Getting personal

Panasonic is targeting personal development needs rather than offering a training agenda.

The business

Panasonic is a global supplier of electronic products and in the UK its sales, marketing and support activities are managed by Panasonic UK. It employs approximately 550 staff and has its head office in Bracknell, Berkshire. The company operates in a highly competitive sector which has witnessed rapid product development and innovation, but set against a background of strong price deflation. This has placed significant pressure on margins within the sector.

In common with other companies in its market sector, Panasonic has had to challenge its traditional ways of operating in order to maintain a competitive edge. One area which the company recognised it needed to change was that of training and personal development.

The challenge

Development manager, Graham Borley, felt the time was right to look at the way training was conducted: “I joined about two and a half years ago, and at that time training delivery and administration was all outsourced. The organisation wasn’t entirely sure what it wanted and there was a vague feeling of a lack of value for money.”

Training needs audits took place once a year and the impact of courses was measured only by the usual ‘happy form’.

The solution

Borley and his team looked at several solutions and settled on one called Focus, from Business Decisions International. They picked it because it would allow them to focus on the competencies required for each role and so would be useful not only for individual development plans, but also for recruitment, succession planning, and even satisfaction surveys.

Now, employees have annual development reviews on the anniversary of the day they joined the company. Since these are not done all at once in the busiest time of the year, they tend to be more effective, says Borley. A process of 360-degree review, with around a dozen assessors chosen by the employees themselves, helps to build a picture of competencies. “It’s important that staff are involved in the process – this is something done with them, not to them,” says Borley.

The entire system is automated, with each individual having a unique intranet page, electronic prompts to ensure the process moves smoothly, and a report which the individual can discuss with their manager.

In terms of delivery, an online library provides resources, but most of the training is now outsourced to expert consultants.

To deal with the instances where the demand for a course has been too low to make it financially viable, Borley set up a scheme whereby other local companies such as Waitrose and Oasis can send their staff on the courses and share the cost.

The system costs £100 per user as a one-off cost, with a low maintenance fee thereafter. It took nine months to build a full picture of competencies required for each job, but Borley doesn’t regret this time investment.

“It was important to get that stage right, and involving staff at that early stage helped generate initial buy-in,”he says.

The outcome

The key indicator of success is that Panasonic is now targeting development needs rather than offering a training agenda. It also has concrete figures measuring competence improvements and the effectiveness of each training session. In addition, Borley estimates that he has saved £200,000 a year – 40 per cent of his budget.

“The most important aspect of it all has been that individuals have taken ownership of their own development,” he says. “This has been fantastically motivational and empowering.”

Employee’s view

Steve Wilson, head of sales and marketing, document systems, has been at Panasonic for 14 years and has noticed a real difference in training in recent years: “It’s always been important to the organisation, but until recently it was more about picking courses from a book than addressing real needs.”

He describes a specific example of how the new approach has worked well in his department: “I had an experienced and successful sales person go into a dip that neither he nor I could explain. His 360-degree assessment revealed that he was behaving aggressively to customers, something that only those working closest to him had noticed. We were able to address the issue and now his performance is getting back to where it ought to be,” he says.

“Our training is not about ticking boxes and sitting through boring courses. It’s about addressing relevant issues and developing individuals to meet their full potential.”

Learning points for HR

  • Training should be driven by needs not courses
  • The timing of annual reviews should be considered
  • Employing individual expert trainers can be more cost-effective than hiring a training consultancy
  • Ensure you get employee buy-in when revamping development programmes
  • Use IT solutions to simplify processes where possible

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