HR in practice: Fujitsu’s learning academy

The business

Fujitsu Services is an IT services company employing more than 24,000 people in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Many of its clients outsource their IT infrastructure to Fujitsu, meaning the HR function plays a critical role in integrating and developing talent and making such arrangements work in practice.

The challenge

When a struggling International Computers Limited (ICL) was taken over by Fujitsu in 2002, the HR department was suffering from a period of under-investment. The function’s role was changing too, from a backroom discipline to a frontline service that could play a pivotal role in helping the wider business win contracts and deliver a better-quality service to its clients.

Group HR director Roger Leek joined the business in 2002 and made it a priority to invest in developing the skills and knowledge of the HR department.

“I needed the function to be much more commercially aware in terms of how the business ran, but also to be able to offer HR solutions to the business,” he says.

“We used to pick up the pieces after hearing a bid had been won and hundreds of people were being transferred into the company. I wanted to arm the HR function to be much more skilled in working with their business partners and make that contribution right at the beginning of the process.”

The solution

Leek decided to set up an HR academy, along the lines of similar programmes in other disciplines used in Fujitsu, and worked with management institute Roffey Park to set it up. “If you go on a public programme you go away with probably 50% of what you needed,” he says. “But by designing a programme with Roffey Park we could tailor it to our specific needs.”

Roffey Park identified six key development needs around creating an HR vision getting closer to the business benchmarking change management providing an HR toolkit and enabling line managers through facilitation and coaching.

Each member of the UK HR department – and some from Europe – attended the core foundation module, focusing on HR’s role in the wider business and what was expected of the function. The programme started in November 2004 and was initially held over two sessions, which included a two-day residential course.

Following discussions with their managers, individuals then signed up to ongoing learning sets where they could share experiences and problems with peers – and elective courses, based on their own developmental needs and career ambitions. Options included: consultancy skills challenge through change impact and influence organisational design and development and mediation and conflict. The majority of the content was provided by Roffey Park, but the set-up also allowed Fujitsu to introduce its own programmes such as employment law seminars, while staff continued to study for CIPD and legal qualifications.

After the first year, the business embarked on a comprehensive feedback programme and made a number of changes. The foundation module was squeezed into one two-day course and the learning sets were shortened, while the content was also tweaked – for example, the introduction of advanced consultancy skills and group mediation.

The outcome

So far, 238 people have attended the foundation module and most have gone on to participate in the learning sets.

Paula Graham, head of management development at Fujitsu Services, who oversaw the programme, believes it has not only increased knowledge and skill levels but that it has also created more of a community in HR, where members now all speak the same language.

“The learning sets strengthened the network across the company and just coming on the programmes increases their knowledge and widens the breadth of the activities that are covered by HR,” she says.

This has also helped the company’s overall ability to win new business. “HR doesn’t do it alone so you can’t say that we won a bid because of HR, but we’re a strong partner in that bidding and winning new business process,” adds Graham.

The academy costs about £200,000 a year to run, but Graham is confident there has been a return on that investment.

Guide to setting up an HR academy in 10 steps

1 Have clear leadership from the top with a senior person driving the process. Don’t be preoccupied with spending time with business partners and neglect your own HR teams.

2 Articulate a clear vision for the scheme, such as to transform the focus from managing HR to developing organisational capability and achievement.

3 Don’t treat support services as second-class citizens. Ensure all talent is included, not just business partners and HR specialists.

4 Involve senior managers in HR as sponsors for components of the programme with active involvement in design and delivery.

5 Ensure there is clear diagnosis up front of the HR function’s development needs and set benchmark targets.

6 Make the scheme as challenging as possible, offer varied opportunities for skills practice and feedback relating to real, live scenarios.

7 Vary the academy’s development mechanisms. Include the use of alternative approaches such as story-telling and action learning sets

8 Create a powerful coalition through a steering group to meet regularly and review the effectiveness of the academy

9 Instigate a thorough evaluation process that measures the success of the scheme for both initial and long-term feedback. For example, how well do individuals now understand the HR vision and contribution to the business?

10 One size doesn’t fit all. Make sure you have capable people administering the scheme and managing the logistical complexities

Gary Miles, principal consultant, Roffey Park

If I could do it again…

The programme initially had 12 electives and 12 different business sponsors drawn from the HR leadership team. “The sponsors would work with the facilitators to develop the content. It was a challenge to get all those meetings in the early days when we were designing the concept,” says Paula Graham, head of management development at Fujitsu Services. There are now just three business sponsors while group HR director Roger Leek personally sponsors the foundation module.

Finding the time for participants to attend the foundation module was also tricky, Graham says – an issue that has been resolved by restricting it to a two-day course – while there was also too great an initial focus on HR managers and advisers at the expense of the administrative team.

The programme is an ongoing process and is constantly updated, while in the future the business plans to extend the academy to cover external-facing HR business consultants.

“Another future challenge might be how we run these programmes in Europe, because we only run them in the UK at the moment,” adds Graham.

Employee perspective

When Ginny Hester-See first moved into the HR central functions and corporate responsibility team as a personal assistant, she didn’t see HR as a long-term career.

She admits she was unsure of the objectives of the academy, but found the knowledge from the foundation module about how the function worked invaluable and was able to establish a network of contacts and support.

“Roffey Park made me realise that maybe HR was the place for me and that Fujitsu Services was making a commitment to develop individuals up and through the business,” she says. “I am now at the end of a CPP [Certificate in Personnel Practice] course and looking forward to a career as an HR adviser.”

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