Best practice

Personnel Today’s monthly series reveals how managers deal with business
problems and enhance performance. In this issue, Valerie Cooke, personal
development adviser at Avon Cosmetics, explains how establishing a culture of
continuous learning and development is a rewarding challenge for both business
and staff

Avon UK has a £250m turnover and is a household name thanks to the
"Avon Lady", who started selling cosmetics door-to-door in the UK in
1959. Avon representatives are self-employed and there are now 160,000 in the
UK alone. Avon UK also employs 2,500 sales managers throughout the nation, and
has main offices in Corby and Northampton.

Creating and meeting training and development needs is an ongoing process
and a real challenge. Like many international companies, Avon operates as
several businesses in one – Northampton is home to one of the company’s
European manufacturing facilities alongside UK Marketing, European Regional
Marketing and global ITS, to name but a few.

The Customer Service Centre at Corby has a call centre as well as
warehousing, shipping and distribution, so there is a wide variety of careers,
specialist skills and professions to consider.

Avon has always had a strong company culture and employee loyalty to match,
but to stay successful as a business it has to keep up with the times. Six
years ago, Bronwen Curtis was appointed vice-president of HR and set about a
radical rethink of the HR function so that it could drive the cultural shift
that was needed to support changing business needs. Her aim was to get
"people growth" as respected at board level as sales and profit

She assigned three managers as a development team with the brief to design
an HR function that would be an equal partner in the business and would lead
the change to a continuous learning and development culture. She also started
to hire into her own team people with specific business skills and knowledge to
work alongside the specialists.

How we created the change

After redesigning the HR function to align more closely with the different
aspects of the business, the development team created initiatives to deliver

This was led by linking cascading business goals to an appraisal process
that has an element of performance-related pay. There was also considerable
emphasis on management development needs, starting with the concept of
"manager as coach".

While this is easy to say, for an established business with many operational
areas, neither initiative is easy to do.

The concept of manager as coach means that managers are trained to
understand and develop fully the needs of their staff. This does not stop at
training – it means ensuring that their "real" learning needs are
catered for. Management’s role, therefore, includes encouraging the learning of
subjects that have no direct link with working at Avon. Bringing out the real
person by addressing their individual learning needs is what makes the Avon
life-long learning plan different.

Another key to successful change was something of a "leap of
faith". Without a clear business payback, Avon opened two Learning
Resource Centres and started to promote self-managed learning opportunities. This
is a very visible (and tangible) way of letting employees at every level know
they can choose to work on their own personal development – perhaps for
possible job moves in the future. The LRCs are an open door for employees who
wish to take up any kind of learning initiative.

Not everyone has happy memories of education and Avon makes no apologies for
showing what fun learning as an adult can be. One of the LRC skills workshops
is called "Maths is Magical".

Although it may be fun, the benefits to the individual – and the business –
are considerable. Conquering maths in an enjoyable way has created confidence
and the motivation to continue with other types of learning. Because it gives
adults an understanding of the maths children are now learning in schools, it
also supports them if they are carers or parents.

Positive outcomes for the business

No modern manager can afford to think that training and development will
encourage their best people to leave. The talent war being what it is, they
will leave anyway. The tangible benefit of a learning programme is that
companies can grow their own talent and keep staff longer by being able to
offer them new and challenging jobs thanks to their improved skills base.

Avon employees have traditionally been very loyal, but that isn’t taken for
granted. Increasingly, employees assess personal development opportunities
before joining or staying with a company, and rightly so.

People are Avon’s asset, so it makes no sense to restrict their development
and keep them doing the same job – the business needs them to grow. Avon has
opportunities for employees to change careers (from finance to sales, for
example) and to work in Europe or globally, so it makes good business sense to
adopt this approach.

Continuous learning and development creates opportunities to increase
managers’ skills too. For example, during the appraisal, managers are expected
to coach employees to develop their own SMART goals, to discuss whether an
employee has met behavioural standards and what overall rating they have
achieved, and talk about future aspirations.

At Avon, the value of continuous learning and development is not restricted
to managers and high-fliers. The aim is to create an environment where everyone
can aspire to be "the best they can be" and take responsibility for
their development.

This means they meet their needs in terms of job satisfaction and meet the
company’s need for maximum contribution from each individual.

"Maths is Magical" is one of the workshops and training solutions
run by ESL Training.  For more details,
contact Sue Lowndes or Elaine Sellars on

Top Tips: Establishing a new CPD culture

– An inspirational leader with staying power is a must, with a business case
for change and a process, not a shopping list of ideas

– Manage expectations – it is a long haul if the culture change is
considerable (three to five years) and it’s an evolving process, so the job of
development is never finished

– Start the changes within HR and don’t stop

– Shop around for best practice examples, to save time and tears

– You have got to really want to create change. It is not just an exercise
in good personnel management – you’re actually impacting on the lives of the

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