Recipes for sharing learning

Roger Smith, head of learning and development at Marlborough Stirling,
reveals his plans for harnessing technology at his new employer. He is 50 (but
don’t tell anyone)

How long have you been in this job?
Nine months

How long have you been with your organisation?
One whole year.

What does your role involve?
Looking at how to help the company achieve the strong growth it expects by
developing the skills and knowledge of the people – increasing their bandwidth.

What’s the best thing about your job?
It being relatively new, I still feel the buzz and the excitement. I enjoy
making change happen within the organisation.

What is your current major project?
Developing a single supported process for learning and development. The
review process uses skills and knowledge matrices to drive learning needs and
the individual can choose lots of delivery methods to achieve the learning,
from one-to-one coaching from internal experts and PC-based delivery through to
classroom events. All this is supported by technology and available through our
intranet – I told you that I need to spend some money!

Preferred terminology – training, development, education, learning?
Learning – it implies the responsibility is with the individual, which it
most certainly is – and development. In fact, I considered having stickers made
to stick above the washbasins saying, "You are looking at the person
responsible for your development."

Favourite buzzwords?
Knowledge management – the people within an organisation should not just be
the recipients of learning events, but should have a responsibility to create
information that can benefit others. Organisations need to manage this process
and make the best use of the mass of knowledge that exists. This will be a key
differentiator for organisations that really want to create a sharing and learning

Most loathed buzzwords?
E-learning – or, to be more precise, the letter "e". It seems to
be a reason for PC-based learning to be charged at extortionate prices.
Everyone’s rush to get "e" in their portfolios means that some
suppliers are getting away with a con of massive proportions. The e phenomena
seems to provide a way for good, indifferent and badly designed learning to be
considered under the same umbrella. There’s nothing wrong with good e-learning,
but some of the bad e-learning is complete rubbish and can be downright

Are you good at self development?
I’m sorry to say that I’m not particularly good at it. I tend to get too
involved in doing the job rather than looking towards my development needs. I
could say this is because it’s a new job, I’m really enthusiastic and it’s
challenging, but these would all be excuses.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
Doing charity work in South America or Africa. Helping to make a difference
to people who have nothing.

What was the most useful course you ever went on?
How to talk to finance directors, by Nick Leeson`.

What was your worst course ever?
There are several. I find that a lot of classroom courses are slow and
really labour the points. It is not my preferred learning style. I like
information to hit me quickly and like to able to move forward at my own pace.

What did you want to do for a living when you were at school?
Be a rock star. It seemed an obvious choice for someone who really wanted
to learn to live a life of excess.

What was the best career decision you ever made?
Agreeing to a completely left-field suggestion to take responsibility for
the running of my previous organisation’s training centre, a 30-training room,
200-bedroom beast of a place.

What was the worst career decision you ever made?
Disagreeing with the sales director and chief executive at my previous

Evaluation – holy grail or impossible dream?
Difficult, but essential. You must understand the value you are adding to
the individual and the organisation. Even though everyone agrees development is
"a good thing", you must be able to prove to your boss that the
investment being made is giving the benefits expected by the people, the
organisation and the shareholders.

How do you think your job will have changed in five years’ time?
There will be incredible technology – which works. People will be taking
responsibility for their own learning needs and organisations will fully
encourage and invest in the development of sharing cultures. It will become a
question of keeping up with the demand for innovation rather than trying to
encourage it. I will be involved in a truly global enterprise where clients,
staff and shareholders will see the value being added by learning and

What do you think the core skills for your job will be in the future?
E-management, e-strategic planning, e-resilience, e-adaptability and

What advice would you give to someone starting out in training and
Learn from others, keep in touch with what’s new and keep your mind opento
all things.

How do you network?
By keeping in contact with people, benchmarking with other organisations
and attending events.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Bass player for the Stones – I’d be the youngster!

Do you take your work home with you?
Only when absolutely essential. I believe that home life is just as (no,
more) important than work and that people need the time to relax and recharge.
I work hard and believe I am very efficient and effective when at my workplace.
I make no apologies if people think this is heresy. You are on this world
once… and if you don’t enjoy it, what is the point?

What is your motto?
Treat others as you would wish to be treated.

Describe your management style in three words or less?
Relaxed, but committed.

How would you like to be remembered by your colleagues?
Fair, fun and always looking to improve things; delivered what he promised.

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