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Developing people in rough times

Caterer and Hotelkeeper 2nd October 2009

This article appeared in The Caterer and Hotelkeeper

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 Pizza Express, 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.

Cross Training

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 (http://www.learnpurple.com/book-courses). 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 http://www.businessballs.com.


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 Acorn Scholarship

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.

To read more on this go to The Caterer.

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Meeting in the middle

Jodi Goldman - Communications Manager on how to get the most out of your meetings

In the current economic condition, business emphasis is on results now more then ever before. Its about bottom line. So, now more then ever before its ess

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From barista to boss for a willing temp

This article appeared in The Mail on Sunday 16 August 2009

As the unemployment figure continues to climb, competition for jobs is fiercer than ever and many people have been forced to take temporary work to make ends meet. But for some, temping can lead to bigger and better things.

When Simon Wade took a temporary job as a barista, making coffee for contract catering firm Lexington Catering, he did not think that five years later he would still be there, now as the deputy group manager.

Simon, 27, from Hatfield, Hertfordshire, says: 'At the time I had no real career ambitions. The only real plan I had was to earn enough cash to go travelling, so I took the first job that came along.'

Two months in, he realised how much he was enjoying the work and the rapport he had with the public, while the company was seeing his potential.

'I have an outgoing nature and was genuinely enthusiastic about my work and I think that stood out,' he says. 'After six months I was made a supervisor, then a site manager and then to my current position.

'I never thought my original job would lead to this, but my advice to anyone in a similar position is to consider all your options, apply yourself and show willing. You may never know what may come of temporary work.'

With large-scale recruitment freezes still in place, many employers are having to promote from within. The most enlightened are including their part-time and temporary staff in the appraisal process and finding out what their aspirations are, says Jane Sunley, managing director of management firm Talent Toolbox. 'Many of them will only be there for the short term, but with jobs at a premium and redundancies a reality, there could be some high-calibre candidates among the peripheral workforce who employers would want to retain,' she says.

The challenge for the temp is to stand out. Maria Yapp, chief executive of business psychology firm Xancam, says the most promising candidates are those with an appetite for learning who relate well to senior people and customers and who motivate others.

'They usually have a very good understanding of the business and are willing to try new things and learn other jobs,' she says.

This article appeared in the Mail on Sunday.

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The Big C

Mary Jane Flanagan - Training Director

The power of commitment and how to inspire it.

They say women strive for it, men are scared of it and most students have difficulty spelling it (I guess it's all those

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Working... creatively

Jodi Goldman - Communications Manager

There are many times I hear of things that American companies do, and I smile, shake my head and think 'only in America!' For example; I was watching a TV programme about a

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Engage, retain and grow the people you have

This article appeared in The Sunday Times 12 July 2009

Sean Wheeler, group director of people at Hotel du Vin and Malmaison (click here for a case study)

I joined Malmaison just after it acquired Hotel du Vin. I knew that the two brands would surely employe a wealth of talented people. The trouble was that nobody really knew what their skills, aspirations and needs were.

I am a great believer in making the most of what you have before looking elsewhere. We are known as a great place to work and I feel we owe it to our people to help them reach their potential or at least help them towards it.

The other important aspect is that, with strong brand cultures like ours, the people are the brand. It therefore makes sense to engage, retain and grow the people you already have.

This approach also means that you can save on recruitment and training costs. We use and online system from Talent Toolbox that enables us to manage performance, track the aspirations and have comprehensive succession plans as well as providing a "people balance sheet" for the board.

For a case study of how the hotels group has worked with us click here.

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Sales through service

Helen Flint - Business Development Director

Over the past few years we've noticed an increased demand for the bespoke customer service programmes that we offer our clients. It seems that people who previously felt t

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Insiders rise to the challenge

This article appeared in The Sunday Times 12 July 2009

Hiring new staff is expensive. Yes, the recession has increased the number of people looking for work but it has also made high performers wary of leaving their jobs without a significant financial incentive.

A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests that it costs companies an average of £20,000 to replace senior managers who leave. Across all levels of employees it costs an average of nearly £6,000.

However, other research suggests that when the productivity drop associated with recruitment is included, the true figure for replacing a key manager is more like five times their salary, or ten times for a Director, said Jane Sunley, chief executive of Talent Toolbox, the people management system.

The answer for employers, according to Sunley, is to develop existing employees and promote from within. "it's good for morale for people to see others in their team being promoted."

Companies that have a good sense of where individual employees' aspirations and abilities lie are better placed to develop their succession, too, and its an effective way of protecting the company's brand.

"Business depends on their people. It's really hard to get brand consistency if you keep changing your people. Customers are demanding and they don't want to wait for people to get up to speed," said Sunley.

Gary Knowles, engineering and quality manager at Fascia Graphics in Chippenham, Wiltshire, said: "When you bring people straight into senior positions they might not necessarily understand how the company works and its ethos."

Knowles, 33, was himself promoted, literally, from the shop floor after joining at 20 to work on the production line making membrane keypads. "It wasn't what I wanted to spend my career doing but as a starting block it was fine," he said.

He took the job on the understanding that he would rise up the ranks when a suitable opportunity came up and that was exactly what happened - and has continued to happen.

Rather than simply promoting people and leaving them to it, Fasca ensures staff get the training that they need to move up. One technique they use is "multi -roling" - allowing employees to shadow someone to learn new skills before they step into the new job.

Organisations that want to promote from within should be open-minded about where high-potential staff can be found as not all future leaders join in management positions or even on a graduate programme, said Lesley Uren, the Chief Executive of Jackson Samuel, a recruitment firm.

"Talent does not always present itself in obvious places," she said. "If you build in too many criteria, such as that they have to be a grauate or they have particular experience, it limits your ability to spot raw talent."

Instead, look for people with a gift, such as an instinctive understanding of customer, resilience or charisma. "You also need to be willing t develop that talent," she said. "When you are looking for diamonds in the rough you have to knock a few edges off."

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