Looking to the future: how to develop your workforce

Written by
Changeboard Team

08 May 2015

08 May 2015 • by Changeboard Team

How can you accelerate the development of leaders so they can be prepared to take more responsibility sooner?

Michele Isaacs, vice-president, global head of learning and development, Thomson Reuters (MI): Learning and development, for us, is about providing access to people, ideas and experiences that prepare leaders. So, we often think about development from an experiences, rather than skills, perspective. We then help people get these experiences, through assignments, formal learning, coaching, peer-to-peer learning and so on. We aim to tease out the experiences people need to have and focus our development work there.

Simon Gibson, director, learning and organisational development, NBC Universal (SG): Speed is everything and the world is moving so fast that anything that supports this from a development perspective will help. Spend as much time as possible on communication – with each other, teams, stakeholders etc. The answers no longer sit with individual leaders, but with many, so work with this as soon as possible, especially if you want to progress. I believe in the power and the potential of the network.

Eugenio Pirri, vice-president, people and organisational development, Dorchester Collection (EP): For us, the key is getting people to understand themselves more. Our Dorchester Academy has six levels. Some of those are dedicated to different leadership levels: entry level, more senior or most senior. The core of each module is understanding yourself, your talent, what motivates you, and what makes you a good leader.

The more you can understand yourself, how you’re viewed, and your legacy, the more it impacts on how you manage people and provide inspirational leadership. Once people understand who they really are, they develop a lot faster.

Don’t be afraid to take risks. If you’ve identified someone with talent, who’s never been a leader, but you see that ability to lead, read and understand people and provide solutions, you have to take that risk. Some of our department heads are as young as 26 and they’re managing £4-5 million parts of the business because they have the potential and talent.

What procedures and plans do you have in place to ensure that employees continue to learn and develop throughout their careers?

EP: Our Dorchester Academy has various levels, starting with ‘Engage’ when you join, then ‘Core’, which gives you the knowledge to develop what we call ‘the ultimate experience’. The third tier is ‘Lead’, a modular programme that prepares supervisors and assistant managers to take the responsibility of being a leader. After that comes ‘Expand’ for department heads, which teaches them how to negotiate and get the best out of people. Finally, we have ‘Inspire’ for senior executives, which takes five days to complete and focuses on a core value. We run support programmes such as ‘Your Future’, a professional development review to aid our succession channels. We also have local programmes that help with the specific training you may need to provide for a particular hotel or function.

MI: We have a fundamental belief that learning happens all day, every day and we talk about our learning solutions within this framework. Of course, we have formal development programmes for different stages of one’s career and all build on each other. There are lots of components throughout the year, such as business leadership challenges, executive coaching and transition coaching if they move jobs during the year. We get people together regularly to discuss their experiences, what they’re learning and what they’re being challenged by, and they give one another amazing peer-to-peer advice. We bring more senior leaders into the conversation, which throws in a bit of mentorship and executive coaching.

SG: We still follow a standard performance review process and encourage employees with their line manager to be specific on what they would like to develop and how they are going to do it. Moving forward, we have a smart collaboration space where we encourage people to share learning and insights.

How can CPD help employees prepare for technological advances and globalisation?

SG: For the past few years, many people have talked and written about the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment we work in, but I feel only now is it starting to hit home. I attended a recent conference where a speaker described work as “that brief period during the day where I have to use old technology.” That says it all. Speed and agility are key now, so you can’t become slow and outdated as you will fail. That applies to people and businesses. You have to take real ownership of your development and work on the areas you feel will add value to you and your organisation.

MI: Everything we do is across geographies and business units. As an example, we run a programme called ‘Generate’ where we partner with NGOs in an emerging region. Participants work in small groups on a challenge the NGO is facing in a part of the world where they have little exposure. Apart from one week where they are physically together, the rest of their work is done virtually. They are solving unfamiliar challenges, with unfamiliar people in unfamiliar parts of the world. This is a deliberate move on our part because that’s how people work in our environment – across all kinds of boundaries.

EP: We have individual hotels with different feels and cultures, which makes each one unique. Every person is also unique. Originally, our programmes were designed to be done in the classroom, but we’ve now put the core programmes on to iPad apps and designed 15-minute training segments. This works well in America, where most people are on hourly salaries. You have to balance between taking people out of the business for training versus operational needs, so we’ve adapted the training to be more modular and bite-sized.

How can L&D professionals align CPD with business strategy and gain better return on investment?

SG: Organisations need to move and grow to make sure they remain competitive. Find out how your business works, what is important and demonstrate what value you as an L&D professional can add. Context is key, but finding the issue that matters and working on it will lead to success. That, in turn, is the return on investment. I wouldn’t spend hours manipulating data – show the business what they asked for and how learning helped or is continuing to help the issue.

MI: For us, our business strategy drives our talent and learning efforts. We work to build the capabilities needed to achieve the business strategy. And like all L&D professionals, we want to make sure that what we do has an impact. Last year we did analysis that looked at career progression, engagement, attrition and performance. We found those on the programmes are two to three times more likely to be promoted than others. Overall, 83% of alumni have progressed since taking part, with many promoted or taking on extended roles.

Programme participants are also more engaged. They are 14% prouder to work for the company, more motivated to go beyond expectations for the organisation and 20% more likely to stay with the company than others.

EP: At the core of our business we’ve seen more consistency in our service and standards and from our engagement through guest surveys.

We’ve seen improvements through employee engagement too. Before the academy, we were in the high 70s percentagewise, and now all of our learning and development and respect for leadership executives are well above 90%, which is very pleasing.

While we’ve invested heavily in L&D at high cost, we believe that we are not only bettering our company, we’re also bettering the industry. If you invest with the mentality that, even if people leave you, they will recommend you as a good place to work for career progression, they become your brand ambassadors without even realising.

L&D seems to be moving away from a traditional points solution towards embedded learning in the workplace. What benefits and downsides can this have on employees?

SG: This is a smart move to get to a place where support is right where it is needed, when it is needed. Sounds brilliant, but in larger organisations burdened by years of what they’ve done before, it’s not as easy or relevant to apply.

It definitely ticks the speed and choice box but from my perspective, there’s no substitute for quality face-to-face interventions. Some people just want to learn in a ‘traditional’ format, but for how long can you keep putting people in a class to learn skills that are widely available in a number of digital formats?

EP: We have one hotel that does 90% of performance reviews by phone now, so you have to move with the times. People like it because they’re confident about using that type of technology now, across all generations.

What challenges are you facing when it comes to continuing professional development?

MI: Previously, we spent a lot of time focusing on the top 1% of our employees and getting the right formal training in place, but it wasn’t very integrated and wasn’t for everybody. So, we got very clear about what the business and employees needed, and what we wanted to put in place to solve those requirements.

A downside of only looking after the needs of your ‘high potentials’ is that you may ignore everyone else. We weren’t doing so on purpose, but that was what was happening, so we had a group of ‘haves’ and a group of ‘have nots’, with some people waiting up to four years to get on to a leadership programme. That’s not OK.

Opening things up for the entire population levels out the playing field and provides people with opportunities to develop through experiences.

SG: My challenge is finding the right areas to work on and taking the right amount of time to work on them. I still see many organisations with a similar issue of ‘how do I get away from this employee sense of entitlement and move to a smarter approach?’

EP: The biggest challenge has been integrating all the different hotels and cultures around the world.

Where do you see the professional development trends in the future?

MI: The way technology is being used to blur the line between learning and work. Technology is great, it helps people get information, but I worry that sometimes we give people too much content. I think we should give people less and give them better ways to organise and apply it. There’s so much information coming at us that it’s not practical to try to control it. We should be looking at how we help people navigate content by providing less, but more meaningful information.

EP: For us, it’s still going to be a mixture of learning methods. You can never underestimate the benefits of bringing a group of like-minded individuals together. The amount of talent, conversations and reactions you get from putting people together can be amazing. However, you can do it in many ways now, through virtual classrooms, video systems and, of course, sitting them in a room but you have to balance that with the realities of costs, so some things need to be done through tech, or in shorter ways.

SG: I’m a huge fan and follower of technology and can really see how this will take us to new places in the not-too-distant future. Health and wellbeing are such fashionable topics right now, along with wearable technology. The short jump to encompassing professional development is not far from that, with a real focus on the whole ‘you’ and a blurring of work/life, so this a very exciting time to be in L&D. I’m looking forward to being surprised, excited and challenged in the future.

What practical steps can HR leaders take to improve professional development in the workplace?

SG: I would love to see it take more and more importance in the workplace. Just talking about it on a regular basis in leadership forums is useful. I’d continue to encourage that collaborative behaviour and draw on the power of the network to begin to answer some of the difficult questions. I’m a fan of open communication. If something worked, then tell people and share the success. If it didn’t, tell them and explain what you learnt. We have a great opportunity to model key behaviours that are required right now.

EP: It’s about making decisions that make sense and are also sustainable. We live in an ever-changing world. However, if the thought process of a decision was done in your company’s culture, values and vision, then it was made for the right reasons. We make too many decisions because we’re trying to get out of a situation, instead of making the decision to make sure you never get back into that situation. It’s not about whether you have a problem to solve, it’s about ‘do you have the same problem to solve that you had last year?’

You can’t keep having the same problem over and over again. We no longer live in a world where, if you keep doing the same things, you’re going to get the same results. You have to have the right insights for the right decisions and actions.

MI: I try not to get worried about controlling learning. I want to enable it. We don’t need to be in charge of content or learning. If things are happening and people are learning, that’s great. It’s about how to enable, rather than control, because controlling is a losing battle.

About the leaders

Michele Isaacs (left), vice-preseident, global head of learning and development, Thomson Reuters
Michele is responsible for defining the direction and executing the strategy around learning at Thomson Reuters. This includes developing core capabilities that are common across the company, maximising the learning investment and helping to build a learning culture. www.thomsonreuters.com

Simon Gibson (middle), director of learning & organisational development, NBC Universal
Simon is a learning and organisational development leader with a fresh and challenging outlook. He has a keen interest in collaboration, innovation and digital in the workplace while being passionate about people development and the right organisational fit. www.nbcuniversal.com

Eugenio Pirri (right), VP of people & organisational development, Dorchester Collection
Eugenio joined Dorchester Collection in December as vice-president of people and organisational development. Prior to this appointment, he was regional director of HR for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Europe. Eugenio's hospitality career spans more than 20 years and began in food and beverages, before he made the transition into HR. www.dorchestercollection.com

Simon Gibson

director, learning and organisational development, NBC Universal 

Eugenio Pirri

VP, people and organisational development, Dorchester Collection