Learners first

New research shows that rather than a series of top-down interventions, the
individual needs of the learner should sit at the heart of any training
strategy. Margaret Kubicek looks at what this means for development
professionals and their relationships with the board

After years of feeling that it does not have enough influence at board
level, the training profession could finally be on the verge of a breakthrough.

This is the feedback from research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel
and Development (CIPD). Business forces driving today’s fast-paced,
change-dominated workplace, such as the global marketplace and increasingly
savvy customers, are pushing training up the corporate agenda, and a growing
number of organisations are placing training at the heart of their overall
corporate strategies, according to Martyn Sloman, adviser in learning, training
and development for the CIPD.

"Competition today is about people," says Sloman. "New
business forces demand a different approach to the development of people."

This new approach identified by Sloman shifts training from a top-down
intervention to learning which focuses on the individual and team as an ongoing
process. Training is no longer a passive provider of programmes, but a
strategic planner of learning solutions based on a thorough understanding of
the organisation and its business objectives. Responsibility has shifted from
the training department to the individual – supported and coached by their line

Zurich Financial Services’ corporate and government business was featured in
the CIPD research.

"There had been a tendency in the past for people to sit down, usually
around an annual appraisal, decide what their development needs were, and then
for the individual to sit back and wait for the training to be done to
them," says Zurich’s head of learning and development Ian Canning.

Competency framework

The company introduced a competency framework as the backbone of its
programme of culture change nearly two years ago – identifying five key
behaviours integral to performance at Zurich. Known by the acronym ‘fried
rice’, they are ‘fast-moving, results-driven, innovative, customer-centred and

"We now have 20 per cent of an individual’s overall performance
determined by how they live the five behaviours,’ says Canning.

More specialised competency frameworks are in place for each role at Zurich,
and the company is promoting a coaching style for line managers. It rebranded
its training and development function as learning and development – in recognition,
according to Canning, that for many employees, training equals courses.

The use of such competency frameworks is a key feature of the progressive
training organisation, according to the CIPD study. So, too, is a culture of
coaching among line managers and the modularisation of training, with today’s
courses becoming ever shorter.

Even e-learning – despite its over-hyped debut on the training scene a few
years ago – has an enabling role to play in this flexible, individualised
learning approach, according to Sloman.

For Marks & Spencer, coaching has been by far the most critical activity
in effecting culture change. Over a two-year period, the retailer has
implemented a programme of coaching right down the line – from executive
coaching for senior managers to section supervisors in store.

Sally-Ann Huson, knowledge and intellectual property director at people
development consultancy TMI, says tools such as balanced scorecard, coaching
and mentoring are growing in popularity, while traditional courses are on the

‘The practical courses now tend to be no more than three days, simply
because people can’t be released from their positions for longer," she

TMI operates an approach for clients called ‘Take 90’ in which delegates pop
out of work to attend learning rather than take an entire day or more out of
the office.

"It’s a 90-minute, short, sharp input that’s very practically
focused," says Huson. "It’s not about miracles in 90 minutes, this is
really about offering a highly focused piece of learning."

The tools may have been with us for years. What’s new is how some
organisations are employing them as a means of encouraging individuals – and
their line managers – to take responsibility for their own learning.

Simon Cutler, learning and development manager for Dunlop Aerospace,
believes the line managers’ facilitating role should be heightened.

"A training manager in my capacity cannot facilitate all
learning," he says. "Part of managers’ competencies and skill sets
should be that they help review and develop their workforce. It shouldn’t be,
‘that’s an HR issue – we’ll give it to them’. There needs to be a collective

Helen Cairns, business manager of HR, training and development for
Dunfermline Building Society, agrees. "You need line managers’ buy-in
because they need to give the individual the time to learn," she says.


The key ingredients for success of any learning, says Cairns, are "a
committed training team willing to experiment with different ways of delivering,
delegates who want to involve themselves and a supportive line manager".

With learning set to be a source of competitive advantage for today’s
organisation, training managers need to start thinking about broadening their
own skill set to keep apace with the changing times.

Sloman says: "Generally, there is an emerging consensus on the role of
the training function. It will become more demanding and more varied."

Gill Rudge, head of HR for finance and property at Marks & Spencer,
says: "A couple of years ago I would have said that facilitation was a key
skill. It still is, but training managers need to be able to formulate
programmes very quickly, and this ties in with increased modularisation. To do
that, training managers need to increase their analytical skills."

Vanessa Rhone, an occupational psychologist for behavioural specialist OPP,
believes training managers skilled in the use of tools such as 360-degree
feedback and personality testing will be capable of more sophisticated
development planning. She also cites "higher-level influencing
skills" to support board-level interactions.

"The training manager’s job used to be to get training on the
agenda," says Rhone. "Now the tables have turned and a lot of senior
managers are pushing for development themselves and for their teams. The
importance now is to get them to go for the right sort of development."

Without question, however, as training becomes more aligned with corporate
objectives, training managers need to step out from their technical roles to
ensure they are in tune with the business.

"You have got to understand the dynamics within the business and be
able to talk their language," says Canning. "Senior management will recognise
from a development point of view that we have skills to bring to the table. But
if you don’t understand enough about the dynamics of the marketplace, from a
credibility view it will be difficult to gain access and influence," she

Sloman sets out a shift in thinking

Globalisation, ever more confident consumers, continuing advances in
information technology, a government minded towards deregulation: these are the
powerful forces shaping today’s workplace. 
It has led to a shift in the way organisations develop their people,
according to Martyn Sloman, adviser in learning, training and development for
the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and author of
Training in the Age of the Learner, published by the organisation.

"Capable and committed people have become the critical source of
competitive advantage," says Sloman. "Emphasis must be shifted from
training as a series of top-down interventions to focus on individual

He charts the shift in his new book and he’s also written a CIPD change
agenda, Focus on the Learner, featuring case studies of 12 progressive

"The findings from the project revealed that organisations feel it is
possible to move from a position where they expect training to be delivered to
them, to one where individuals will take responsibility for their own knowledge
and skills development," he says.

"Although the emphasis varied across the organisations, three
activities seemed to be high on everyone’s list. First, line managers being
expected to act as coaches and receiving training to ensure they had the
requisite coaching skills; second, an increased emphasis on competency
frameworks; and third, efforts to deliver training in a more modular form.

These three together could be said to be the focus of current attention and

Progressive organisations are those which embrace learning as a source of
competitive advantage, whose senior managers have bought into the value of what
Sloman calls "trainer’s nirvana" – a new take on that old adage ‘our
people are our greatest asset’.

"The aim is to create an organisation composed of self-confident
individuals who are seeking to acquire the requisite knowledge and skills to
enable them to meet customer/client requirements and advance the organisation’s
goals and objectives.

"What we’ve been good at in the past is saying the right things,"
he says. "For example, ‘the learning organisation’ was a great
aspirational statement, but it wasn’t grounded in reality."

What’s new are the business drivers, which are making senior managers more
receptive than ever to the learning agenda. "We have a golden window of
opportunity that’s never been there before," says Sloman.

Stay ahead

– The CIPD change agenda, Focus on the Learner, is available
free on the CIPD website www.cipd.co.uk

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