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Under Their Own Steam


Encouraging employees to take an active role in their own development is seen as a positive step forward, but do they always know best about what is most appropriate for their own training needs? Lucie Benson finds out.

By their very nature, organisations provide a rich learning environment for employees. Much knowledge is learnt through experience, yet it is also imperative to carefully structure organisational learning and development, to ensure both individuals and employers benefit. But is it up to HR/ L&D to fix a development plan for each employee, or should it be down to each individual?

According to Gary Miles, principal consultant at Roffey Park, a charitable trust that provides training and development for organisations, responsibility for development plans should be devolved. "There is a tendency now for this sort of activity to be up to line managers, who are responsible for the development of their people," he says. "I see HR as helping managers to develop their staff, by having a joint discussion with the manager and their employee to work out the development plan. That might mean you ask the individual to come up with their own ideas, but the manager, if they are doing their job well, should also have a good steer on what they think each employee needs to develop their role."

In a benchmark study conducted by e-learning provider SkillSoft found that many organisations are moving towards giving employees autonomy to manage their own development and greater choice in the learning they undertake. A quarter of employees surveyed said that they were allowed to make their own decisions about training, whilst almost half said they were allowed to make their own decisions some of the time.

Victoria Winkler, adviser in learning, training and development at the CIPD, says that the development process needs to be managed jointly between HR and L&D, the employee and their line manager. "From the research and work that we have done, it would be difficult to overplay the role that the line manager has in all this," she remarks. "Within organisations, HR and learning and development departments are trying to move towards a facilitative position. So they are making available a range of learning and development options, but encouraging the individual to take increased responsibility for how that all comes together in terms of personal development plans or programmes for the year. And the line manager is critical to all of that."

This sentiment is echoed by Joanne Pitts, employment advisory service consultant at Croner. "What we would normally advise is that you have a combined approach," she says. "It is certainly up to HRD to develop the structure and framework for development, but both parties certainly have a role."

Recent CIPD research has demonstrated that competitive advantage is gained where individuals actively seek to acquire the knowledge and skills that promote the organisation’s objectives.

In the survey conducted by the CIPD last year, when respondents were asked about the changes in learning, training and development in the past three years, 84% supported claims that learners are being encouraged to take more responsibility for their own learning.

Pitts acknowledges that employees should certainly have quite a significant input into their own development. "It’s particularly useful when an employee is identifying strengths and weaknesses because usually the individual is going to know better than someone coming in. But it’s not a fringe benefit, so it is not for employees to decide when and where they would like to do their training. It is really for them to demonstrate that there is some mutual benefit for them and the organisation."

Roffey Park’s Miles agrees that it is important for employees to be involved in their development. "If you want to agree development objectives with staff you have got to give them an opportunity to come up with what they think they might need, but at the same time, you have got to be responsive to what feedback they might have had, not just from their manager, but from other people around them," he comments.

MWH is a global water and environmental engineering firm. The organisation employs 6,000 people worldwide, and provides a Training, Learning, Education or Development (TLED) programme for its staff.

Jeannie Edwards is HR director for Europe, Middle East, Africa and India at MWH and is involved in the TLED programme. "Employees must identify areas they consider necessary for development, through TLED," she explains. "This is a deliberate process and methodology to encourage individuals to take responsibility for their own careers, and be interested in their own advancement. Nobody is as interested in them as much as they are themselves, and therefore they are likely to get a far better chance at stating what their needs are, and influencing the direction of their development."

Framework development
Edwards says that HR is there to provide the framework, support and guidance to allow line managers to manage their people and guide employees to direct their careers. "In developing the framework, HR deliberately sets out to allow the interaction between line management and employees, and to help build their rapport."

TLED has had a positive effect on both the business and staff performance, says Edwards. "Employees who are motivated to do well, and develop and broaden their experiences, are far more likely to perform well, and therefore make the company more successful," she comments. "This is evident in the fact that our retention figures have improved over the past year, and much of this is to do with the improved TLED that we are offering."

Tesco invests heavily in employee development. Training plans are agreed as part of an employee’s performance review and personnel managers are there to consult about the differing solutions available, whilst the line mangers and individuals are responsible for agreeing on development plans.

"We believe a person’s development is in their own hands – there are great training and development opportunities at Tesco, but you have to grab them," says Sarah Dorling, head of training of stores and distribution at Tesco. "This is something we try to instil in our employees - that they have to take some responsibility for it. We have annual career discussions, to encourage staff to think about their development and agree development plans with their manager."

So what does HR need to take into account when considering employee development? Miles says that learning and development professionals can help managers to be effective coachers of their people. “If you are coaching your staff effectively, as a manager, you are more likely to get to grips with the employee development needs of those individuals. It is about advising and being a partner with managers, and helping them to develop their people."


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