Taking root in e-enabled learning

Stuart Branch, training manager for Whitbread’s Travel Inn brand, describes
his role in the company’s development initiatives and his belief in online

How long have you been in this job?

Two years.

How long have you been with your organisation?

Twelve years with Whitbread and three with Travel Inn.

What does your role involve?

The full spectrum of HR Management for Travel Inn (MTI), south of the
country – the country is divided at Birmingham – and responsibility for
training and management development for Travel Inn on a national basis.

What are the best and worst things about this job?

The best is working in a people-oriented business, with responsibility for
people’s recruitment, development and motivation. I ensure that Travel Inn is
the best place for investors, customers and our team members. The worst is
travelling on busy motorways.

What is your current major training project or strategic push?

I have three major projects:

– E-enabled learning and development – understanding how we get a true
blended learning solution to our people.

– The ‘Journey’ – our map of what a ‘strength-based organisation’ looks
like, for induction, training and ongoing development.

– Action Learning – our virtual university (accredited by Oxford Brookes
University) offers managers accredited learning through work projects to attain
qualifications at certificate, diploma and Masters level.

What did you want to do for a living when you were at school?

To join the RAF as a PT instructor.

What was your first job?

Assistant manager, Berni Restaurants

What was the best career decision you ever made?

Moving into human resources.

And the worst?

I haven’t made it – yet!

How and why did you become a trainer?

I moved into a full-time training role, having been recognised as a ‘trainer
manager’ in my general manager roles with both Beefeater and Brewers Fayre. I
put both of these career moves down to the passion I have for developing,
growing and coaching people to achieve their full potential.

Which of your qualifications do you most value and why?

I am currently completing my MBA with the Whitbread Virtual University, and
while not yet complete, it has provided the most valuable learning experience,
through the Action Learning approach which requires you to integrate your study
with real business challenges.

Do you think that evaluation is the ‘Holy Grail’ or an impossible dream?

No, quite the opposite, I think training evaluation is too often
over-complicated. I believe HR has a responsibility as a business partner to
show the return on investments we make. In order to be truly effective in
training, learning and personal development we need evaluation to know what and
how we are contributing to the overall business plan.

How do you think your job will have changed in five years time?

I still believe we haven’t seen the real development of e-enabled learning,
and that there is a lot more change to come.

What do you think will be the core skills for your job in the future?

Coaching, facilitation and managing through change.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in training and

Understand what your business strategy is, and therefore what your HR
strategy is and align your training and development accordingly.

What are your favourite buzzwords?

‘Building on people’s strengths, and managing around their weaknesses’.

Which buzzwords do you most loathe?

‘I think I need a training course for this development need I have’.

Are you good at self-development?

Yes, partly because I believe in my role I should set an example, but more
so because I am passionate about learning, personal growth and being able to be
the best I can.

What self-development have you undertaken in the past 12 months?

Too numerous to list. I have an ongoing development plan (a learning log),
which I action and review weekly rather than annually. I look for every way
possible to develop. You don’t need to do formal training courses to

Up close and personal

How do you network?

In many ways, but my preferred method is socially. I work with
some great people. I always make an effort to keep in touch with them,
especially on the golf course, in the gym, on the squash court, or in the pub.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

Rally driver, or an ‘extreme sports’ coach.

Describe your management style in three words

Pragmatic, passionate, [and based on] integrity.

Do you take work home with you?

No. I tend to work long hours, but when I am finished for the
day I reserve home time for my family.

What is your motto?

It’s not the taking part that counts – it’s the winning that
matters (yes, I do mean it that way round!).

How would you like to be remembered by your colleagues?

Not as an HR specialist, but as a colleague who helped people
find what they do best, and to enable them to do it better every day.

Where do you want to be in five years time?

HR director

Which courses and learning experiences have been most useful
for you?

The Whitbread Action Learning MBA – as mentioned.

Which training gurus, management experts or business people
do you most admire?

John P Kotter, Stephen R Covey, Marcus Buckingham and of course
Dilbert and Dogbert by Scott Adams.

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