At the top of my to do list when I came back to work in January after the Christmas break, was sharing the programme of events we had scheduled in through the Benefex University for 2017 with all Benefex employees.

The Benefex University was borne out of the Management Development Programme we had implemented in 2015 for all of our line managers. Feedback we received on the training we delivered through the programme was hugely positive, but we had one big problem. Targeting only our managers meant that we were only delivering a training programme to around 10% of the organisation.

A change of approach

Following discussions with senior stakeholders, we made the decision to change our tack. Instead of focusing on upskilling 10% of our organisation, we were going to deliver a programme which was accessible by 100% of our organisation.

Year 1 for us was all about setting up and piloting the University format. A series of training courses, focusing both on management and soft skills, were developed in house and offered to all employees. Despite our limited in house resource, we were still able to deliver an average of two training courses per month, with up to 15 employees attending each session. In addition to these face to face training courses, we offer a series of online courses via our e-learning platform lesson.ly.

Employee ownership

Towards the end of Year 1, we took a step back from the programme and sent out an online survey to all employees, whether they had elected to attend a Benefex University course in 2016 or not. We were open about the fact that in Year 1 the University had been made up of the courses that we as a management and an HR team felt would be of most benefit to our employees, but we also knew that if we wanted to become a true learning organisation then learning opportunities needed to be far more employee driven. To that end, we asked employees not only to tell us what they’d thought of the programme in 2016, but what they felt we should deliver which would add the most value to them and their teams in 2017.

For those employees who had elected not to attend in 2016 we asked why – removing blockers to attendance was something which was really important to us. We also asked these employees which courses would encourage them to attend in 2017 if these were delivered.

Employees from across the business came back with impressively detailed responses, which we were able to use as our foundation when it came to building our programme for Year 2 of the University. While we acknowledged at the time of sending the survey out that we were highly unlikely to be able to deliver everything that every employee is looking for, there was a high degree of crossover when it came to the topics of greatest interest. Consequently, we were able to prioritise and the programme we have rolled out delivers probably two thirds of what employees have asked for – not a bad achievement given we are only in Year 2 of delivery!

Having piloted the programme the previous year, we were now able to bring in support from other stakeholders from around the business to help deliver various training modules, along with external facilitators where appropriate. This has meant we have been able to expand our breadth of topics covered substantially. While we will continue to deliver the popular management and soft skills courses in 2017, we have also been able to add to these with a raft of technical training courses which employees from across the business, regardless of role, will be able to sign up for.

The snowball effect

What we have seen from the first year of running the programme is the snowball effect. Initially sign up was minimal and employees approached the courses with trepidation. Now we have a wealth of testimonials from employees who have taken one or more courses – 100% of employees who did attend training in 2016 rated it as either Good or Excellent – and feedback shared via word of mouth means that sign up rates have increased each time we have announced a new course date.

Proof that the University was really starting to become embedded in our culture came when we announced our programme for 2017. Within a week all courses running for the year (averaging 2 per month) were fully booked, and we were faced with the fantastic challenge of needing to find additional dates to run more sessions! This is a sure sign to me that our learning culture is beginning to really thrive.

What’s next?

There is more still to be done. The next key stage for me is to start to encourage employee ownership of not only deciding the content for the University, but also actively participating in the delivery of that content. We have started to broaden our base of training facilitators, but I believe we have many, many more individuals from right around the business whose colleagues would gain enormous benefit from receiving training from them on their specialist areas of knowledge. As part of this year’s programme we will be delivering some ‘Train the Trainer’ courses, designed to increase employee confidence when it comes to designing and delivering their own training courses in future years of the University.

If an organisation does not continuously learn it stagnates, it goes backwards, and it will ultimately die. Our strategic focus on the Benefex University as a critical framework to support our learning culture means that learning is becoming firmly embedded at the centre of everything we do. We are maximising our employees’ opportunities to learn and to develop, and are becoming stronger, faster and smarter as a business as a result.