· 3 min read · Features

Dollond & Aitchison - Self-service career development


Dollond & Aitchison's self-directed managers' online development programme has standardised the appraisal process and linked individual goals to those of the business.

- The challenge

Of the 2,700 staff optician Dollond & Aitchison (D&A) employs, 200 are at management level. Some are based at Scottish head office, but most are elsewhere and sometimes work remotely. Because of this, the existing paper-based appraisal system was not linking personal and business objectives together and it was difficult for HR to track and measure performance. The company needed to create a measurable self-directed career development programme that also standardised the appraisal process and connected individual objectives to those of the business. It also wanted to provide staff with easy access to e-learning.

- The programme

D&A had already made significant investment in online learning, including its in-house e-learning and training suite via various external sources and links to the Open University (OU) site, but it was not being fully used. Career development solutions provider Insala came up with a solution: a complete self-directed learning and career development experience whereby personal objectives could link to corporate aims, and be measurable. It also provides increased access to appropriate assessment tools and online learning opportunities. Through the specially designed portal every management-level employee identifies competencies and sets development and performance objectives in line with the corporate aims. They then record their own objectives and link these to the business objectives. Line managers can manage employee learning and follow up with reviews on a quarterly basis.

The objectives are based around the whole company's business plan, with each function working out their own business objectives. For example, the personal objectives for a team working on an IT project are about how they deliver their individual contribution to the project and how this connects to the overall business plan. Staff can also access self-assessment schemes, such as psychometric tests or OU modules, in their own time. The company can track the personal objectives and administrators can get easy access to searches and reports.

- The results

The revamped site was launched in February and 200 people received face-to-face training in how to use the programme. There was an initial flurry of activity with employees who were already comfortable with IT, embracing it with enthusiasm. Others took a slower approach. However, 90% of those concerned have now put their objectives online, and most are accessing the training modules enthusiastically. The company says it is already seeing the benefits of the process being faster and relevant to the business objectives. It is also able to measure and maximise employee retention.


Andy Cole is head of learning and development. "We needed to find a way of standardising our approach across the company," he says, "linking both personal and business objectives and having an online personal development review process. We also wanted employees to make better use of the existing opportunities for e-learning. We had to send out a reminder to a few to get their objectives up online but the vast majority of staff concerned are already using the site regularly and can understand its benefits." Those who are IT-savvy love it, Cole says, but he admits that those who are more cautious about technology are taking it slowly. But the extra elements make it more user friendly, he believes. "Because I can't track all the results, there is an element of personal development without Big Brother, which makes staff feel more comfortable. It's training and appraisal for the Facebook generation and it provides a place to store knowledge. It is also especially helpful for networking, especially for those who work remotely."


Terry Aird is systems, applications and products (SAP) training manager. He runs a team of trainers and area experts implementing SAP into D&A branches. "Keeping tabs on colleagues in the field and having them communicate with each other was a challenge, as we didn't have an online networking system in our branches," he explains. "I have introduced colleagues to the new site, as a tool for both their own personal progression - via the styles assessments, which I found revealing and helpful for understanding how others interact with me - and to track progress via personal development reviews." The latter had always been a bit of a bane, Aird admits. It meant dealing with paperwork that was put into a drawer and only brought out for the next review. "The online system has given processes more life, enabling me to track our progress, and refocus on different actions," he adds. "Also, because I can access it via my 'Favourites' button, I can't lose this information. I can also access our L&D site, which enables me to set up forums for colleagues in the field to exchange information."