Weren’t the Olympic and Paralympic medal tallies superb? What success! We Brits can do it when we try. But as you watched, did you notice that everyone was talking about four-year athlete development plans and about medal targets for each sport. And each athlete talked of their own ‘PB’.
Team GB’s success didn’t come by accident. It came about by execution of a developmental plan matched to targets.
And in readiness for Rio, there’s a new job vacancy on the UK Sport website – Director of Performance. The machine is already gearing up for an enthralling Rio 2016 with a performance manager tasked to ensure goal achievement.
Yet again we’re planning to trounce the French and the Germans. C’mon Team GB!
But that’s sport. How relevant is it to business?
Our Training Record
Let’s be blunt. The training record for UK business isn’t good. 21% of adults are functionally innumerate and 15% functionally illiterate. 21% of all vacancies are hard to fill because through lack of skills. 1.7million UK employees are considered not proficient in their job. And in some sectors such as science and engineering vacancies remain unfilled suppressing growth. These are headline figures  – figures for the SME sector are worse. Given these statistics, something has to be done.
There are three parties to training: the Government, the employee and the employer. The Government isn’t going to magically improve the situation in the next four years, so it’s down to employer and employee. Large firms make modest training investment. Unlike the French and the Germans though, UK shareholders expect return on investment now and so the bulk of excess profits go to investors. Most funding goes on ‘hard’ training – on essentials like how to use machines rather than in building soft skills like management. It’s maybe a bit unfair to blame employers unilaterally but the results suggest that investment in people by UK firms is inadequate. So if the employers aren’t going to fund training, it must fall to the employee? At a time when household finances are stretched, that’s a tall order. Everyone knows that they should develop themselves but few do; perhaps they simply can’t afford it? So is this an unsolvable problem with neither party willing to invest?
Training to Stand Still
Basic theories of competition suggest that without continuous development of people, plant and systems (to reduce costs and enhance customer experience), competitors will soon squeeze a firm’s market share and margins. But resources like plant and systems can be copied too easily to once more level the playing field. That leaves people as the greatest long term source of competitive advantage. So for firms to succeed – and indeed for them to sustain their current position in face of competition – development of people is essential. Like for our Olympians, training is not optional.
So if training is essential and employees aren’t going to put up the funds, firms must pay to secure their own survival. But how, without too much financial pain?
Once again we can look to UK Sport. UK Sport doesn’t pay athletes while they train. It pays to give athletes the necessary training opportunities. Perhaps both parties in business must give as much of their available resources as they realistically can to realise mutual future benefit. Employers must fund the opportunity and employees must give their time.
Managed Development for Gold
So how might we manage this? Just as UK Sport sets goals, each firm must develop a four year plan that determines the tangible future competencies needed in the firm to achieve its target turnover and profit. Each firm needs to measure its competencies now. Each needs to gain employee commitment to personal development plans. And each needs to appoint a performance manager to develop these competencies and realise these goals through training.
UK firms must stop taking a short term profit-oriented view. They must learn from Team GB and invest in their people, asking in return for a parallel investment of effort. Enhanced commitment will result thereby growing trust and loyalty and we’ll trounce the French and Germans in business too.
Plan for Business Golds in 2016
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 UKCES (2010). National Employer Skills Survey for England 2009. Evidence Report 23 August.
Article first published in an abridged form by the author in South East Business Magazine October 2012 edition, pages 32 & 33 and available at http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/launch.aspx?pbid=aa6d50ca-76cd-4434-827b-050708d40cf5.