Investing in the future

Abbey National demonstrated a clear correlation between training and
business needs and was named a highly praised runner-up

For a company employing 30,000 people and continuing to grow through new
acquisitions, Abbey National faces major challenges in delivering consistent
and cost-effective training.

But it appears to be succeeding, thanks in large part to an impressive
project management approach to training programmes, intelligent use of its
intranet to highlight training issues and a big emphasis on coaching and

It also takes evaluation of training seriously. Award judge Professor Mike
Campbell says, "So many organisations don’t take evaluation seriously or
even do much in aligning the training and business strategies. But Abbey
National appears to have put a lot of thought into these areas."

Aligning training with business objectives is achieved through the company’s
project management approach to training initiatives.

Award judge Andrew Forrest says, "Abbey National has a rigorous system
of project management that helps it prioritise training needs, and the training
department is very focused and professionally run."

Neville Pritchard, head of group training and development, says the project
management approach enables the training department to work in tandem with
business units in identifying training priorities. Training managers have
responsibility for particular business units and will liaise with senior
managers in those units to regularly discuss training needs.

"We have training forums around the organisation, where business
managers and trainers get together to discuss issues," Pritchard says.

A template is used whenever new training is considered, such as when a new
product is launched. This looks at the purpose of the training and the expected
impact on performance, which may be increasing income or saving costs or simply
providing a better services to customers.

One project he highlights was the training involved in merging elements of
the customer service department and telesales staff in Liverpool last year,
which led to telesales increasing loans business by 164 per cent and insurance
business by 294 per cent in the month following the training.

Projects are also followed up with line managers. "In the case of the
telesales programme we asked the line managers three or four months after the
training how services had improved, what sort of knowledge people had gained,
whether there was pre-training briefing and debriefing and so on."

Evaluation means much more than asking people to fill out "happy
sheets". He says, "We’ve even banned the term ‘happy sheets’ because
what we’re interested in is whether the training has made a difference, not
whether people liked the food on the training day – because we know that if
they didn’t, they’d tell us."

As well as rigorous project management of training, coaching and mentoring
are a key tool in spreading knowledge and skills, says Pritchard.

"For a business changing as quickly as us, you can’t just rely on
trainers, so we ask line managers to pick up the role of ‘head coaches’."

Line managers are the natural coaches, he says, because they are the people
who do appraisals, but he accepts that it can be a challenge to change some
managers’ mindsets.

"Among some there is an attitude of, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow at 3pm for
some coaching’, when 30 seconds helping someone at the right time can make a
big difference, and that’s the kind of coaching we’re trying to get across to

To promote this culture change line managers receive training and there is a
coaching website on the intranet where they can find out about tools and
concepts and what they should be looking for when coaching staff.

All employees have a personal development plan that is used as the basis for
coaching, says Pritchard. "For some staff, such as sales people, we call
it a ‘coaching diary’ rather than personal development plan because they prefer
it short and to the point.

"In the coaching diary, employees describe their role and what they
perceive as their strengths and weaknesses. At regular periods, they note down
what skills they intend to work on, with their line manager’s support, over the
following month."

Last year, the training department ran an "Olympic challenge" with
input from former athletics trainer Frank Dick on the website, giving prizes to
managers who could demonstrate how different aspects of coaching had been
integrated into daily operations.

Line managers may also assign mentors to some staff, if they think they
would benefit from talking to someone "offline" as a way of
improving, say, self-confidence. All mentors attend a mentoring course run by
an external provider.

Abbey National places a big emphasis on the use of online resources and,
according to Forrest, the quality of the company’s intranet information on
training and Web-based learning is high. "I like the fact that their
balance between distance learning and face-to-face is roughly 50:50 and that
they haven’t let the technology run riot."

Pritchard believes the intranet has an important role to play. There is a
specific training site within the wider corporate intranet.

"The training site is a way of sharing with all employees what we’re
trying to do and what our plans are and people can get information on different
categories of learning programmes, such as those for new joiners, people
seeking accreditation and so on."

Employees in different roles can check what the training agenda is for their
role and access support materials. For example, a client services manager can
find out what the development programme is for that role and access materials
such as an online employee handbook.

Training stories also frequently feature in the issues highlighted on the
front page of the corporate intranet.

"We’ve got one up there now publicising how training has helped reduce
fraud by £200,000 a year, in areas such as fake loan applications,"
Pritchard says.

He is keen to stress that the company’s commitment to training goes all the
way to the top, and that even the chief executive has a personal development

Forrest agrees. "We saw the CEO’s plan and it suggests there’s
commitment to training right at the top rather than the lip service you might
find in many organisations," he says.

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