexibility, creativity and patience
– a list to which Thomas would also add intuition. She says: "The best
thing about the job is the opportunity to be involved with the evolution of a
successful retail business. But to do this it is essential to recognise and
evolve with customer’s needs. My role must anticipate and expand with this."

But by taking a step back and looking at the wider aims of the business, a
training director can sometimes find themselves isolated and having to rely on
self-motivation to get the job done. This places its own unique challenges on a
training director and calls for a certain type of individual to get it right.

It also stresses the importance of the conversations a training director has
with the rest of the organisation. Neil Jones, head of HR development at the
Welsh Development Agency, says: "Training and development can be one of
the most rewarding careers, but equally, one of the most frustrating. You have
to combine strategic visioning with operational responsibility. This ensures
that the HR practices are grounded in reality and not conjured up in splendid
isolation in ivory towers."

Training directors also have to keep an eye on any changes that are taking
place in the wider business world. Particularly, technological innovations that
are likely to affect the way the firm does business and which, in turn, are
likely to make some training initiatives redundant.

"In the future the training director’s role will have more emphasis on
strategy, more reliance on technology and more line manager involvement,"
says Jones.

Without doing this the firm and its training programme will fail to evolve
at the same pace as the business world. As Lawson points out: "You have to
be technically competent and be seen as a role model, an ambassador of
excellence, and lead by example."

Case study David Goodson, head of training Marriott Hotels

David Goodson has been head of training at Marriott Hotels
since January 2001 and is responsible for the training and development of over
8,000 UK staff (Marriott’s term is ‘associates’).

Based in London, he joined the hotel group from Whitbread where
he worked as a HR manager from 1989. He has spent his whole working life in the
hospitality industry and previously had stints in the food and beverage and
conference and events departments of Hilton and Queens Moathouse hotels.

Since he joined Marriott, Goodson has instituted such things as
a joint MBA course with Oxford Brookes University and a modern apprenticeship
scheme that is open to all new starters. This has seen the company’s managers
undertake a minimum of 40 hours a year off-the-job training.

Staff retention has fallen to 34 per cent – one of the lowest
in the industry and 14 per cent below the average of the Hospitality Training
Foundation’s Labour Market Survey 2001.

As Marriott is a US-based hotel chain there is a US bias to
many of the things Goodson does. This extends to the training programmes with
most of them identical to courses run in the US. This is to ensure that
Marriott’s UK staff can deliver the same superior levels of customer service as
their US counterparts.

Employee participation is a major feature of these courses as
Marriott’s likes to get experienced members to pass on their knowledge to
others. They require extra training to work alongside Goodson’s team.

As he explains: "My role in the UK is to make sure people
are certified to run the US training programmes. This mix of associates and
people with HR experience makes the training more relevant to the delegates as
they can see they are being taught by someone who knows what it’s like to do
their job."

But Goodson’s role is far more complex than simply organising a
variety of US-led training courses. Strategic and wider business matters are a
major priority.

"I have to look at three main areas: the operational side
where people have to develop the technical operation skills to deliver the
service required; the functional – such as developing the management of IT,
sales or marketing; and management development which means looking at the
leaders in every level of the organisation and enabling them to achieve goals
and motivate our associates," says Goodson.

A background in generalist roles and an understanding of where
training fits into the overall business picture is also vital, says Goodson.

"My background in the operational side taught me that to
make a difference people needed investment. I really believed that if I was
ever going to make a difference at a bigger level I had to look at how people
develop in the business and make the business achieve the goals it has set."

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