Take training straight to the top

top table influence for training activities need not be a distant dream, as our
TD2000 campaign has shown. We look at how to make your mark on corporate
governance. By Lucie Carrington

all know that if our ambitions for training are to succeed we need the support
of our leaders on the board – it’s not rocket science.

problem is how to turn training into a boardroom issue. To some training
managers a trip to the moon seems a lot more likely.

Shari Casey, programme manager with Raytheon Training, responsible for the
Vauxhall College, maintains it can be done.

fact she has done it herself, twice – first when she headed up training at the
corporate banking division of NatWest, before the Royal Bank of Scotland
takeover, and then in her current role providing management training to
Vauxhall Motors.

secret to gaining that vital support from an organisation’s leaders is to
infiltrate the corporate governance system. So at both NatWest, and now
Vauxhall, training councils have been set up as boardroom sub-committees.

set the strategy for training – with some input from the training team who then
have to make sure it happens.

an idea she recommends to others for several reasons. It gives training and
training managers tremendous clout within the organisation. Training – or
learning, as Casey prefers to think of it – becomes a business imperative if
the board puts its weight behind it.


also integrates learning into business strategy – that Holy Grail for the
training team. It stands to reason, given that business leaders are focused on
business performance, they are going to insist that any time they spend on the
firm’s learning strategy is similarly focused.

first step in setting up a boardroom learning council, says Casey, is finding a
director to champion training.

like any programme, needs champions to lead from the top to push measures
through and ensure alignment to the business strategy,” she says.

doesn’t seem to have been a problem at Vauxhall which is awash with champions,
so enthusiastic are its directors, that the chief executive, personnel director
and manufacturing director all have a role.

gained the most senior ear at NatWest too. The divisional managing director put
his shoulder behind a training steering committee and ensured it became a
subject for the board’s regular attention.

understood what we were talking about,” Casey says. He also made sure there
were enough senior people on the committee – including the finance and
operational directors.

training managers are going to have to work a bit harder than that. Identifying
a champion is one thing – selling him the idea is quite another.

involves a great deal of lobbying, Casey warns, so be prepared to sound like a
broken record.

Investors in People scheme could be a big advantage – it certainly was at
NatWest, which was looking to achieve IIP.

made it much easier,” Casey says. “Achieving a lot of the IIP indicators meant
directors had to take this sort of interest.”

of business

IIP alone is not enough. Trainers have to talk the language of business with
their leaders. They have to talk about cost savings and business performance.

NatWest, Casey was able to suggest a massive rationalisation programme that
would leave service levels intact.

steering committee approved and training delivery was outsourced, leaving a
training department of two people – Casey and a colleague who between them
worked out what training was needed and how to deliver it.

not just the board that needs convincing. There are often tremendous vested
interests and local allegiances further down the line that need to be tackled.

was certainly the case in NatWest, where some people had developed their own
little training empires and had a lot to lose, Casey says. There was also
tremendous duplication of effort – such as the 27 different coaching courses on
offer around the organisation.

was inevitable that a more centralised system would narrow this down, but
managers had to be convinced that the new world order was in their interests.

were similar problems at Vauxhall, although Roger Woolnaugh is less eager to
suggest that what people were doing locally was necessarily bad – it simply
needed sharing around a bit more.

training council and the old NatWest approach will be the envy of many training
managers, but it isn’t the only model for training to use in its pursuit of
business leaders’ support, says learning and development director at the
Industrial Society Andrew Forrest.

points to the example of Kent County Council, where each department head picks
an annual theme for the business and pledges to support events – including
training – that further that theme.

an even more basic level, it could simply be about persuading board directors
to open a course or participate in an action session. “You don’t need a lot of
sophistication, but you need to think about the connection between individuals
and the business,” he says.


insists that the real value directors add to the training function – perhaps
more important than sitting on a training sub-committee – is becoming role
models. “In organisations where directors are seen to continue their own
learning, they set the tone for the whole place,” he says.

directors are to do this, then they have to be convinced that training pays and
that it is more than just a leap of faith. It’s one thing to link training
provision to business strategy, but it also has to be linked to business

although training experts have been banging on about evaluation for years,
little progress has been made.

Casey admits that at best it is possible to make some link between training and
improved productivity. But, for the most part, selling training to the board is
about risk aversion – the “what will happen if we don’t take training
seriously” scenario.

good news is that the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development is
about to launch a major study looking at if and how training pays. It follows
recent research into the bottom line benefits of HR policies, which has shown
that they have a bigger impact on profits than research and development. It
will be a tremendous boost if CIPD can produce some similar evidence for

hope this research does come up trumps because without these hard facts and
figures, retaining board level support in times of financial crisis could prove
nigh on impossible.

CEO a driving force in staff development

it comes to a senior commitment to training, you can’t get much more senior
than the chairman and managing director. But this is car manufacturer Vauxhall
Motors’ boasts.

that he has been charged with encouraging business interest in the Government’s
Learning and Skills Council, it is not surprising that CEO at Vauxhall Nick
Reilly shows more than a passing interest in the training and development of
his own workers. But it is significant.

is Reilly’s interest in training that has breathed new life into the firm’s
training council – a senior committee charged with setting training and
development strategy for Vauxhall.

training managers – about six people in all – are then charged with
implementing that strategy. “It has been tried before but without much success
because it has not had sufficiently senior people on board to give it that
impetus,” says education and training manager Roger Woolnaugh.


Reilly’s support it has become a board level group. He has asked the personnel
director and one of the firm’s two manufacturing directors to become training
“champions” in the firm.

now co-chair the training council which also counts among its members the
finance director and sales and marketing director, as well as Woolnaugh.

council has had one meeting so far with the second due this month, so it is
early days yet.

Woolnaugh sitting on the training council, he and his colleagues are expecting
to do more than tug their forelocks at the board.

is working on some major ideas which he intends to put to them towards the end
of the year.

will be looking for their support, especially in their areas of influence,” he

are big advantages to having this board-level interest. To start with, it gives
training more clout. It also makes it easier to link training strategy with
business strategy because this is what board members focus on.


part of General Motors, Vauxhall has signed up to GM’s “global priorities”. One
of these is the idea that GM is one company and so good practice should be

training council can deliver this, not only in the direction it sets but in the
way it works.

centralised, top down training message stops people building up their own
training empires. “If what they are doing is good, then why not share it with
others?” Woolnaugh says.

one of the council’s aims will be to pull together all the good stuff that is
going on in training in Vauxhall.

attracted the support and interest of the board, the challenge for Woolnaugh
and his colleagues will be in 
maintaining it.

recognises the problem of competing priorities for board directors in a major
manufacturer, but is fairly confident that he can keep the council on course –
afterall that’s what he’s being paid to do.

I have been given a job to do, then I have to challenge the organisation to
support that job,” he says.

now he is happy with the interest the council is attracting.

half a dozen directors on board and the CEO requesting face-to-face updates on
the council’s progress it would be churlish to complain.

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