Business Essentials: It's a long and winding road at Lex trying to get the L-plates off its new employees

The human resources department at the car leasing firm needs more commitment from line managers to its training days for fresh recruits, writes Kate Hilpern
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The Independent Online

People who work in human resources have long faced the challenge of getting line managers onside when staff time needs to be freed up for company training. And the HR department at Lex Vehicle Leasing, the UK's largest contract hire business, is no exception.

People who work in human resources have long faced the challenge of getting line managers onside when staff time needs to be freed up for company training. And the HR department at Lex Vehicle Leasing, the UK's largest contract hire business, is no exception.

"Our particular difficulty is getting new recruits to attend our corporate induction training programme, even though it is mandatory," explains Anna Mitchell, HR business partner at Lex Vehicle Leasing.

Last-minute cancellations are frustrating for the course organisers and new employees alike, she says. "So we'd like to know how to get line managers committed to induction."

Lex Vehicle Leasing, which is part of the RAC group, employs just over 600 people across three sites: Manchester and Marlow, Buckinghamshire, in England and Stirling in Scotland. All of these workers are expected to attend the one-day induction programme within three months of joining.

The company places great emphasis on the importance of this event, which is almost always hosted by the managing director. "It provides people with the context in which they are going to work," says Ms Mitch- ell. "They get to meet the MD and to hear his thoughts on world-class service. Most important, they get a feel for the culture and values of the business. It's also an opportunity to network with other new recruits, and their feedback after attending is usually very positive."

On average, the programme is run once a month and alternates between the two sites in England. "Where possible, we enable employees to attend the programme on the site where they work to minimise disruption," adds Ms Mitchell.

The HR department, she continues, has no problem when booking new recruits for the session. "We provide a minimum of two weeks' notice to both them and their line manager, and we send a reminder one week in advance.

"But we get people pulling out at short notice - often a couple of days in advance and sometimes even on the day itself," she adds. "Among the most common reasons given are that there is a lack of cover in the office, that other priorities supersede it and that a customer appointment can't be changed.

"Sometimes, an employee is on a temporary contract and their line manager decides they don't require induction - an idea that the company doesn't support. At other times, when three months have already rolled by, there may also be a feeling that the employee no longer requires an induction.

"Then, of course, individual employees may be sick, or it might be that they are based at a different site and change their mind about travelling."

Ms Mitchell stresses that she understands most of the reasons for cancelling. "We are very sympathetic to line managers being under pressure, but by the same token we want to raise the value and importance of induction in their minds so that we get their support."

Lex Vehicle Leasing has already started a project dedicated to addressing the problem. "One idea we've come up with is mentioning the importance of the induction programme in the offer of employment letter.

"Another is to book people straight away on to the first available programme after they start work, so that commitment is there at a very early stage."

Ms Mitchell also points out that the programme is from 10am to 3.30pm in order to suit anyone working part-time or with childcare commitments. "In addition, we have made the programme as interactive and interesting as possible to encourage participation and make it exciting for new recruits. But we'd like to know if there's anything more we can do."


John Kirkham, consultant, The Work Foundation (a research and advisory organisation committed to improving working life)

"Getting line managers onside is a key challenge - and it will remain so as long as managers see induction as the responsibility of human resources departments.

"Develop a new induction programme, together with a working group of managers, in consultation with staff.

"Start by getting feedback from managers and recent recruits on their experiences: what worked, what didn't, what they would do differently.

"In order to capture and maintain the enthusiasm of that first day, design a programme lasting three months, with clear objectives. This will be self-managed by the inductee, supported by both peers and a mentor/buddy, and the inductee's manager will be responsible for successful completion. Use technology and be creative.

"The process also needs to be responsive to different needs - first job, senior position, disability, English not the first language, shift working etc. Build feedback from inductees into the review along with evaluation of the programme.

"Finally, launch the new induction process with the full commitment of the chief executive."

Stuart Duff, head of development, Pearn Kandola (occupational psychologists)

"This is an issue of motivation and priorities. In a results-driven business like Lex Vehicle Leasing, it's unsurprising that some managers put short-term pay-offs ahead of the long-term benefits of training. The solutions lie in redressing this balance.

"Business psychology offers some practical options. For example, expectancy theory suggests strengthening the link between induction and employee success. Provide managers with real examples of how the training will improve performance in critical areas, such as sales.

"The tangible benefits should also be emphasised to employees. Make people want to be there.

"Fundamentally, you should look at the performance 'edge' that you are offering through the induction event and exploit it to the full. Consider even what you call the event. 'Induction training' may not convey the same motivational hook as 'Success in Lex - the Springboard'.

"Finally, don't give employees the keys to their new lease car until they have taken part in the programme. It's amazing how some basic need fulfilment can help attendance."

Martyn Sloman, learning, training and development adviser, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

"Ensuring that the organisational culture is supportive of learning and development is vital for every modern organisation.

"If managers will not buy into a short course like this, designed for new entrants, there is a real problem with the learning culture here.

"One easy answer is to offer a training design solution. Separate out the 'content' element of induction and deliver that electronically using an e-learning module.

"Make sure all employees do this module within their first two days and include a compulsory quiz, which they complete online.

"Hold the face-to-face element less regularly - perhaps once every three months - and make attendance compulsory. Report those parts of the business that do not participate to the managing director.

"Another idea would be to include an element of compliance training. There's nothing like the threat of legal action to get people through the door.

"However, the big problem is not one of short-term design. There needs to be a long-term commitment across the organisation, which recognises that effective learning is a key contributor to business success. With the managing director's commitment, it should be possible to instil this commitment."