Investors in People Special Report: Getting big companies involved

Investors In People UK have introduced an initiative specifically designed to address the problems encountered by large companies in gaining IIP recognition. Recent research has highlighted particular problem areas which will need to be addressed if the IIP National Training Target of 70 per cent of all organisations with 200-plus employees is to be reached by the year 2000. Figures suggest around 35 per cent of such companies are committed or recognised by the scheme.

While this figure is above the national average penetration rate, Investors In People UK are keen to improve the take-up rate and speed of recognition among large companies. Commitment from such organisations not only results in the immediate involvement of thousands of employees but means high- profile companies are seen to take the lead in this area - an example to customers, competitors and even suppliers.

Last year, Investors In People UK produced a report into the barriers experienced by large companies. Research from their own UK database, together with the results of a survey by the Institute for Employment Studies identified six main problem areas and made suggestions as to how they could be overcome. Following on from these suggestions some of the problems highlighted by the survey are specific to large multi-sited organisations and the main role of the Large Companies Project is to help address them by offering a range of centralised project, management and advisory support services.

For companies with subsidiaries in a number of different geographical locations, or even different industries, problems mainly arise in trying to apply the standard in a piecemeal, site by site, approach to overall recognition. For example working with a number of different tecs advisors and assessors and introducing problems of consistency etc. However there are also problems in trying to race things through with a single, all encompassing approach where lack of time, human resources and, primarily, on the ground commitment are common issues. The Large Companies Project offers a centralised support and services function especially geared to these issues, and can help with the process and planning to ensure maximum efficiency and effectiveness for the needs of the company.

By providing information centrally, the Large Companies Project seeks to offer a degree of national unity for UK corporates taking the piecemeal approach to recognition. Training services, assessment and advisory services can be co-ordinated and in addition, the National Network for Large Recognised Employers encourages the sharing of best practice between members.

Implementing IIP across a large diverse organisation is not completely impossible. While the recent recognition of BT PC (Personal Communications) makes only one part of BT plc a recognised Investor in People, it still means the standard has been successfully applied across more than 20,000 workers, spread between 200 main sites and involved in separate businesses including pay phones, operator services and mobile services.

BT PC's personnel director, Bob Mason, notes there was a conscious decision made to gain recognition for the entire organisation rather than in discreet sections. "We're a fairly integrated business," he explains. "We've worked on creating a consistent culture that's focused on putting the customer first.

A customer with a bill enquiry should have as consistent a level of service as someone who's dealing with a payphone."

Mason describes IIP as "a big piece of work to get involved in" which required a good deal of communication between the implementation team of project co-ordinators. These co-ordinators were responsible for introducing IIP into each of the main business units. As well as ensuring the company moved forward as one, best practice could be identified and shared.

Mason notes that such a communication exercise is not an entirely new task for the company: "We grapple with the problem of communication across the business on a daily basis," he says.

Hugh Stirk, Unilever's director of personnel maintains his company had no choice but to encourage IIP to be implemented piecemeal. While Mason can identify common threads between the separate activities of BT PC, Unilever has 50 separate companies in four diverse industries. Stirk notes Unilever's general culture of decentralisation, plus the subsidiaries' own individual histories would make a single initiative anomalous.

"We would actually benefit less from a unified approach," explains Stirk. "It would be difficult for our employees to identify with such a huge business."

Large companies are also helping to push IIP further into the workplace by developing their suppliers. Rover Group now offer learning resources to over 70 suppliers. British Steel's Scunthorpe Works introduced the concept of "contract owners" to raise the performance of contracted workers while Michelin Tyre plc have created performance audits which include contractors supplying catering, cleaning and maintenance services. Some companies may not like the idea of investing resources in external workers, but there is clearly a sound business argument for doing so, especially if success depends on the quality of resources - human and material - coming into the business.

The success of IIP and of the Large Companies Project in particular will lie in convincing executives that the aims of the initiative are business oriented and implementation and assessment key into business priorities rather than detract from them. Certainly Hugh Stirk is convinced of the argument and is very wary of any move to offer financial incentives for companies to take up the programme: "I don't like money being attached to these initiatives because that's not what it's about," he comments. "As a company we've always had a positive attitude to the benefits of education and training."

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