Personnel Today’s monthly series reveals how managers tackle business problems and enhance performance. In this issue, Chris Holroyde, learning and development manager at BASF, explains how career development workshops can unlock the true potential of your workforce
BASF is an international chemical group, with offices and plants world-wide. We are dedicated to delivering innovative and reliable products and services to our customers and colleagues. We endeavour to offer an excellent working environment for BASF employees, in which learning is promoted and success is recognised and rewarded.
BASF runs a successful programme of training and carries out regular company-wide appraisals, which help staff develop within their chosen fields. In the past, however, we were always concerned that there was no clear process of managing people’s careers at BASF. No one knew what career opportunities were available to them outside their own businesses or departments or what new skills they could acquire.
It is difficult to manage careers in a large organisation. Even with the best careers information system, you are merely advertising jobs, not unlocking the potential of your workforce or allowing them to understand what they should or could be looking for in a career.
Following a merger, we were able to share training and development strategies with new colleagues. Sharon Pearson, who initiated the programme, set up Career Development Workshops that proved to be the ideal solution.
Preparation is key to running successful workshops. The workshops are resource-intensive requiring one "observer" for every participant. We enlisted the services of the Anne Shaw Consultancy to train our company directors to become observers. BASF directors have been very supportive of the workshops. They recognise the value of having processes in place that assess an individual’s potential and key development needs. They understand that it is better to find employees the right position internally, rather than have them seek job satisfaction in alternative employment.
Participants are selected either from senior management or junior management/senior professional levels. Initially, we ran the senior management workshops, then used trained participants from those sessions to act as observers for the junior sessions. Line managers recommend team members who had shown potential to develop within the company. It is not compulsory to attend; some people are happy in their positions, but most are keen to find out more about themselves and what they could achieve at BASF.
The workshops are run over two and a half days and are an intense learning period for all participants. During the course we run realistic business case studies to see how people respond to commercial issues. We also run a series of psychometric tests, which includes an Occupational Personality Questionnaire, as well as verbal and numerical testing. Participants also have one-to-one and group activities, dealing with case studies and situations in which they have to make decisions, alone and with the group.
We have defined competency clusters to test participants. The different activities reveal an individual’s strengths in a particular competency, be it leadership skills, team working or thinking. This is not done to assess inability but to bring out an individual’s potential and to assess suitability for a better or different job from his/her current one.
We have an average of eight people on each workshop, each with a trained observer to monitor and record their progress. The observers put together a complete picture of each individual and their key competencies. This enables the company and (more importantly) the individual to see exactly where they should be heading.
Plan of action
Following the workshop, participants are presented with a Personal Development Plan that they will discuss with their observers and line managers. The structure of the plan is based on information gathered from the workshop. It details the path they should follow to realise their full potential. It might recommend gaining more experience, undertaking training, or even finding a different role within the company.
Because our focus is on learning and not just training, we use creative ways to further people’s experience. For example, if the workshop highlights that an individual would benefit from leadership skills, we might find a project that needs running within the company, rather than recommending a course. In this way, the company benefits from the job being done and the individual gains real experience of leading a team. This would form part of their annual Development Plan, for future review.
After six months, the observer meets with the participant again, as a mentor to see how the career plan has progressed. We find this keeps motivation levels up, as participants have a timeframe to stick to and a goal to work towards.
Learning to win
Our main aim at BASF is to engender a learning culture throughout the company. We also produce self-development guides and set up learning resource centres. Development at BASF is a two way thing; with the company getting the best from employees and employees getting the best from the company.
Our workshops are ongoing. We have run 18 workshops so far, an average of one per month, from a pool of nearly 2,000 employees in the UK. The programme is now being rolled out in our European businesses, which means we can soon look at moving staff across countries as well as departments.
The workshops have given us an in-depth knowledge of the skills and competency levels at BASF. We also recognise the gaps in our skills base, and have the processes in place to address them.
It has shown us that in business-critical areas it is essential to get career development right. If we’re not recruiting the right people and developing our existing staff, it can have a significant impact on the business.
Career Development Workshops create a win-win situation for business. They motivate staff by helping them discover their true potential and the company knows it is getting the most out of its workforce.
Starting a programme of workshops is not straightforward, but the rewards for all concerned make the effort more than worthwhile.