Measures of success

S & N R’s Kim Parish has won a seat on the company’s board and is
rapidly becoming a national voice for people development issues. By Lucie

Kim Parish, HR director for Scottish and Newcastle Retail has just joined
that rare breed of personnel professionals who have made it to the board. But
she’s even rarer than most, for Parish forged a successful career in training,
in and outside S&NR, before becoming a personnel supremo.

"It’s a travesty that there aren’t more training people reaching the
top HR jobs, because it’s through delivery of training and development that we
can make the biggest commercial impact on a business," Parish says.
"And the best training people have a business edge to them."

In her current job, Parish is responsible for personnel strategy across the
2,300 pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels that make up the retail division of
Scottish and Newcastle, with its 45,000 employees.

Her promotion to the board is partly the result of a massive upheaval in the

At the beginning of the year, S&NR announced that it would sell off 642
of its smaller local pubs. The sale went through in June and has left S&NR
operating at the top end of the market with an average turnover of £12,000 a
week for each unit, up from £8,000 a week.

People are important

"By putting a dedicated HR professional on the board, we were saying
that people are important," Parish says.

Her primary task now will be to help consolidate the restructured business.
As far as training goes, she knows that the firm is in a fairly strong

"For the past eight or nine years, we have had in the business some
very clear planks and philosophies that have not changed. They have been there
for so long that people don’t question them any more," Parish says.

These philosophies include commitments to career-led training and
development from within, to competencies and to internal training and
development solutions.

Controlling costs

When the reorganisation was completed at the end of February, senior
managers decided that the units about to be sold would not be able to embark on
any new NVQs or modern apprenticeships. Like any firm about to sell off a
business, it wanted to concentrate on controlling costs.

But there was a backlash from unit managers who insisted training should
continue. It was important to them and how they viewed their jobs as unit

"As a result, we saw an increase in training activity," Parish
says. "It’s taken a while, but this showed that within the business, there
is a commitment to training from grass roots."

The disposal should make it easier to maintain this culture because S&NR
is now a smaller, more focused business.

But it’s not there yet, Parish points out, and like its competitors in the
bar trade, it has the problem of combining brand-needs with the central

S&NR’s approach to the problem is a mixture of structural and tactical.
On a structural level, HR professionals, including training experts, have both
a professional specialism and a brand or business role. They report directly
into their business with a dotted line to Parish and her head office team.

"That helps us to be sure that both the divisional and business level
interests are being met," she says.

Tactically, some training is devised and delivered centrally and some is
delivered locally. But there is a strong emphasis on giving centralised
training a strong local branding.

Parish cites a fairly recent revamp of bar staff training as an example of
this. Business managers decided they wanted the training to be customised to
their brands, but Parish disagreed.

She and her training colleagues got round the problem by having four
versions of the same programme that individual businesses could own. "It
was a simple solution to what could have become a nightmare," Parish says.

Unusual career path

Parish’s profile, both internally and externally, has almost inevitably
contributed to her rise to board-level director.

Internally, she has made some fairly unusual career decisions – for example,
moving from management development to business development, and then, a few
years later, combining the training portfolio with compensation and benefits –
usually regarded as "nerds’ corner" in personnel.

Outside S&NR, Parish has taken on some fairly big roles in training
organisations such as City and Guilds, where she is a national councillor, and
the Hospitality Training Foundation, where she sits on a couple of committees.

More recently, she has become the only HR professional to be involved
formally in the national Learning and Skills Council as a member of its young
people’s committee.

"I believe, and S&NR believes, that as a large company in this
sector we should take a broader role. It’s a fragmented sector and we have
responsibility for improving its image," Parish says.

"We also know from experience that we have the ability to influence
policy at a most senior level in government if we are prepared to stay informed
and get involved."

It’s pretty good for Parish’s own personal development. "It’s
stimulating and interesting and you can develop networks and learn about other
ways of doing things," she says.

The importance of being in the policy loop is obvious when it comes to
applying NVQs and Modern Apprenticeships to the business. S&NR was one of
the first firms in the sector to pilot NVQs and MAs, but Parish is concerned
now that they are not what the business needs.

The MA framework is still firstclass and can continue to deliver some
stunning successes, Parish says. But, like other employers, she is worried
about the impact of recent changes, including the introduction of technical
certificates and key skills. She believes it is an attempt to impose an
inappropriate academic model on workplace training.

Getting concerns heard

Rather than just bleating on about it, Parish is using her connections with
City & Guilds and the HTF to get S&NR’s concerns heard and keep her ear
to the ground.

She smells success in the air. "There are some indications that the
Government’s approach is changing and there is a recognition that you can’t
deliver vocational qualifications against an academic framework," she

She is less optimistic about the future of NVQs at S&NR. The business
has been offering them to staff since 1992/93 and up until the late 1990s
Parish says they were a good way of showing the wider world that it was a
business where people could gain accredited training and a career.

It was also a way of getting managers to monitor and record training and
development activity to a given standard.

"We got a lot of benefits from NVQs in terms of a commitment to
training," Parish says.

But things are changing, and S&NR is in the process of rethinking its
NVQ strategy. "Part of our rationale is that we can deliver something
better internally that is not based on NVQs," Parish says.

Various changes in the business are driving her thinking. To start with,
there is fallout from the National Minimum Wage.

When it was introduced in 1999, it included an accreditation rate of £3.20
an hour for employees who were given the opportunity to acquire NVQs and other
recognised qualifications.

"We believed in the accreditation rate as a way of driving
qualifications in our sector," Parish says.

But their competitors disagreed and offered the full minimum wage. The
accreditation rate became devalued and instead of being seen as part of a
career path, became regarded as a way for firms to avoid paying the minimum
rate. The knock-on effect was that the take-up of NVQs dropped as staff opted
for higher pay instead of training.

NVQs were further diluted with the acquisition of the Greenalls estate in
1999. Greenalls had not had a very good experience with NVQs, says Parish.

Lower profile

In addition, Parish feels that the profile of NVQs has dropped. The
Government does not seem really committed to them. "I don’t get any
signals that they are at the top of the agenda. I rarely hear people talk now
about the contribution NVQs make to the economy," she says.

But the real clincher is the drive to push customer service standards ever
upwards. "In our sector and business, customers are increasingly demanding
better service and becoming much more articulate about requesting it,"
Parish says. "Local community pubs have a loyal customer base, but trading
in the high street is much more fickle."

NVQs don’t provide for this. Parish says, "They deliver competencies in
a narrow framework, but that is not what we need in terms of improved customer
service, which is much more about behaviour."

One solution is to divide the workforce into two groups – those who just
want a job and those who want a career.

In the meantime, Parish has had some tentative discussions with City &
Guilds and the HTF about how to make NVQs more appropriate.

S&NR is a long way off ditching NVQs and if it ever happens it will be a
board-level decision.

"We are still halfway through the decision-making process," Parish
says, but she admits to thinking that maybe NVQs have had their time.

Career to date

April 2001 Joined the S&NR board
1998 HR director
1994 Management development and training director
1992 Business development director
1991 Joined S&NR as management development director
Early career with New Zealand employment department, Sutcliffe Catering
and the Hospitality Training Foundation

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