Coaching gains interest

Neville Pritchard gained accolades as head of training at Abbey National. Now he’s moved to Barclays to run the bank’s corporate university.

Neville Pritchard joined Barclays in June 2003, when his team was itself relatively new, having come together from disparate parts of the organisation after the bank merged its learning and resourcing functions the previous year. One of his early initiatives, after taking the reins of his new team at Barclays, reveals his management style and the workplace values he wants to instil in his staff.

He asked his people to name one thing they felt they did best – and if they’d be willing to coach it to colleagues. His department’s intranet site now contains an intriguingly diverse bank of expertise in everything from line dancing and swimming to the more serious subjects of mind-mapping and report writing. It is a human side to the professional task of development, as Pritchard explains.

“I’ve read that you spend 17 per cent more time travelling to, being at, or thinking about work than you do anything else in your life,” says Pritchard.

“To be a great manager, you need to be a great human being, and I’d like my people to enjoy the time they are here. It has to be that way – work takes up the majority of your life.”

But the initiative was as much about the power of coaching as it was a bit of team-building fun. Pritchard is something of a coaching zealot, and so he should be; at Abbey, he oversaw the development and establishment of a coaching culture programme that is still going strong and getting noticed, receiving an ‘Excellence in Practice’ citation from the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) last year.

Coaching guru

He brought in a coaching guru from the world of sport – legendary athletics coach Frank Dick – to help Abbey develop a model based on the player-coach relationship, where the employee has a head coach as well as a network of coaches that may or may not include their line manager. The ASTD also bestowed the additional honour of asking Pritchard to speak on coaching cultures at their annual conference in Washington in May this year – the kind of invitation he says he would never have received while he was at Abbey, but does now that he is with a global player like Barclays.

Pritchard worked at Abbey for seven years, joining in 1995 as manager of retail sales training and development and becoming head of group training and development in 2001. The coaching-culture programme was a key part of his drive to raise the standing of development in the business, to get it seen – and used – as an actual performance tool.

“It was a fantastic experience because we had a lot of challenges, especially in the early years,” he says of his time at Abbey. “We were able to transform the way people looked at development. That is with me at all times.”

Pritchard moved to Barclays last June as resourcing and learning operations director. He is responsible for the design, delivery, measurement and planning of all learning and development interventions up to senior and executive management. Top-level management is the responsibility of Paul Rudd, who directs the business School. Pritchard is responsible for all high-volume roles in the organisation (of which there are more than 50) and mortgage training in line with regulatory requirements.

State of change

The Abbey’s workforce was just under 30,000, compared with more than 70,000 at Barclays, and Pritchard accepts that transforming the way development is valued in an organisation as vast as Barclays is no easy task – a challenge increased by the state of change affecting the learning function in recent years.

In 2000, the bank set down the corporate university path amid much fanfare and hype, launching ‘bu’ (Barclays University) under Rudd’s directorship. At the heart of bu (as covered in Training Magazine November 2001) was the idea that rather than pushing employees onto courses, the university would draw them into learning by encouraging them to take responsibility for it themselves, and supporting them in the challenge.

The key components of the bu package include a £150 cash payment for learning for all staff, as well as a handful of bu ‘metro centres’ across the country and a Midlands-based residential centre. Featuring things such as internet access and ‘chill-out zones’ with funky furniture, the bespoke learning centres are places where design rules – the idea being to provide a learning environment that is strongly associated with the company through the bu brand, but in no way reminiscent of the day-to-day office.

Bu also has access to 150 learning ‘hubs’ through learndirect, but the metro centres have been a real success, and Pritchard is keen to build on that. He is currently rolling out another 16 bu-branded ‘learning zones’ across the country, which will all be in place by this spring. They will make use of existing Barclays premises with extra space – a move that is netting a “comfortable six-figure saving”, according to Pritchard.

“I took one look at our hotel bills,” he says. “The cost of hotels is high, and you don’t have control of the environment. You can run courses with fewer people locally if you have the venue. We will always need hotels, but it will be more of a peak requirement than an ongoing one.”

Other features of bu include an extensive library of books, CD-Rom, audio and video and a ‘hotline’ that so far has been more administrative than advice-giving – although Pritchard wants to enhance it to offer guidance.

While bu was getting off the ground, the bank was in the process of centralising its learning function, bringing together the separate development provisions of the business. bu had been launched as a standalone project, with the view of eventually integrating the university into the centralised training function. But by the time that happened last January, there had been even more restructuring.

In 2002, resourcing and learning had merged into one department in a massive shift, resulting in a £14m saving for Barclays.

Added to the mix is Barclays University Business School – launched after and distinct from bu, but again directed by Rudd (whose team was shortlisted for a Personnel Today award last year) to provide leadership development to senior managers.

Change has dominated the HR agenda at Barclays for some time now, and Pritchard is somewhat cautious when it comes to discussing the restructuring, preferring to focus on the ‘here and now.’ But he speaks openly and with enthusiasm about his aims for building the role of development at the bank into a performance tool for continuous improvement.

Operational stability

Coaching will naturally have a role; it is by no means a new concept at Barclays, but ‘continuous reinforcement’ is called for, Pritchard says.

His main objective for the first six months in his new role was to establish operational stability and a sense of identity and cohesiveness in his team, or as he says: “to have a re-motivated team delivering in a more responsive way, delivering quality and with measurements in place.”

He has introduced a delivery model for his team. “Managers work directly to obtain the bottom-up requirements out in the regions together with the top-down requirements of the centre,” he explains. “Previously, it was very much managed from the centre.”

At the moment, bu is just one of Barclays’ delivery channels for learning. In fact, there are three intranet sites where staff can access training, so it isn’t surprising that Pritchard intends to clarify the process.

“Bu is seen as outside resourcing and learning,” says Pritchard. “One of the biggest challenges was the fact that the perception of value and contribution was not high, and people’s understanding of how to access [learning generally] was confused.”

One of the corporate university’s strongest points remains its brand.

“One of the things we are looking at is accessing all learning through Bu,” he says. “We should maximise the benefits of what is a very strong brand.”

To that end, Pritchard and colleagues have developed a slogan that sums up bu’s benefits and philosophy in a way that is memorable and catchy for employees: ‘Be expert. Be better. Be you. Be the best that you can be’. The idea now is to ‘stretch’ the bu brand, so that it encompasses the totality of company learning, says Pritchard, from induction training to strategic change initiatives.

When he went to Barclays, Pritchard’s team had received the highest department scores in a group employee opinion survey, and they were about to make a clean sweep of the Institute of Customer Services’ 2003 awards.

You could say Pritchard left the Abbey at the top of his game – and the sporting metaphor would not be out of place. His passion for coaching as a development tool in the workplace is mirrored by a lifelong involvement in playing and coaching cricket.

He is currently chairman of cricket at Buckingham Town Cricket Club, which he captained to win the Northamptonshire Sunday League and Cup Double last year. Accepting people as individuals, using their strengths for the collective good of the team, or simply realising that the game is not over until the final whistle blows: these are the kinds of principles that contribute to what he calls his ‘huge team ethic’. “There are so many aspects of sport that I bring to work every day,” he says.

Neville Pritchard

2003 Director resourcing and learning, Barclays Bank

2001 Head of group training and development, Abbey National

1995 Retail sales training and development, Abbey National from 1983 Various roles including sales and marketing training development manager and national sales manager, Legal & General Assurance Society

1983 Direct sales financial consultant, Milldon & Co

1979 PE teacher and master in charge of cricket, St Albans School

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