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The value of learning - podcast episode 11
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29 August 2007
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The Value of Learning - episode 11
Into: ‘You’re listening to the CIPD Podcast series’
: Hello and welcome to the CIPD Podcast. I’m Philippa Lamb and in this episode we’ll be looking at the value of learning. What is the contribution that learning makes to organisations? How do we measure the effectiveness of learning and development activities and quantify their value? The CIPD is currently carrying out research into these questions, and joining me to today to debate the issues are
, who runs the major international charity, Christian Aid, and
, Head of Learning & Development at the same charity. I’ll be asking them how learning and development is assessed and valued in their organisation. Also joining me is
, Director of talent development for Hilton here in the UK and Ireland. I’ll be asking her if her experiences in the private sector differ from Christian Aid’s charity sector perspective. And
, Learning and Development Advisor at the CIPD, who’s steering the CIPD research on the value of learning, will be telling me more about the project and the thinking behind it.
You can find out more about the research by reading the notes that accompany this podcast at
But now, Martyn, so now tell me why the CIPD is so interested in the value of learning?
: Well, I’ve never known a project attract so much interest amongst our trainer members, because we really need to look afresh at the issues surrounding value and learning in the organisation and in particular the value that learning brings. I’ll make you a couple of points first if I may: the first thing is value is always defined by the recipient. So it’s the person who is the receiver who determines the value of anything, not the giver. My wife and I went to the south of France on holiday. She organised all the holiday so she said to me we ought to have an evening out and it was my job to organise the evening out. So I very kindly went to lot of trouble and took her to see Nimes play Toulouse at rugby for the evening. Now for some unknown reason, it was not all that well received – didn’t go down well at all…
: You amaze me Martyn…
: I went to a lot of effort, for heaven’s sake. But the point is straightforward, that it is the person who’s the beneficiary defines value and in a modern organisation we’ve got a lot of beneficiaries of learning. We’ve got senior managers who need to run the organisation, we got the individual learners, we got line managers who want to manage their staff effectively, so we’ve got to take a new approach. In the past we’ve been very, very trainer centred in our models, we’ve been using figures, basically, to justify our existence and prove how important we are. That’s not the right way forward, that’s why we commissioned the research, and our research is underlying the need for a fresh approach.
: So it’s not all about numbers, it’s not all about ticking the budget box.
: It certainly isn’t. It is about what is the benefit of learning for the organisation and for the individual, and it differs in different contexts, so it will differ from Christian Aid from Hilton Hotel.
: Well let me put that question to Daleep; how do you define value at Christian Aid?
: The important thing for us at Christian Aid is to get all our staff to understand what is our essential purpose. For an organisation that is complex, working on issues of poverty and social justice, it was important after we developed a common strategy and an essential purpose that we had all our staff and key people who were going to promote this strategy to understand what this meant. So we created a learning and development department to accompany our cultural and organisational shift. Two things I think are important to me at Christian Aid; people join us because they believe in the objectives and the cause. We’re here to make a difference to people who are poor and excluded in other countries. So if we can bring their energy, their passion, their sense of justice into this, and see how they can use that, that’s important. The second thing is we’re not going to do this in an organisation which has people in about fifty different countries, to be part of one organisation, if there isn’t a common sense of purpose and a common sense of belonging. So this learning and development strategy that helps people to feel we’re part of one team, one organisation, with one purpose is essential for all of us to achieve our common goals.
: So, Jimmy, Daleep’s clearly got a very clear vision of the objectives of Christian Aid and how he wants to bring everyone together in pursuit of that common objective but you’re the man charged with delivering that. How do you that?
: Our learning and development strategy is clearly embedded in our corporate strategy and along other corporate goals – they’ve got six in all – they’ve got one objective which is clearly called strengthening the organisation. And for us it’s incredibly important that we have an organisation that is fit for purpose to help us deliver on the extremely high aspirational goals that we have set for ourselves and ensuring that we have the people, the right people, in the right place, doing the right thing in order to deliver the asks of our organisation. We have outside of Christian Aid a very impatient world whose clamouring for change in terms of relieving world poverty and addressing the imbalance of social injustice. That demands of us to be more effective at what we do, more efficient, and deliver upon our objectives in the most cost effective and the most cost efficient manner. Lots of people ask me, so what should trainers’ priorities be within an organisation? I’d say, I’d beg to differ slightly with Martyn, that the priorities are slightly different in the commercial world to the charity sector. I think we’re both driving and working towards achieving corporate objectives…
: … regardless of what they are…
: Exactly, and that is the bottom line. Unless we are addressing corporate objectives, unless we are understanding the business need, then trainers, learning and development professionals, whatever you want to call them, have no place in an organisation. And if there is one thing that a learning and development professional should do within their organisation, I think it is that they should effortlessly take time to understand what the needs of the organisation are.
: In practical day to day terms, how does learning and development work within Christian Aid?
: There’s, I believe, a two-pronged approach. We’ve got fundamental learning that we believe needs to be carried out throughout the organisation, an understanding of our culture, our purpose, and our brand. And that is common across the board irrespective of role, whether you’re a director, or whether you’re an administrator. It’s important that everybody is clear about what we want to achieve, what we stand for, where our point of arrival is. Then the next very important part of our learning and development coordinators, as we call them, is building a consultancy relationship with our various business units. Their role is to identify what are the unique needs that individuals within specific functions have in order for them to achieve those objectives. And it’s down to us and the functional managers to prioritise year on year, month on month, what happens now, what can wait, what can be delivered in the future.
Philippa: So it’s a very structured approach. Garcia, how do you do this at Hilton, because clearly you are a completely different sort of organisation? You have commercial objectives; do you approach this question of learning and assessing the value differently or is it much the same?
: Strangely enough, it is much the same. I think, you know, the principles of structuring a good learning and development initiative are very similar between the different sectors. It resonates very much with me that if you don’t have a very clear idea of what your corporate goals and your corporate strategy is, then how can you ever develop a learning and development strategy that feeds into that. And it’s a fairly linear approach that we use in Hilton in that we have our corporate strategy. We use the balance score card to actually define the year on year objectives and three and five year business plans. And it’s a fairly straightforward process then to line up what we do with learning and development with that strategy. So for instance on our balance score card we have the customer, the people, the quality, and the profit elements and we make sure that everything we do in learning and development actually feeds in to one of those areas and therefore we’re able to measure it, and we’re able to look at the metrics and define whether we’re actually getting a return on investment and a return on expectation.
: And do you find that you do?
: Yes, generally speaking we do. Quite recently we’ve been doing a lot of work on the whole area of service. I mean, we are a people business; after our beds and buildings we rely so totally on the quality of the people that serve our customers and our guests. So it’s very important that we look closely at what the guests are saying about our hotels and the service that they’re receiving when they visit so we take the results from that and we do look at areas where we need to put more effort in in terms of learning and development, and that’s where we focus our activities. So this year we’ve introduced a new programme called ‘back to basics’ which is literally looking at everything that we do in terms of job skills, in terms of brand standards and service skills and making sure that we have training programmes that target those areas so that when our guests talk about what it’s like coming to visit a hotel we know that we’re delivering against those expectations.
: Now, Hilton is by no means the only place that you’ve been involved in, in delivering learning. In your experience do you find there’s an issue with management buy-in about learning and the value of learning? Have you come across a resistance to really putting the resources in, not just the money, but the time and the effort… deep down question whether it’s worth the…
:… Yes, yes, I’ve been in learning and development a long time now, so, yes, it’s inevitable isn’t it that when times are hard, when there are business pressures, the training budgets…
:… is it the first to go...
:… Well, sometimes it’s the marketing budget as well, are the first things to go. But it depends how you actually connect what you’re doing with learning into the business, I think. When you’re talking about justifying activities that have happened in the past, and trying to prove that the training programme is a worthwhile investment, then I think you’ve got some difficulties. If you look at the value in training in terms of a benchmark for the future then I think you can connect much more with your organisational strategies.
: Just listening to Garcia, in some ways your sector is much easier because you have a clear customer or a clear beneficiary, that the person who is coming in is there for the beds or the care. I wish I had, sometimes, that over here in Christian Aid, because we have at least three customers we have to deal with, or three beneficiaries. We’ve got to deal, on the one hand, how do we look after those people who give very generously, our supporter base. On the other hand we can’t use that money unless we have people out there who we call partners, or organisations through whom we have to work, because we’re not an operational agency, we work through others. And then we have a third thing at the end of it who we don’t actually come into contact, the actual beneficiary, the people for whom we want to make a difference. But at the end of the day we have to be able to speak out and stand up and take sides, both at the local level but at the international level. And my staff colleagues have to understand the complexity of our kind of work.
Interlude: ‘You are listening to the CIPD Podcast series’
: It strikes me that both of you share a common problem which is focused on the people you employ, the people that work for you, in the fact that they are more aspirational now than they would have been thirty forty years ago. The pay packet isn’t all they want, they want a sense of purpose, particularly I would imagine form the non-profit sector but also from the private sector, that’s certainly an issue. Retention and recruitment is an issue for everyone now – does that impact on the sort of learning that you want to offer them, and perhaps, the sort of learning that they perhaps demand from you? Careers are different now, aren’t they? Garcia…
: We do a team member survey every year, so we’re very lucky in that our employees actually tell us what’s important to us…
: Always helpful…
: It means we can, as Martyn was saying earlier, the value of learning depends upon the people that receive it, and they tell us that they want careers in our sector, they really want to understand our products and our brands, and that definitely does help us direct what we do so that we balance our learning and development initiatives between things that will protect our customers and our shareholders and keep our brand up there at the forefront in the hospitality industry.
: And are you seeing a benefit there in terms of recruitment and retention – that you can offer that?
: Absolutely. I mean, I think in the hospitality industry in general, turnover sits at somewhere between 50 and 80%. Depending on where you are, it’s massive. And where we have our career development programmes, the turnover right down. Some of our programmes is sitting at between 90 and 100% retention. People are actually looking at a career trajectory that is going to take them right through the business.
: What else do we need to be thinking about here because, you’ve been focusing on the research very hard?
: Okay. Let me tell you what the research has done perhaps. What we did was we went out to a number of organisations – we went out in fact to 13 organisations in total, and we chose a set of very different organisations – and we asked questions of the chief executive or the director, and the head of learning, the chief learning office, the director of learning and development. And the important thing is, with these two people in each of the 12 or 13 organisations, we asked them exactly the same questions about how they perceive the importance of learning but we insisted on seeing them at separate times, so we didn’t allow them to meet together and prepare a corporate response…
: No collusion then.
: No collusion. Two separate interviews. What we found was they had quite a bit in common but there some quite important differences. And what the chief executives, the directors were telling us was providing learning is properly aligned up front, providing we’re doing the right thing, and it clearly meets the benefits of the business, the organisation and the learners, we don’t want to disentangle the process and get those heads of training to report separately on their training activities. Now that’s quite a blow to what might be called the traditional model and that the traditional model on reporting on learning and training basically sees the trainer as a sort of central sun around which the learner planets revolve. And we’ve got to move away from that model, and we’ve got to try for different sorts of measures. And Garcia Williamson has very helpfully picked this up already. What we’re seeing is a move away from return on investment which sees training as a one off investment to a return on expectations. So what is Daleep’s expectation, and Daleep’s senior manager’s and indeed his learners’, what is their expectations from the sort of interventions that Jimmy is giving, and on Garcia’s side, what is her chief executive expecting of her. Now that’s a much more forward looking measure than just looking at a training programme after its taken place and trying in some way to isolate the benefits. It’s quite a complex problem. It’s going to depend on the particular context, but we’re sure that that is the way forward. And the University of Portsmouth who commissioned this research for us, are going to come up with a super research into practice report to tell us how to do it.
: Do we feel, everyone round the table, that things we’ve learned out of this discussion and what we’ll learn out of that report, in due course – does it apply across the board to organisations large and small? You all work for large organisations – do you feel that the lessons can be trickled right down to the smallest organisation? Is it the same for everyone?
: I think in the charity sector there’s not a problem with that because the issue’s the same, what is it all about? How does the charity get its staff and its management to work in ways where we have a common purpose and everyone understands it, and we deliver on that.
: So it’s about defining your objectives, sorting out your training and making sure there’s a match, a close match between the two regardless of what you do?
: I’d expect my colleagues at learning and development to accompany senior management to see how we can align staff needs and career aspirations with organisational needs and organisational directions. And if we can get these on the same pathway, we can make a great organisation because that’s, at the end of the day, all of our organisaitons are people-centred and we have to deliver, me to my supporters, and outside to the partners, you to your customers your stakeholders. I think that’s got to be important the people centred approach, that we value our staff, however big or small – because they are, at the end of the day our strength.
: What do you think Jimmy?
: Here I really think that we’re really talking about a kind of customer-seller relationship. Bottom line is, if you cannot demonstrate to provide an efficient and effective service to your organisation, your organisation can beg the choice to go elsewhere. And one of the key things that I keep alive as a debate with my people within the organisation is think about if the organisation were to choose or had the ability to choose to take their business elsewhere. Who would they choose? Would they choose to come to the learning and development function within the organisation or would they choose to go elsewhere?
: It’s the big question!
: But Jimmy, answering that question depends upon Daleep’s perceptions of the job you do – rather bluntly, than dumping of a load of figures on his desk which he’s not going to be particularly interested in. So it’s his perception of what’s happening, and in Garcia’s case, it’s those general managers, those operational managers, do they perceive that you’re giving value rather than you chucking a ton of figures after the event? Is that fair?
: Hopefully, they do, but I do think that you need to have some compelling metrics because I don’t think we can just go and talk it up. I think we do need to have a few, very focused measures that really prove that what we’re doing is having an impact, in my case, on the bottom line and on the impact of the brand and in your case, on the stakeholders and the people that you’re trying to impact as well.
: But something you said earlier, Garcia, was also – because you did an annual staff survey, I think you meant that – and if you see people’s attitudes and behaviour change, or how they’re perceived and valued, those are also the kind of metrics I want to see. Because if my staff are entirely happy and I can see those measures of attitude and behaviour then I feel that the organisation and indeed,you want trends, you don’t want one year. But the whole thing is – just like you might have this – staff who are short of funds in an organisation and say ‘look, if I put £20 million into Jimmy’s department for one more training programme, I could save lives in Malawi with HIV and Aids,’ I’ve got to show as the director that that investment actually helps us raise another £40 million pounds and the £20 million we might spend in Malawi, or the £20,000 we might spend there will make a greater difference, and that’s I think, the message I’ve got to show to people that this helps the business, but more importantly, makes a difference where it matters, where people are poor.
: I absolutely agree with you, and it’s a mantra I use again and again, what is the business case for asking for funds to develop any sort of training programme and what is it going to deliver back into the business.
: Well that seems, like… Oh, Jimmy, final point…
: I think, sort of, aligning yourself as a learning and development professional to the various business functions of the organisation helps you maintain that close link so therefore, increase the validity and the need and purpose of your place within the organisation.
: Well that seems like a sensible place to leave it. Thank you all very much indeed, for a really interesting discussion. Now, the value of learning research we’ve been talking about today is due, as Martyn said, to be published in November 2007. And it will include case material from Christian Aid as well as 12 other organisations. Look out for more details on this and all our other resources on learning and development on our website, that’s cipd.co.uk
Our next podcast will be looking at a round-up of all the top speakers and latest research from our annual conference and exhibition in Harrogate. Now we hope to see as many of you as possible at the conference which is on the 18th, 19th, and 20th of September.
In the mean time, I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast. Let us know what you think at
Members can join the debate on the discussion on this subject, and that’s available at
Until next time, goodbye.
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