· 3 min read · Features

Putting skills at the heart of future success

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Car care and valeting products manufacturer Autoglym set up its two-year Future Skills programme in 2007 to capitalise on a period of growth and support its people in all areas of the business as they progressed within their roles.

 The company has found the Future Skills programme to be so central to the company's performance that it has not only maintained investment in the training but is now building on its success and is planning to run it again in 2010 with a new group of delegates.
 
Autoglym, based in Letchworth UK, was founded in 1965 by a motor trade entrepreneur who developed a unique system for renovating used car paintwork. Its products now have international approval from more than 40 car marques and are used in production work, by dealers and for motorshow preparation.

  Building on this reputation, Autoglym had experienced a period of significant growth that encouraged the management team to seek ways to take the business to the next level of commercial performance.
 
"When your product is a market leader and you are looking to make a step up, you really have to look at how you can create extra value through your people. We were already doing well, but we wanted to do better. What we saw was an opportunity to further improve the performance of our business by investing in skills and improving the way that we transmit learning across the organisation," says Vicki Sharp, senior learning and development adviser at Autoglym.
 
Autoglym selected a group of delegates from all levels and areas of the business. The objective was to develop core leadership skills while improving the delegates' understanding of the business as a whole.
 
"Due to our expansion, a number of people were being promoted but weren't necessarily receiving the right levels of training and support to make them successful in their new roles. This was something that we wanted to address straight away - not with a quick-fix, but with a long-term solution that would provide solid foundations for the future of the business."
 
Autoglym's learning and development team responded to the challenge with Future Skills, a two-year programme of workshops with ‘action learning' elements. It ran from October 2007 to October 2009.
 
"One of the first and most important decisions taken was that the programme should represent all parts of the business," adds Sharp. "We deliberately selected delegates from different job functions and departments. We also wanted people from all levels of the business, from senior managers to team leaders."
 
The next step was to seek external help to put the programme together. Autogylm chose the Berkshire Consultancy, an independent management consultancy that specialises in organisational development, and the business school at the University of Hertfordshire.
 
Berkshire played a lead role both in co-ordinating the programme and in ensuring that the sessions came across as relevant to the various participants. The resulting programme was composed of a series of modules - including self-awareness and team-building, mind mapping, coaching, influencing, team leadership, communication and presentation skills - delivered via a series of quarterly workshops. Berkshire used actors to enable participants to explore real situations in their working lives, as well as a range of interventions and activities to appeal to practical learning styles.
 
"The Berkshire Consultancy ensured the programme's success by making it interesting for the different kinds of people involved in each session. Berkshire was involved in delivering the ‘softer' human aspects that made the programme real and engaging for all delegates, regardless of their position," comments Sharp. "The strategy module was particularly valuable in linking softer skills to the strategy of the business."
 
Future Skills is now regarded by the senior management team as the platform on which it is building its strategy for success. Feedback from delegates has also been highly positive: in particular they reported enjoying learning about aspects of the company outside of their normal roles and building relationships with people from different parts of the business.
Many delegates also cited specific examples of things they have done differently as a result of the programme. Common answers included improved communication skills, better planning and problem solving, and greater understanding of roles and working styles.
 
Sharp says: "Our participants responded extremely well to Berkshire's consultants and praised them for their inspirational style and methods. They never become too bogged down in theory and really brought the programme to life for us and our people."
 
Oliver James, marketing manager at Autoglym, says: "It was useful to spend time with other members of the business. It didn't feel like formal training, it was fun and as a consequence there was good banter and atmosphere, so people bonded. Aside from the skills we learnt, we got to know each other and learn about the obstacles we face at work. We now have a far greater understanding of each other's roles and departments. This has completely changed, for the better, the way we work with each other."
 
Perhaps the biggest single endorsement of the programme's value to Autoglym is the fact that it has continued throughout the recession without any reduction in investment. Chief executive Paul Caller says: "In my view reducing investment in skills in a recession, especially leadership skills, would have been a big mistake. We have always invested a lot in product R&D; our customers expect that.
 
"From now on, I would like to think our staff will come to expect that we will invest a lot in them as well. Creating added value through people is how we will deliver real competitive advantage."
 
Future Skills is planned to be renewed for a further two years; it is also intended that the second cycle will employ alumni from the first to act as ambassadors and advisers.