Staff Development: Steering a workforce to personal growth

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The Independent Online
COST-CUTTING and layoffs during the recession have left employees anxious, stressed and unsure of their value within an organisation. Now is the time to pay them more attention, according to Tod White, chairman and co-founder of Blessing/White, a human resource consulting company based in Princeton, New Jersey.

Instead of exhorting managers in techniques of management, Blessing/White focuses on individuals, urging them to take more responsibility for their performance and development. Mr White says managers love the approach, because 'it takes the monkey off their backs'. Managers are told they are not responsible for the happiness and satisfaction of individuals, although they have a supporting role to play. Individuals also appreciate it, because they are asked to do things they already want to do, Mr White adds.

The programme entitled 'Managing Personal Growth' asks individuals to define what job satisfaction means to them and to identify what they are good at. Mr White says people often think narrowly in terms of their job title and not of their underlying skills. They keep looking for the same job instead of realising that skills are more transferable than job titles.

Having identified their strengths, they gain confidence from going to their boss and suggesting how they would like their job to develop.

Client companies tend to implement the programme from the top down, as it helps to go to a boss who has been through the process and is receptive, says Mr White. He adds that people are more inclined to sell themselves short than to over-estimate their abilities. 'If your boss agrees to all the changes you ask for, you have not asked for enough,' says Mr White.

Blessing/White has about 60 active UK clients. Some, including Laura Ashley and BhS, have widened the scope of the programme recently. Instead of helping some individuals to change, it is being used to change the organisation's culture to be more people-oriented.

Laura Ashley started at the top by putting its board through the MPG programme. According to Jan Nuttall, education and development director, it sent an important message to all staff that learning was as valid at the top as at a junior level. Board members wanting to build new skills made good role models, she said.

The company is now rolling out the MPG programme globally to 500 staff this financial year. Eventually shop and manufacturing staff will also participate. Although the programme will be tailored to be relevant to them, the core concepts will be the same, Ms Nuttall said. Laura Ashley decided to use the programme because it wanted employees to be clear about their role. 'If we are trying to develop a culture embracing empowerment, we must empower people to manage their education and development,' Ms Nuttall said.

Business is expanding in Europe. In addition to its UK office, Blessing/White has just opened an office in Germany and expects to add France, Italy and Spain soon.

The message of less management and more individual responsibility is spreading.

(Photograph omitted)