Provident Financial trains leaders of tomorrow

Industrial and Commercial Training

ISSN: 0019-7858

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



(2004), "Provident Financial trains leaders of tomorrow", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 36 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Provident Financial trains leaders of tomorrow

Provident Financial trains leaders of tomorrow

Provident Financial has joined forces with Bradford University School of Management in tailored work-based learning to develop managers capable of fulfilling new roles opening up at the company as it expands in Britain and abroad.

Provident Financial serves 3.4 million customers throughout the UK and central Europe through its home-collected credit, motor-insurance and car-finance operations. It employs 7,500 people, 500 of whom are based at the company’s headquarters in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England.

Steve Ford, managing director, UK home credit, explained the reasons for the programme:

  • Our aspiration surveys revealed that people did not feel they were being developed in the right way and believed that opportunities were not coming through as they used to. Having just returned to head office after a period working in Poland, it was clear to me that morale could be improved.

Succession planning was the key. Steve Ford continued:

  • We needed to be sure that we could recruit, train and retain people who would be able to take their place on our senior team – those people just below director level – and then very much on the team just below that.

The result is a 12-month development programme devised to provide 20 Provident managers with the commercial-management and personal skills to supplement their already-proved talent. Participants range from regional operations managers and branch managers to head-office personnel from marketing, human-resource management, accounts and the contact centre.

Steve Ford said:

  • In essence, we have chosen a nucleus of people who are ready to take on senior management roles in various aspects of this business and other businesses within the group.

  • We aim to upskill them as commercial managers and to create an opportunity for them to develop personally.

The course is structured in four one-week residential modules dealing with topics ranging from financial management to people management and from project management to marketing. A business simulation is one of the aspects that tie the taught elements of the programme closely to participants’ world of work.

Professor Richard Pike, director of studies at Bradford School of Management, commented:

  • The integration we are talking about here – the way that the School of Management and Provident Financial are working together to deliver the goals of training the future leaders of the organization – is very strong indeed. This kind of programme is more demanding than providing a traditional taught course, but has the potential of achieving a much wider range of learning outcomes.

Steve Shaw, HR director for Provident’s UK and Ireland home-credit division, said:

  • We want participants to apply the learning they achieve at the School of Management in the business itself. We could have given them a specific project to manage at the end of each unit, but we decided against this kind of forced learning. Instead, we want participants to apply the commercial skills they learn to real business issues.

  • Participants should therefore first check that they have a business issue that they can apply each of their new skills to. The structured approach of the course helps them to see how their learning can be applied. Their recommendations may not, in the end, be applied in the business, but they will be pushing against an open door and the important thing is that they should have learned from the experience.

  • Participants must also be ready to present their successes in the final module. We want them to be able to show, “This is how I was, this is how I am now and this is how I did it.” We want them to end up in a situation where they can see the learning that has taken place and how they have transferred that learning to the work situation. It is not about checking but it is about providing evidence. It is also about participants transferring what they learn to real-life situations – not learning theories and reproducing theories in examinations. It is a practical learning process.

In addition to the business outcomes, each participant is expected to develop at a personal level. To this end, each has a personal-development plan that provides a starting point for how he or she will apply learning to personal issues.

Steve Shaw explained:

  • Each personal-development plan contains a personal-learning objective and a range of actions to address the objective.

  • Participants review these with their line manager and mentor and gather evidence that demonstrates how the learning objective is being met.

  • The personal-development plan should not contain woolly objectives like, “I want to know how to be creative.” Instead, it should be based on such behavioural learning objectives as, “I want to challenge current thinking and propose new ideas and ways of working.”

  • Nor should there be woolly measures of achieved learning, such as “I have been on a course” or, “the manager thinks I am performing better.” Instead, participants should be able to provide clear evidence enabling us to assess whether the learning objective has been fully met. One example would be, “I have proposed, developed, implemented and reviewed the impact of a key policy on handling leads received in the contact centre.”

  • Each line manager conducts an appraisal. Using the personal-development plan, he or she agrees the participant’s development needs and the actions that will address them. The line manager provides support, coaching and development opportunities, reviews progress of the personal-development plan and signs it off when the objectives have been met.

Each participant also has a mentor, whose role is to:

  • examine the participant’s learning objective and the development required;

  • discuss and review actions to develop the skills the participant needs and how he or she can apply the learning;

  • help the participant to find evidence to demonstrate the achievement of learning objectives;

  • encourage, guide, support and, where appropriate, caution the participant;

  • act as a sounding board;

  • identify and create opportunities;

  • aid reflection; and

  • generally oil the wheels.

Steve Shaw said:

  • It is a realistic relationship within an environment of mutual trust.

  • The mentor is seen as a catalyst for development rather than a crutch.

In an introductory session at the School of Management before the main course for participants began, mentors were guided on giving and receiving effective feedback. They were urged to:

  • be specific and focused, with examples;

  • concentrate on the participant’s behaviour or situation, not him or her as a person;

  • base feedback on observation rather than inferences;

  • balance the positive and negative; and

  • consider the needs of the recipient, not the giver of feedback.

Course participants, meanwhile, were urged, as recipients of feedback, to:

  • listen carefully to what is being said;

  • seek clarification or additional information, if necessary;

  • take time to think, rather than reacting instantly;

  • evaluate the information and decide whether to accept or discount it;

  • respond assertively, by sharing his or her reaction, agreeing, apologising, disagreeing or proposing a way ahead; and

  • offer feedback in return.

An important aspect of workplace learning is, of course, to learn about the process of learning itself. People who have “learned to learn” are better able to transfer their learning to other situations. The first two modules of the course therefore focus on applied learning and strategic thinking. They provide a flavour of the practical approach taken in the course.

Steve Shaw said:

  • What we are talking about here is developing innovative leaders who can occupy senior positions in the company in the future.

  • Of course, we want participants to develop personally and demonstrate new skills as well as the practical application of these skills. But in addition, there will be real benefits to the individual as a person.

He or she will:

  • develop new skills;

  • be able to demonstrate his or her capabilities;

  • understand the business from a broader perspective; and

  • gain a higher profile in the organisation.

Steve Shaw said:

  • I believe that this course will provide participants with all the foundations they need to take them forward in the future.

  • We are looking forward to receiving their input. They have to realise that this course offers them the chance to make a real difference to the business.

  • The key task for management in the twenty-first century is to manage uncertainty and change. In order to do this, managers’ rate of learning needs to be faster than the rate of change. Through teaching participants how to learn and developing their capacity to manage their own learning, the Provident Financial programme aims to produce a new generation of managers, who feel comfortable operating in such a world of accelerating change.

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