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How Did I Get Here? Stephen Berry, Training Director, Neos Learning


Steve Berry

Former Finance Director Stephen Berry is an International MBA lecturer, executive trainer and author who co-founded Neos Learning in 2002. Specialising in training business leaders, he explains why “the need to demonstrate smooth, low risk profit growth to investors is probably the greatest hindrance to running a business.”

1. Describe your role and responsibilities

I head up the ‘commerciality’ sector of Neos which incorporates Finance, Strategy and Performance Management. Other sectors are Leadership, Organisational Development, Team Development and Trainer Training – each headed by equally qualified professionals.

Part of our ethos is that everyone has to have developed their speciality in the non-training world to a very high level before becoming a trainer with Neos – the qualifications and ‘real world’ experience rightly give credibility in the eyes of customers.

2. How are training priorities set within your organisation?

As most have exceptionally high qualifications in order to join Neos (from a Doctorate in Leadership to a psychotherapist!) our own development is based on where the individual seeks to develop their professional approach – for example, I am doing more ‘keynote speaking’ and so mine has moved in that area.

The priorities are all individually driven – even if sometimes we cannot immediately see an obvious output. We paid for the psychotherapist to further his development without knowing where it would lead. What has happened is that we have merged a wide variety of concepts that could transform the learning environment once published.

Very little new has transpired since the ‘Accelerated Learning’ concepts of the 1990s. These are no longer ‘cutting edge’. However, by bringing in current research from other areas, we are able to develop new aspects and even try them out on willing customers!

3. How closely aligned is training and development to the overall organisational strategy?
As primarily a training organisation, it would be hypocritical not to have learning at the core. However, we do allow emergent strategies – like that of the psychotherapy mentioned in the question above.

4. How does your department keep your organisation one step ahead?

We are sponsoring a Doctorate on the psychology of learning, I lecture internationally with cutting edge business school concepts – we make it our business to align to the most modern research rather than perpetually trot out what was in vogue ten years ago.

5. How does your training department operate?

As a small company (only six full time trainers, plus ten associates), we are able to make everything individually driven.

6. How do you evaluate training and does this vary according to the learning intervention?

It may not be short term, but all training must relate to altering attitudes, abilities and results. We also put financial measures into action – if we spent £5k on an aspect of training we will expect to identify at least that in direct benefit. Set expectations before a training intervention, monitor them afterwards and be consistent with this process.

7. Do you feel that training and development is underrated? If so how can training professionals improve its credibility?

I do not feel that training and development is underrated, but I do feel that some trainers should seek alternative careers – the credibility of the profession is only as good as the ability of those delivering the learning. In some cases, this is excellent, in some it is not.

8. How do you prove the value of training interventions?

If training does not add specific and tangible value to the receiving organisation, the delegates have wasted their time, the trainer has wasted their time and the company has squandered its shareholders resources.

The value of the training provided is in the articulation of what people are saying, doing and thinking differently when they walk out the door at the end – and more importantly, what they are saying, doing and thinking three or six months later. Initial feedback on a course is mildly useful, feedback after three or six months is immensely more useful to gauge effectiveness.

9. What is the biggest current challenge for business?

In my book Strategies of the Serengeti I say: “I am of the opinion that the need to demonstrate smooth, low risk profit growth to investors is probably the greatest hindrance to running a business. Many analysts also generate a short termism within executives by their constant focus on year end, half year results and quarterly results.

“Much of the City expects executives to run businesses on 26 or 13 week cycles with steady year on year growth by quarter. This short termism is the enemy of success and the demand of investors.”

10. What do you see as the main challenges for training professionals in the next five years?

I see less work at lower levels as a combination of technological advance and outsourcing continue to decimate the middle management. Those who oppose this, or lament the old days of everything in house are, in my opinion, modern day Luddites.

This means less ‘volume driven’ training. I see in-house training departments becoming primarily co-ordinators of specialist external suppliers rather than specialising in their own daily delivery.

At the top end, the need for executives to further their own training is paramount but often not perceived by the executives. The consequences of this are some huge strategic errors – it would be unwise to name specifics and then get sued – but look at the airline, automotive, utility and retail industries where really basic strategic mistakes are being made by six figure salary executives whereas an elementary amount of training, in this case in business strategy, could have shown the ludicrous decisions for what they are and saved consequent redundancies when it all goes horribly wrong.

The training professionals are there to locate the appropriate training for those at the very highest levels in business – frequently those most ignored by the L&D departments.

11. What influences do you think have had the greatest impact on the training sector in recent years?

The requirement to demonstrate a return on investment for all training. I welcome this, as a financier I would, as I would with capital expenditure and marketing expenditure. Presently capital expenditure is more advanced in its accountability and demonstrating of adding value and, in my opinion, marketing expenditure currently lies behind training expenditure in the habitual ability to demonstrate value added. Training professionals could learn from how we spend capital, apply the concepts to training and then train the marketing teams to do likewise.

12. What are the best lessons you can pass on?

  • Life is temporary, and there are more important things in it than work.
  • Work must be enjoyable, fulfilling and emotionally rewarding. We all spend so much time and creativity within work, it is criminal if we do not enjoy it – if you don’t enjoy your job, quit and do something else – now.
  • All relationships are a function of communication – home and work – focus on the skills of listening, understanding, empathy and articulation.
  • Don’t be fazed by fads – they will pass. Forget the dinosaur management exhibited by the likes of The Apprentice. Whilst much of this is exaggeration for the sake of television, the aggressive dominant boss of the 1970s belongs in the 1970s. Do what is right – even if it is against the direction of the latest business fashion.
  • Don’t compromise personal values for the sake of work. If there is a values mismatch – either change the company or leave.
  • Not many people get sacked for challenging things – it is how they challenge things which make the difference between good and bad. Sheep are no use in business so choose to challenge, but choose better how to challenge.

Previous career profiles can be seen on the How Did I Get Here? page.


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