Where have all the clients gone?
Where have all the clients gone… ?
37 Years’ with ALA International
I recently received a kind reminder from LinkedIn telling me that I had a work anniversary; 37 years with ALA International and ‘it don’t seem a day too long’! This set me thinking about what was happening in Management Training in the UK in the 1970’s.
Training and Development in the 70’s
These were the boom years for management training in the UK driven by the Industrial Training Act of 1964. This was based on the philosophy that all employees needed to be appropriately trained if UK Inc was to be competitive in the burgeoning global market place and that the employer should be responsible for delivering this training. The Act called for the creation of Industrial Training Boards in each sector who’s task was to determine volume and scope of the training. The system was based on the concept of ‘grant – levy’. Employees were categorised into groups, Apprentices, Clerical, Engineers, etc. and Managers. Training targets were set by these Boards for all job categories in companies in their sector. The companies produced regular reports setting out what they had / had not achieved. If the employer exceeded the required amount of training in a category they received a grant if they underperformed they paid a levy.
For organisations that historically invested in training this was a real opportunity to create a return on what they were already doing. The Marconi Company, where I worked, was very committed to Apprenticeships and Technical training; there was some history of Supervisory training, but no formal approach to training managers. The Company decided to seize the opportunity created by the act to rectify this and in 1970 opened The Marconi Staff Development Centre in Chelmsford which I joined as a Tutor in 1972. We provided a series of action based training programmes for managers and supervisors to a closed market of 50,000 people and had no problem getting ‘bottoms on seats’.
Action Learning introduced
In 1974 Reg Revans was invited to introduce Action Learning into, what was then GEC Marconi. I had the good fortune to meet him during his discussions with Sir Arnold (later Lord) Weinstock. With his help I got involved in the first GEC Action Learning programme which led to me joining the teaching staff of The College of Management, Dunchurch in 1976. By the end of the decade the management training business was booming and I was ready to go independent.
ALA International in the 80’s
I left Dunchurch at the end of 1979 and set up Action Learning Associates International with Reg and Alan Lawlor in 1980. Our goal was to spread the use of action learning in both personal development and organisational change. We did this very successfully through the eighties with significant help from the 1982 Industrial Training which created the Manpower Services Commission and introduced a change in the focus of Government support for training from the training of individuals to organisational development. This change reflected the then Government’s response to the apparently sudden and rapid decline of British industry. Britain’s industrial capacity was reduced by more than 25% between 1980 and 84 and unemployment rose from1.5 million to 3.3 million in the same period. The aim of the 1982 Act was to provide funding to companies for OD programmes which it was hoped would enable them to restructure and regain their competitive edge. This fitted very nicely with our In-Plant methodology and enabled us to do some very interesting work. Sadly for many of the organisations we worked with, it was a case of too little too late however it did provide some breathing space and time in some cases, to find a satisfactory partnership deal.
Training in 2016 and beyond
It seems to me that today there three main differences in the ‘management training’ market.
- Firstly there is no financial encouragement for employers to train their people; no direct support from Government to ‘prime the pump’.
- Secondly organisations themselves have changed. It seems to me that what they learnt from the 80’s is that they need to be ‘lean’ and they need to be flexible. This has led to a major change in the concept of employment. Prior to the 80’s employment meant jobs for life with final salary pensions, steady progression through the ranks and should one be unfortunate enough to be made redundant one could at least a ‘silver’ goodbye. But this was all very expensive and made organisations inflexible so it had to change and it did with the birth of the ‘lean’ organisation.
Lean organisations are clear about their purpose and focus on achievement. They employ the core people they need to get the job done and use contractors where they are short of resources or expertise instead of hiring more. These people are already trained, that’s why they are in the job so the numbers of people who might need training is reduced.
I recently saw a report which said that Apple has 242,000 ‘jobs’ in the UK but only 6,500 of these are direct employees of Apple; everyone else is a ‘contractor’ of some sort.
- Thirdly money is more tightly controlled than it used to be, indeed many HR departments no longer control training budgets, the “Business” does. Today’s organisations are already lean, unless there is a clear compelling operational need for training, they don’t do it. A Selling Skills workshop or Leadership Training for direct employees may be on the agenda if it’s linked to enhanced performance routine training for line managers is less likely to get approval.
Clients are still there, but the environment has changed
So the clients haven’t gone anywhere and the needs are still there but the clients are different and they have different needs; thus the market is different. It seems to me that the ‘corporate’ market still exists and can be targeted in the ‘traditional’ way; making contact, getting to know the buyers keeping in touch. However, for the above reasons the growth market lies with individuals. Big is bad and small is beautiful; bottoms on seats are out.
How engage with contractors?
So the question is how to engage, for example, the 236,000 people who work with Apple in a way which they will see as beneficial and is economically attractive to the supplier. In terms of the services it could be things like personal coaching, distance learning, Webinars, and from an Action Learning perspective live ‘bus stop’ programmes where you can join a set with a personal development project and leave again when you have what you need. In terms of products it’s on line training, a learning centre with materials on things like interpersonal skills, Project management, Training for Trainers etc.
t seems to me that the process needs to start with the age old question ‘What do you need?’ This was easily answered when everyone worked for the organisation; we asked management, they told us, we made an offer and 1:4 times we did that we got some work. Now, we still need the answer to the question but how do we get it? How do we ask 236,000 people what development they feel they need is the $64,000 question?
How do we build the business in the internet age?
If one looks at the experience of the successful internet marketers it seems to me that they use what one might call a ‘shotgun’ approach. They fire off a lot offers and surveys, measure and categorise the responses, build mailing lists to create targeted customer bases and feed them with new buying opportunities linked to their needs. Clearly this is not a practical approach for someone who is running a small consultancy business in the “old” way. However, today it is necessary to have people following you because they are interested in what you have to say / do. The trick then is to turn your followers’ into clients. So the first step is to create a profile of people who might be interested in what you have to offer. The advice of the successful internet marketers is to start by building a following, but how? What is your experience? What has worked well for you and what should we avoid?
Answers on a post card please and don’t forget the stamp!