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Putting People First - Delivering the Standard

Sue Hutton talks to Ruth Spellman, chief executive, Investors in People UK

And Louise Bower, international development manager for IiP, about the progress the IiP Standard has made and how it can improve business performance and competitiveness, especially in Oman

Why was the IiP Standard introduced initially?
The Standard was developed during 1990 in the UK by the National Training Task Force in partnership with leading national business, personnel, professional and employee organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

What is IiP?
Investors in People is the national Standard which sets a level of good practice for improving an organisation's performance through its people. It is about results - not procedures. It is a practical tool for the continuous improvement of both the organisation and its people.

How did ISO 9000 come to be regarded as inadequate as the sole standard for effective quality management of an organisation?
I disagree with the statement regarding ISO 9000's effectiveness. It is important to remember that ISO 9000 is designed to link business effectiveness to business objectives and now also incorporates management and people responsibilities. This complements the work of the Investors in People Standard which is a framework for linking people development to business planning. In fact, many people hold both the Investors in People Standard and ISO 9000 and believe that both help make their organisations successful.

Is the IiP Standard a voluntary option in UK? Are there any bodies or organisations or sectors that compel members to adopt the standard?
Yes, the Investors in People Standard is entirely voluntary in the UK. Many organisations and trade bodies encourage their members to work towards the Standard as they realise the benefits it can bring. However, there are no sectors that make achieving the Standard compulsory. Despite that, we now have over 32,000 recognised organisations here in the UK.

Are there any companies at a disadvantage because they do not have the IiP Standard? How would having the IiP Standard confer advantage on a company bidding for a tender?
Many organisations tell us that being recognised as Investors in People has helped them generate new business because customers recognise that organisations that are recognised will provide quality customer service delivered by highly motivated employees.

One criticism of the IiP is that the follow-up procedures for evaluation of training produce a lot of paperwork and are time-consuming. As a consequence, some companies and organisations are thinking hard about whether to renew their IiP status. What are your views?

We are very proud of our retention rate, which currently stands at 90 per cent. As you can see, the massive majority of organisations that achieve the Standard find that its benefits more than compensate for the time and money involved in achieving it. However, we are always looking for ways to improve the Standard. Streamlining the assessment process to reduce the time and money involved is just one.
The Standard itself went through a review in 2000 and following that process, it is results-driven and not process-driven. This has helped to reduce the amount of paperwork involved in the Standard. Assessments are now based almost entirely on interviews rather than piles of documents.

Should IiP UK relinquish the international work and license it out to another party because its efforts are not tangential to its core business?
The international development of the Standard was not undertaken as a commercial activity in itself although, of course, we have tried to operate it in such a way as to make a contribution to Investors in People as a whole.
However, the international development has a wider agenda than just driving a profit. It is about increasing the value of the Standard to organisations by ensuring it is recognised as the international people management standard, enabling Investor in People organisations to signal their excellence to new markets, suppliers, clients etc. across national and international boundaries. It is also of considerable value to multinational organisations and enables them to implement the Standard across their operations rather than just in the UK.
Given all this, international development has to operate in such a way that maximises the impact of our activities without compromising the quality of the Standard. This is expensive, both for us and for our overseas partners.
In relation to the comment about it being tangential to the core business, a report recognised the importance of the international work, but concluded that this was not a suitable activity for Investors in People UK as a Non-Departmental Government Body (NDGB). It did not question the validity or desirability of this work but instead recommended that it be contracted out to a third-party organisation, able to commit more resources to it and better geared towards running a growing, commercial activity. However, Investors in People UK will still be responsible for overall international strategic management and quality assurance. All international licence agreements will still be signed by Investors in People UK as the organisation responsible for the intellectual property associated with the Standard.

How would this affect the work of IiP in Oman?
It shouldn't have anything other than a positive impact. The project in Oman is already fairly well established and we are supporting our key contact out there in encouraging the Omani government to develop a long-term project under licence to Investors in People UK. Any agreements in Oman, or elsewhere, will be honoured by the incoming international contract management organisation. If anything, there will be improved service and support available for overseas partners. I fully expect the project in Oman to go from strength to strength.

Would it be likely that an IiP office would be established in Muscat?
Yes, it is likely that an office would be established in Muscat.

Many companies in Oman have been going through ISO accreditation, and are sceptical about applying for IiP because it appears to be a repetitive exercise. How does the IiP Standard enhance an Omani company's ability to conduct its business more effectively?
Whilst Investors in People has some similarities with ISO, it is focused on different areas within the organisation. Whereas ISO is concerned with processes, Investors in People is concerned with outcomes. As such, it focuses on improving the performance of people in the organisation in order to improve the performance of the organisation as a whole. So whilst it is about people development, in effect it is a total business development tool. A significant number of organisations in Oman have already seen the benefits of working with Investors in People, as have over 32,000 organisations worldwide.

There is a huge push for much needed Omanisation of jobs in the Sultanate. If expatriates and Omanis were not treated equally in an organisation, would this disqualify a company from reaching IiP status?
Regarding training and development, Investors in People ensures that everyone within an organisation has the same equality of opportunity to access training and development. However, it is not intended to override or undermine the employment legislation within an individual country and the Standard has to be interpreted in relation to the specific local circumstances. As a number of organisations in Oman have already been successfully recognised as Investors in People, this is not an insurmountable issue in Oman. We are dealing with similar circumstances in other Middle Eastern countries and, in particular, South Africa. This is one of the main reasons for developing a local infrastructure that can take account of such local legislation.


Interview with Louise Bower, International Development Manager, Iip UK

IiP Offices, Chandos Street, London, 2nd June 2003

Since this interview was undertaken, the contract for managing the international licencing of the IiP standard to Exemplas was revoked by IiP. An eleven-year licence was granted to the International Quality Centre to undertake the award of the IiP standard internationally in 2004. Read the updated news article.

Sue Hutton. Please explain your relationship with Exemplas.

Louise Bower What we are currently in the process of doing is contracting out the international development of IiP following the PriceWaterhouseCoopers recommendations.

Hopefully Exemplas will become the new international agent for IiP UK. The arrangement should be formalized and announced today; it isn’t public yet but should be by the time the Oman Economic Review article appears.

I have been been working with Exemplas for the last year as a short term measure from the time that IiP UK knew that the work would be contracted out. Hopefully, that short-term measure will become permanent.

Sue Hutton. Did Exemplas have a relationship with IiP before that?

Louise Bower Yes, in 2 key ways.

They are a private, not-for-profit company that has the contract to deliver Business Link in Hertfordshire; a large part of that contract is to deliver IiP in Hertfordshire

They also have an international trading arm and they export all the expertise in their company of which IiP is a strong part.

I was already working with them a lot on IiP, so we started to develop a relationship. Following the changes that were taking place in IiP UK, we decided to formalize the relationship.

Sue Hutton. Will Exemplas be the sole international agent for IiP UK?

Louise Bower Exemplas will have a contract with IiP UK to do the international development, but that doesn’t mean that IiP UK will have nothing more to do with it. In terms of finding new partners, the building of capability, the agreeing of licences, maintaining a network, facilitating best practice – all that will be done by Exemplas. So IiP Netherlands, for example, will have a relationship with IiP UK and with Exemplas as well.

Sue Hutton. Is Exemplas a Human Resources Development company?

Louise Bower No. They call themselves a business services organization and work in several different fields

As I mentioned, they have the Business Link contract in Hertfordshire but as Exemplas they deliver services across the UK.

Sue Hutton. What services do they offer?

Louise Bower Business start-ups, e-commerce, a management training centre, supporting organizations wanting to go into export. They have a very specialized business in the film industry, and are also developing an organic essential oils business, which is really taking off. IiP is part of this range of services.

Sue Hutton. Does Exemplas offer training?

Louise Bower They offer training in different areas, some of which is through Business Link, and some through other channels. They are also now an approved IiP training provider. IiP has recently expanded the number of IiP training providers.

Sue Hutton. Does Exemplas do assessment and training?

Louise Bower They can’t offer IiP assessment because that can only be done through a Quality centre, but they do have a number of people who are registered IiP assessors with TAN, the Quality Centre in eastern England.

Sue Hutton. How does IiP relate to other Quality programmes such as ISO:9000?

Louise Bower TAN is specifically aimed at IiP assessment. It isn’t related to any other Quality programme.

There is no formal relationship between IiP and other Quality programmes, although clearly there is much that is complementary; certainly a lot of consultants who deliver IiP advice and assessment either within the Business Link framework or outside it may also be assessors in ISO and the Excellence Model

IiP has done some work with British Standards Institution (BSi) and with the Excellence Model, looking at how these programmes do complement each other, but has done nothing formal to integrate them.

Sue Hutton. I can see how companies in Oman might think that the introduction of IiP alongside other programmes such as ISO could be just another Quality programme. Do you think that IiP could be integrated with other Quality initiatives?

Louise Bower There are a number of ways of looking at it. Some companies find that doing IiP helps them with doing ISO, because obviously, if you get the people right, the rest of it comes fairly naturally. But other people find that doing ISO is easier than doing IiP so it all depends on the company.

Certainly from the international point of view we need to look at this because ISO is strong in a lot of places.

Sue Hutton. The IiP could be used as a framework by training and HRD companies to market their services into other companies. What is your reaction to this?

Louise Bower These companies could certainly, and clearly will do that. But the important thing is that a company doesn’t need specialist expertise to undertake the IiP standard.

Sue Hutton. You have training providers in Exemplas, but Exemplas is not an IiP assessor. However, the Exemplas website claims that Exemplas delivers IiP. What does that mean?

Louise Bower As the Business Link contractor in Hertfordshire, Exemplas delivers IiP as part of its Business Link services to meet government targets laid down in that contract. They do this in a number of ways.

A company can go to Exemplas/Business Link in Hertfordshire either with the express intention of doing IiP, and there will be the expertise within Exemplas to help them do this, or, what happens more frequently, the Business Link advisors will develop a relationship with local businesses over a period of time in all sorts of areas.

The business might come originally for advice on start-up or developing e-commerce, and Business Link will then lead them towards IiP in that way. So when we say that Exemplas delivers IiP, they have the expertise and are one of the IiP delivery partners across the UK.

Sue Hutton. The cross-linking seems quite complicated.

Louise Bower It sounds quite complicated when you try to explain it, but it isn’t complicated for the business. When a company goes to Business Link Hertfordshire, they meet a business support advisor who brings together all the different strands, which help the business to grow. The process seems like a seamless whole to the company.

Sue Hutton. A recent newsflash from Exemplas said that they were in discussions with a potential partner in Oman. Who is that potential partner likely to be?

Louise Bower It’s likely to be a government department or agency in Oman. There are two or three different avenues.

British Council has spearheaded the IiP initiative in Oman and been largely responsible for getting it up and running, but the IiP partner will be Omani who is able to deliver IiP in a way that suits the Omani market place.

The feedback we’ve had from Oman and Dubai is that the companies that have become Investors in People there, of which there are still only a handful, really are quite exemplary.

Sue Hutton. The other side of the coin is about the concerns of smaller companies in Oman. Here in UK, I have noticed that IiP UK has launched a website to address the needs of smaller companies. Has there been any measurable success rate to define the rate of take-up of IiP in smaller UK companies?

Louise Bower It’s probably too early to assess. There have been several initiatives in recent years to increase the number of small businesses working with IiP. Concentrating some of our effort on that area has helped, for several reasons.

The first real effort was a scheme called Build a Better Business, which was IiP branded in a different way. It was delivered primarily through Business Link who would engage with small business through other activities like developing finance, for example. By the end of the process of this journey of overall support, the small business found that it had become an Investor in People.

If the business advisors had said to these small companies at the beginning, ‘Why don’t you go for the IiP standard?’ they would probably have replied, ‘Oh that’s for BT or Sainsbury’s, not for me!’

Make the Bottom Line, the new initiative, is in a similar vein. We’re very lucky that the government has put £30 million specifically into supporting small businesses, which is a massive injection. But small businesses have been supported through Business Link for several years, which has meant that they haven’t had to pay, or paid only a nominal sum for specific advice on IiP, whereas the Sainsbury’s of this world have to pay the full amount. So there has been a subsidized system of business support for quite some time.

Sue Hutton. What kind of subsidy would this be?

Louise Bower It would be delivered through Business Link. Small companies coming to Business Link would embark on their journey towards IiP through examining their various business activities, and would find that anything from 50% to 100% of their costs would be met, through all sorts of subsidies, or European funding that Business Link had available to deliver.

Sue Hutton. Why was IiP started in the first place?

Louise Bower During the 1980s, the Conservative government recognized that UK was falling behind in terms of changes of the marketplace in IT, and that manufacturing was moving out of UK. They identified a lack of skills in the workplace. There was a lack of matching skills between those required in the workplace and the skills which workers had.

The government asked the National Training Task Force to ask how employers could be encouraged to invest in the skills of their employees.

Members of the task force included large and small businesses, human resources professionals, trade unions, government etc. It identified best practice in some of the top UK companies. That best practice became IiP.

The enterprise started small, situated in the Department of Employment and began to take off after 2-3 years when Investors in People was created. It has gone from strength to strength from there.

In 1997, the Labour Government endorsed the programme and that has secured its future.

Sue Hutton. You say that IiP started off small in a government department in UK. How might this translate to the situation in Oman? Who would the potential agency be and would they have the freedom to develop the IiP Standard?

Louise Bower The crucial thing is that the IiP Standard has to stay the same. The agency would have to be committed to that. They would be able to develop their own supporting materials, so in terms of how they explain or promote or deliver or charge for delivery of the Standard, they would be able to do that in their own way. Exemplas acting on behalf of IiP UK would have an ongoing quality management relationship with the agency to ensure that the Standard was maintained.

Sue Hutton. When an assessor goes into a company, obviously they hold discussions with management, but do they interview each member of staff?

Louise Bower They won’t interview every employee, but before they begin the assessment, they will get an overview from the HR director, probably, about the nature of the business, the different business units, the number of employees, where employees are sited, what employees do, and the length of service of employees. The assessor will then identify a representative sample. They will make sure that that the sample includes representatives right from floor-sweepers right up to the chief executive.

Sue Hutton. What will the assessors give back from this exercise?

Louise Bower They would write their assessment report in a way that meets the specific needs and requirements of the company. The assessor will ask ‘Where do you think your strengths and weaknesses lie?’ ‘What do you want to get out of this assessment?’ The company will hopefully get positive recommendations and a copy of the assessor’s report. Even if the company is successful in meeting the IiP Standard, it will still get a report highlighting the strengths and weaknesses that the assessor has identified. If the company is not successful, the report will explain why and identify the areas that the company needs to work on.

The report will go to management, not individuals, so it is up to the management to ensure that recommendations are acted on. If an organization is not successful on first assessment, the assessor will concentrate on the weaker areas during a subsequent assessment.

The assessor would ask staff questions such as, ‘Has this factor changed?’ ‘Why has it changed?’ ‘Has the change made working practices better?’ and so on. Management does have a duty of communication.

Sue Hutton. Specific concerns expressed from Oman:

1 Meeting the IiP Standard is expensive

Louise Bower Yes….. At the moment it is more expensive than it needs to be because it is delivered from UK. The whole idea of setting up a national partnership is that it will, aside from the language and cultural issues, then become cheaper to deliver than to keep bringing people out from UK. Unfortunately, the only way to get those people trained and developed in Oman is to bring the expertise out from UK in the first place. So it will become cheaper.

In those countries where IiP is delivered locally, costs are different. They will be different in the Czech Republic for example, than from UK. Costs will also depend on the availability of training resources. Locally available training will bring costs down.

From our point of view, once we get through the pilot stage, and they’re developing their own support, assessment and advice, it’s for them to charge what the market will bear. What we will do as the organization for international quality management of the IiP Standard, is to make sure that small businesses aren’t being priced out of the market. Now clearly, other countries aren’t likely to have the same kind of subsidy system that we have in UK to enable small businesses to do IiP, but we will be working with the local partner to look at a pricing structure that will, for example, charge more than the going rate for large companies so that they can charge less than the going rate for small companies. It’s not, from Day 1, going to be something that everyone can afford to do, but that was also the case in the UK at the beginning.

The really important thing for companies to know is that the only thing that they have to pay for is the assessment. They can prepare for assessment within the company without necessarily bringing in specialist expertise. Even paying for just the assessment will be difficult for some businesses of course. But a small organization employing, say, 30 people, will probably have to pay only one-and-a-half days’ consultancy rate. They don’t have to get someone in for ten days a year to support them. They can do that themselves. We’re trying to develop the tools to help small businesses do it themselves.

Sue Hutton.

2 It’s time-consuming

Louise Bower It can be. The important thing is that IiP is flexible enough that it doesn’t mean that a company has to change the way it is doing its business. It’s designed for organizations to fit their own way of doing business in such a way that they can achieve the outcomes that IiP defines as what they need to achieve. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming in the sense of developing new processes, but it will depend on the organization. For a big organization, it might take up a lot of time and resources. In a small company it may not. It depends where they’re starting from. If they’re starting from a point where they’re nearly achieving all of the IiP Standard already, it’s not going to be massively resource-intensive.

Sue Hutton

3 Is there a lot of paperwork involved?

Louise Bower There doesn’t have to be. It fits around what the company does already. If the company generates a lot of paperwork and the way they communicate is through paper, then that’s what they do, but if they’re a ‘paperless office’ there’s no need to start creating a lot of paperwork.

Sue Hutton.

4 It may be made mandatory. It’s not mandatory in the UK, is it?

Louise Bower No, it’s not mandatory in the UK, except that the British government has said that all central government departments should be Investors in People. That’s the government telling its own offices what they want. I don’t know of anywhere other than the UK government where IiP is mandatory. If the government of Oman decides to make it mandatory, that is their choice, but we certainly wouldn’t put that condition on it.

Sue Hutton

5 In Oman, where there is a mix of Omanis and expatriates in the work force and where there is a huge push towards Omanization, there is no training budget for expatriates. How does this fit in with implementing IiP?

Louise Bower What IiP is NOT designed to do is to come into conflict with employment legislation. One of the reasons that we start pilot schemes in places like Oman is to explore how those kinds of policies fit in with IiP. We had a similar issue in South Africa, where IiP is about equality of opportunity, so there were issues about black people being given opportunities that they wouldn’t have had before, even if they were not, perhaps, the strongest candidates. We had to look at ways to implement IiP that didn’t cut across that, so if national legislation in Oman says that there isn’t any training budget available for training and developing expatriates, we would have to look at ways to ensure that IiP wouldn’t come into conflict with that.

It’s about what’s best for the business, so if you have an expatriate in position, you want them to be motivated. Maybe the priorities are different, but you still don’t want that person sitting there, not achieving their best.

Sue Hutton

6 IiP claims that having the IiP award confers recognition. Most small companies in Oman don’t operate at the global level and possibly not even at the regional level in the Middle East. If the IiP Standard isn’t widespread, then the incentive of achieving recognition might not be there. What would you like to say about recognition of IiP, specifically within the Gulf states?

Louise Bower One of the attractions of IiP is that you get a plaque on the wall and can claim to be an Investor in People. That incentive will be stronger for companies in UK or companies working with UK companies than it would be for international companies. However, that’s not the point of IiP. The point is that IiP helps you improve your business, so the message should NOT be, ‘You need to do IiP because other companies won’t want to work with you if you haven’t got it’. The message SHOULD be ‘You need to invest in people because it’s best for your business’.

The majority of recognition of IiP now, is in UK but that will become progressively less. I have been working for IiP for two years now and I can honestly say that global awareness of IiP is at least 100% more than it was two years ago.

Sue Hutton The newsflash you had about the recent Exemplas IDC meeting in Oman brought in training practitioners from Pakistan. Are they going back to Pakistan?

Louise Bower Yes, they are going back to Pakistan. We want to develop a project in Pakistan but advice was that we really shouldn’t be going to Pakistan just at this stage. So they were invited to Oman.

Sue Hutton Can you tell me anything about the diagnostic review for the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, or is that confidential?

Louise Bower I don’t know the outcome of it. It’s confidential in the sense that it’s the property of the company, so it would be for them to decide whether they wanted to release details.

Sue Hutton What about IiP in other areas of the Middle East?

Louise Bower We have just signed a pilot agreement with Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (12th May 2003). We have also had a reasonable amount of activity in Dubai, so we may try to link that in with the Abu Dhabi contract. There’s about 6 or 7 companies in Dubai that have been recognized now.

We also, through IDC Exemplas, have some contacts in Bahrain that are interested in IiP. There is interest in other areas. It depends on who your partner is and what their available funds are.

Sue Hutton How many organizations in how many countries are recognized as holders of the IiP Standard?

Louise Bower The overall total of organizations holding IiP status is now just over 34,000 including UK. Most of those will be in the UK. I can’t tell you exactly how many of those organizations will be outside UK, but I reckon it’s close to 1,000. We’ve currently got some level of activity in about 30 countries, which varies from fully operational projects, such as in The Netherlands, whereas in Poland, we just have a couple of client organizations. Most are in Europe and the Middle East, but there are also projects in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. We’re looking at starting a project in Canada, but haven’t had the resources yet to tackle the USA.

Sue Hutton Are there any areas, such as tendering for government contracts, which would put companies at a disadvantage because they did not hold IiP?

Louise Bower Not as such, but there are examples in the UK where holding IiP could put a company in good stead. It would be up to the individual government. If the government of Oman decided that it was only going to award contacts to companies holding IiP, that would be entirely up to them. There is potential for that to happen. There will be organizations that would encourage their supplier chain to work with IiP UK. IiP UK wouldn’t work with a company that didn’t have IiP, unless there were no other companies in that sector that held IiP.

Published in Oman Economic Review, July 2003