Guest blog by Linda Montgomery, HR director at Damart, a leading company in thermal underwear and clothing. A number of their senior team will be starting the executive MBA at Bradford University School of Management in September. Here she looks at the learning and development challenges of corporates, particularly when employees are stretched for time
How has the recession affected the role of HR in corporates – and the ability and commitment from employees for their own training?
This was a question I’ve been mulling since we started discussions with Bradford around the idea of putting some of our employees on their executive MBA this autumn – the executive MBA is where employees study over a two to three year period in weekend blocks, while carrying on working.
So what are the issues – for us and for other businesses – and how are we tackling these?
1. The pressures facing HR directors
At Damart, we have continued to perform well throughout the recession, so budgets have not been hit in the way a lot of my HR peers have seen. We have continued to pay out bonuses for the last five or six years, only missing a year, so employees have also continued to feel motivated and rewarded.
But like most companies we have had to work twice as hard to achieve these results – and that puts pressure on employees. Everyone has been asked to do that bit more and that means their time is the biggest challenge we face in HR.
2. The role of HR has changed
If a manager had a problem with someone in their team, they tended to come to HR and say ‘how do I deal with this?’ And HR’s response was often that we would take over the performance management process directly – of course still involving the manager, but they didn’t ‘own’ the process.
Now I think the role of HR is much more to help the manager in a support role, more coaching the manager through, rather than taking it over. That’s partly because HR teams are leaner but also because we are helping managers to learn through a process – with coaching – rather than sending them away on a course. That is both cost and time efficient and possibly a better learning process.
3. How can an MBA fit into the new era of development?
We are supporting three managers to start the MBA in September – two are senior people who are at the stage where they need to move from specialists to having a broader perspective of the business; one is a bright manager who researched and came to us with details about this and we are keen to support his initiative.
In choosing these managers, probably the most important aspect was commitment. Doing an MBA on top of your job is not easy and if anyone thinks it will be too much combined with family and other life, they are unlikely to get the most out of it – or even finish it.
From the business perspective, it is always hard to measure ROI (return on investment) for training. Of course there are questions that we may be investing in people who later leave. But I heard a great story recently where a chief executive asked that question – what if they leave? And the reply from his team was ‘what if we don’t invest in their training – and they stay?’!
My own view is that we will start seeing benefits from the MBA within the year. It is time away from daily pressures with time allocated to that ‘blue sky thinking’ but with input from other sectors and job roles. The most exciting bit is to start thinking differently and learning from a breadth of experiences.
This is one of the ways that we can address that time problem – and in a way it is a deal between us and the students. We will support them doing the MBA; in essence they are making a commitment of time into their own development. That feels a good investment for any corporate?