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Clear lessons from learning at Solaglas
Clear lessons from learning at Solaglas
Pera Integrated Training has won a National Training Award for a programme that was underpinned by output-driven learning at UK glass manufacturer Solaglas.
The need at Solaglas was to restructure the business. Some 70 process managers were identified as the leaders of this change and, as such, they needed to develop their skills and confidence and learn a consistent way of doing things.
Jamie Richardson, Solaglas training and development manager during the change, explained the shift that was required. "The company was committed to a major restructuring that needed the implementation of new systems and processes", he said. "However, we also understood that the change had to be managed through people at 11 separate sites across the UK.
"In effect we had a top-down and bottom-up approach. At the top we were looking at issues such as tightening our recruitment and retention policies and improving our systems and processes. At the bottom end we were looking at developing our people into complete managers who were capable of implementing these policies. Thus a real sense of focus was provided and an emerging self-confidencestarted to grow among the whole workforce."
There were four themes in the Solaglas development programme – systematic problem solving and teambuilding,manufacturing management, people and business management and the development of networks.
In practice the first part of this programme, teambuilding training, helped the process managers to develop a common language, focus their ideas and engage the stakeholders. The manufacturing-methods training and facilitation then helped participants to ground new skills and practice back in the workplace. As part of this they were also required to present their real experience at the next module. In this way Solaglas built in a rolling programme with people's continuous and active involvement. And this was all supported by Solaglas personnel who provided their own business-related expertise and in so doing gave the programme a "home" feel.
"This was a real partnership", said Richardson. "All the people involved in delivering the training fully understood the overall purpose and the links to the business need. This meant that from the participants' perspective there were no gaps; rather they benefited from external training consultants who could bring their objective excellence to bear and from internal managers who understood the day-to-day realities of working in Solaglas."
The skills developed and the practical benefits accrued through the programme were significant. A good example of the practical application of the programme was in the company's requirement to reduce the amount of glass being thrown away. The training started with awareness building of this as an issue, and Pera then supported the managers with skills training on a number of lean-manufacturingtechniques. Then, through facilitated workshops, managers came up with their own solutions to reducing waste.
"There were some major transformations", said Richardson. "Managers not only learned new models and built practical skills, but they shared their existing knowledge and experience with their peers and put these into practice back at their workplaces. So, for example, after a course that looked at the problems of conventional manufacturing systems, participants went back into the workplace and identified and proposed solutions to reduce non-material waste. On another part of the programme looking at the organization of the workplace, participants investigated and identified areas of process imbalance within their factory. These were examples of how we took people through the learning and made it impact directly on the business."
Alan Russell, Pera managing director, was closely involved in the programme. "It would be fair to say that many managers found the whole learning process quite a shock to their system. We had to coach and support participants as they implemented new skills and approaches. However, as more and more people came through the programme, so the change gained critical mass and momentum and people visibly gained confidence as a result", he said.
Richardson agreed with this assessment. "The process managers swiftly realized that this was a serious programme tailored for their development. They also began to acknowledge how significant it was for the business and this helped to achieve their own, and their managers', long-term buy-in."
The programme at Solaglas has achieved some notable goals. "There is a string of qualities that participants now display", said Richardson. "People are better at thinking through their problems, they work more productively in teams and they tap into the power of their local and national networks. You can also see the difference the programme has made in the way these managers talk to customers; they are more professional, more confident and they are much better listeners. They also have a structured way of going about things and are much better at looking at the whole picture.
"The intention to create a self-sustainingbusiness where each manager, regardless of position, would be the managing director of his or her own environment is now well on the way", said Richardson. "This is also reflected in the bottom line. The business units are profitable and the company is the largest producer of double-glazing units in the UK. Furthermore, the accident-frequency rate has been reduced by 36 per cent and customer-service rate has been improved from 93 per cent to 97 per cent.
"The beauty of such output-driven learning is that participants can clearly see the link between what they are learning and the impact it makes on their business", continued Richardson. "There is nothing more frustrating for participants than going on a course and seeing no way of applying what they have learned. In contrast, when they can use new skills they are likely to be far more motivated. This programme deserves the recognition it received and shows what can be achieved when you put training where it can do most good."
What is also worth restating, and is clear from the Solaglas project, is that the learning activity that Pera designed was not always "training". From coaching to on-the-job supervision, from facilitation to "back at work" projects, the learning method chosen was one that suited the learner and best helped to deliver improved performance.
Does this shift in emphasis suggest that companies may start to rely less on public training courses in the future? Perhaps, but it should not mean any less focus on development. These are exciting and fast-moving times for organizations, and building the confidence and skills of people who are ready to lead projects and teams is what matters most. The question organizations need to ask is how best to support such people. The structure and coherence of output-driven learning provides a compelling answer.