Training for success

Posted on 18 Aug 2008 by The Manufacturer

Linda Rawson, appointed last year as Gripple’s first learning and development manager, explains how she is implementing wide ranging training and development initiatives to encourage every employee to adopt a ‘can do’ attitude in every aspect of their work

People are the core of our business, and training and development have always been high on the company’s agenda – without well trained staff, goals will not be achieved. To maintain and guide this important function, the need for a person with specialist knowledge was identified and my role was created.

Gripple has no formal HR department, preferring to have skills and good practice embedded into every working day, rather than have a ‘policing’ department. An important part of my new learning and development (L&D) role is to provide the facilities for development, and offer advice and support to empower managers and team leaders to handle confidently all aspects of people management.

A Gripple person is someone who is entrepreneurial, curious, committed, innovative, flexible and passionate – wanting to ‘have a go’ and have fun! However good this approach is for the business, it brings with it a major challenge. One of the company’s core beliefs is that ‘perceived wisdoms should be challenged’. Being tasked with this was a challenge in itself!

Having been an external consultant for 15 years, I needed to develop a whole new skill set to become an internal consultant. But, as in the development of any new philosophy, the first requirement was to understand the organisation and its culture. Working initially with the ‘trailblazers’, such as the agricultural sales team, and then selling new ways gradually to the more sceptical members proved the best policy.

Initially there were struggles in convincing managers and team leaders that it is possible to retain the empowerment the company is proud of, yet put in place an interactive framework which would not erode existing empowerment and responsiveness. The aim is to develop a platform from which they can tailor team members’ development needs and ensure the learning is embedded.

As the business has evolved, so has its approach to learning and development. This now begins with a robust induction programme, with individual plans being drawn up for every employee, from director down. This has actually reduced considerably the time from starting to becoming competent and has also improved staff turnover rates.

An individual’s appraisal follows, when a comprehensive plan is discussed and agreed to help identify:

• Business or personal objectives, where development is required;
• An individual’s current level of progress;
• New actions that the individual can take;
• Action needed by others to enable them to achieve;
• Mentors and suppor ters to guide and support.

The plans are not designed to be rigid, but rather to empower people, encouraging them to develop mentor and support relationships, with plans encompassing a blend of activities. This provides a basis for regular reviews and is a proactive, moving document rather than a static ‘once a year’ plan.

This approach has recently been trialled by the agricultural sales team. Each individual has a personal L&D plan and a programme designed to meet the challenge of aggressive annual growth targets. The team held a sales conference, which, because the team has grown rapidly over recent months with some working overseas, included team building.

The conference was followed by two days’ intensive development, working not only on skills but on the attitudes and behaviours needed to move into a different selling mode. Work focused on Gripple and its customers’ needs and was extremely participative, with interactive coaching throughout. Gripple’s sales director, and one of the more experienced sales managers, played a major part in the coaching and were themselves coached in mentoring and coaching skills to enable them to fully support learning on an ongoing basis. The team meets again in September, and then in the new year when other non sales-related learning will help underpin their development. Similar plans are going ahead in production and internal sales.

Recognising that up to 90 per cent of learning is lost during the six months following a programme, we were determined to make it a continuous process, with new skills and behaviours being firmly embedded. To release and realise the potential in people fully it is vital that the organisation itself becomes a focus for learning on a continuous basis, and not just for its employees. Core skills are not forgotten. More than 80 staff have received IT training, which helps operatives cope with more and more computerised manufacturing machines to present information on performance, and improve internal and external presentations.

Maths and literacy are also seen as important. More than half the Sheffield workforce has had the fear of maths reduced or removed by interactive, fun sessions led by a qualified maths teacher, and the company is currently working with The Source in Sheffield to address literacy skills.

With the majority of company business secured outside the UK, language skills also form an essential part of the skill set, as the company aims to communicate with customers in their native language. While many staff are multi-lingual and the company is capable of communicating in 14 of the world’s most commonly used languages, it funds any employee wanting to develop new language skills.

Learning through work
The company has gained its place in the market place by innovating and building on the ideas from all members of the team, and not just those in the Ideas and Innovation Centre. To equip everyone with the ability to communicate and become involved, several innovation champions are being appointed and trained to lead innovation projects and support ideas through to market, or to improve the way that customer needs are met.

Team members are also encouraged to get involved in continuous improvement projects – after all, they are closest to their working areas and therefore best placed to make recommendations. Using lead management techniques, they are able to identify areas for improvement and take part in effecting changes. They are empowered to make suggestions and log issues electronically on the daily work record, which is accessed by team leaders, engineers and others. The management structure at Gripple is very ‘flat’, the initial perception of which may be ‘nowhere to go’, but in reality, this is far from the case. Individuals are encouraged to get involved in several supporting activities, including developing training and coaching skills, taking the lead in innovation and continuous improvement projects and building leadership and management skills to cover for team leaders. This approach also contributes towards succession planning, as Gripple plans to grow the workforce globally to almost 400 over the next four years.

Secondments are also proving to be a very effective form of personal development, with four team members transferring to the United States and two members of the French team coming to work at the UK head office.

Living and working in a foreign country presents terrific challenges which help enormously in a person’s growth – but they also bring with them a fresh perspective and best practices learnt working in a different environment, which can enthuse other team members.

Learning through the community
The majority of our workforce is drawn from the local area, and we run an active schools’ programme, which includes regular factory visits by primary and secondary schoolchildren to learn about the world of work. We are also looking to expand the number of specialised internships.

Gripple is a Business Language Champion (a initiative run in conjunction with the Department for Children, Schools and Families), working closely with a local secondary school to promote the value of language in business to its students. Some would say this educational commitment is altruistic, but it has the long-term aim of making the students better future employees.

Such activities not only support the local community but also increase the available opportunities within the manufacturing industry and demonstrate that 21st century manufacturing is as exciting, stimulating and rewarding as any industry sector.

Travel is a great educator. Meeting other people from different walks of life, and building in some adventure, develops a person in a much more rounded way. From adventurous leadership programmes, requiring stamina and intellectual challenge, Tall Ships expeditions and participation in Raleigh International projects, team members are encouraged to ‘go explore their world’. The valuable skills brought back have an impact on the business and the individual returns not just better for the experience, but often transformed.

One of Gripple’s production operatives was recently accepted by Raleigh International and set off, with enthusiasm and some trepidation, to work with disadvantaged communities in Puerto Rico and Nicaragua.

While Gripple supported his project financially, he has raised his own funds for his personal finances and equipment.

Managing director Mark Edmonds says: “Gripple is blessed with some great products, but we have fantastic people who invent them, make them, sell them and support a worldwide customer base. It is vital that we continue to invest in them – our most valuable asset. It is like a family – tears and laughter but ultimately change, growth and great fun! We are enjoying the journey.”