Developing people in rough times

02 October 2009
Developing people in rough times

Now is a good time to invest in the learning and development of your staff, in order to gain a competitive edge for when the economic crisis eases - and it need not cost lots of money. Jane Sunley, managing director of Learnpurple, explains

There are some brave souls who have continued to invest in people development during the economic crisis and some who have even taken the decision to use the time to increase development in order to gain a competitive edge.

Take some of the established players in the marketplace, such as PizzaExpress, for example, which recently put 80 people through an exceptional leadership programme, or contract caterer Charlton House, which commissioned "The Platinum Programme" - a bespoke, cascading 12-month inspirational leadership programme for its management team.

These companies have subsequently benefited from employee engagement and motivation, as well as improving their staff's leadership capabilities. This, in itself, will have significant knock-on effects on the organisation and its people in both the immediate- and medium-term. But what if your shareholders are baying for blood, or you run a small independent business and simply don't have the cash coming in to pay for such formal development?

Well, the news is not all bleak. You don't have to stop employee development - it's just time to be creative.

Access to government funding has often been a confusing subject for businesses, though People First, our sector skills council, is an expert in this field and can help companies gain access to funding. You may also be able to gain help via Train to Gain. Your local training provider, college or business link adviser should be able to advise you.

As an example, on offer at the moment for organisations in the private sector with between five to 250 employees, is an in-depth skills analysis for owner/managers, plus grant support of up to £1,000 to develop leadership and management skills.


You could consider job swaps, shadowing and "colleagues training colleagues". This is very motivating for both the trainer and learner and is low- or no-cost. It also has the knock-on effect of making your workforce more versatile and flexible, as well as improving team dynamics by getting different departments to know each other and appreciate the challenges of each other's roles.

If you've no time for job swaps and secondments, challenge colleagues to conduct the daily briefing or come up with a five-minute motivator for the rest of the team or for those in other departments.

Consider accelerated learning sessions such as 90-minute masterclasses or our own learning bites ( These are short, lively sessions which will educate, inspire and motivate. Low cost and practical, they will provide tools, techniques and ideas to benefit the business.

Also, managers can put together short sessions such as "Six-Minute Skills Sessions" or task each member of the team to present on a certain subject, be it a wine region, seasonal product or service technique to keep people learning and motivated. There are lots of ideas on


This is a great time to challenge your people by setting them tasks or project work involving business issues and challenges for them to solve. This will benefit the business and improve your bottom line, as well as motivating your team by giving them a feeling of empowerment and worth within the company.

Don't be afraid to stretch people: those doing the jobs are often the best people to improve them - you may be surprised. Give small teams real business challenges like "how can we improve banqueting sales?" or "how can we become greener?". It's a great motivator, will make people feel valued and trusted and will improve morale, skills and the bottom line. Just remember it's important to ensure that you provide them with the support to be able to make their ideas succeed.


Entering awards and applying for scholarships such as the Acorn Scholarship again focuses people's efforts, helps recognise achievements and could even result in some funded development.

So, be creative and keep learning and development firmly on the agenda. It's needed more than ever to maintain morale as well as providing your business with a competitive advantage. You're going to need well trained, flexible and motivated people when the bookings come flooding back in.


The deadline is looming to enter the Chartered Institute of Marketing's new Marketing Excellence Awards. The awards have been created to highlight the role played by marketing in business and the public sector. The deadline for entries to the first national awards is Friday 16 October and the winners will be celebrated at an awards dinner in London on 17 February next year.

David Thorp, director of research and professional development at the insitute, said: "Our new Marketing Excellence Awards are open to marketeers from across the UK, no matter what sector or size of organization. Many marketeers are doing a fantastic job for their organisatons, particularly in this tough economic climate, and the awards will help to celebrate the tremendous creativity and brilliant performance of the UK's best marketeers."

Categories relevant to the industry include Hotels and Leisure, Professional Services, Retail, Marketing Newcomer of the Year, Marketeer of the Year and Chairman's Award.

For details, or to enter,


The Acorn Scholarship is open for entries for 2010.

Now in its eighth year, the scholarship is an independent award that "seeks out young, talented individuals within the industry and helps them to realise their career ambitions, generating the leaders of the future". Two of the past seven winners have gone on to win a Caterer and Hotelkeeper Acorn Award.

The self-nominated award is open to individuals who are UK residents and are able to work in the UK without restriction. Only one scholarship is awarded each year to someone who demonstrates "passion and potential and who is at a point in their career when winning the scholarship will make a real difference".

The winning scholar will receive a £2,000 bursary to use for professional development; £1,500 worth of Learnpurple training, plus monthly coaching sessions with Learnpurple managing director Jane Sunley; a trip to Villeroy & Boch in Luxembourg; a development lunch where the winner will meet with leading industry figures and agree their development and educational activity for the year ahead; a designated "mentor" who acts as their guide during their year as a scholar, including drawing up a flexible training plan; Springboard UK Ambassador training; and an annual subscription to Caterer and Hotelkeeper.

The current Acorn Scholar, Simone Sylvestre, commented: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I have met some of the most amazing people and been lucky enough to travel the world learning more about the industry. It's all thanks to the contacts and friends I've made through the Acorn Scholarship. My confidence and knowledge has grown hugely this year and now I'm delighted to have taken on a bigger role within Compass as a result of my new found skills."

To enter, applicants are asked to write a submission and 10 finalists are chosen to present to a panel of judges including Michael Caines, chef-director, Abode Hotels; William Baxter, deputy chief executive officer of BaxterStorey; and Claire Sullivan, marketing director of Unilever Foodsolutions.

For more information on how to enter the scholarship, visit or contact chairman Jon Reed on 020 7836 6999. Deadline for entries is 23 October.

Caterer's networking forum, Table Talk, has joined forces with the Acorn Scholarship to offer some incredible prizes over the next few weeks including an overnight stay with dinner, bed and breakfast with spa treatment at any Malmaison/Hotel du Vin property. Each week all Table Talk members will be automatically entered into a prize draw, courtesy of the Acorn Scholarship. Simply go become a member.

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