Jonathan Owens talks to Robin Stirzaker-Philips from House of Fraser on the retailer’s success at last year’s TJ Awards.
Striking a balance between commercial realities and the needs of individuals seeking to achieve their potential is vital if training is to make a real impact, according to Robin Stirzaker-Philips, head of L&D at House of Fraser.
When it comes to defining success, he is well placed to comment, with House of Fraser not only being hailed L&D team of the year at the TJ Awards in December, but also winning the best leadership programme category.
The accolades are the result of several years of hard work and a new approach to the way in which House of Fraser does L&D. A board decision three years ago saw L&D taken out of its traditional HR home and placed under the retailer’s chief operating officer, Peter Gross.
The move signalled a major shift from a provider of learning interventions towards a much more business focussed approach.
It has paid dividends, according to Stirzaker-Philips: “From a learning and development perspective it’s been a great move for the business because it has meant that we’ve been much closer to the operation of the business and closer to what’s happening and being able to get decisions made quickly.”
Wins in the TJ Awards will enhance the credibility and standing of the team…
Developing close relationships with other key stakeholders has been important, not least in helping to “really understanding what’s happening in the business, for us to be able to provide a commercial L&D service to help the business drive results.”.
One of the reasons for entering their work into the TJ Awards was recognition, and Stirzaker-Philips says that winning two categories has been a measure of success in its own right, he said. “Personally, as the head of learning and development, to get the team award was a really proud moment for me.”
Winning the award for the best leadership development programme, for “something we developed completely in-house and delivered internally, that was also a special moment as well,”, he added. Wins in the TJ Awards will enhance the credibility and standing of the team which, in turn, will help with stakeholder engagement, according to Stirzaker-Philips.
A greater use of technology, such as video and digital content, in place of a traditional classroom approach, has seen his team expand from ten to 13 in the past few years. There has been a significant shift away from delivering workshops to train staff, towards providing via an online platform.
The result has seen the creation of the retailer’s ‘House of Learning’ portal – a password-protected website for staff. The move has saved the company time and money, with classroom training cut by 50% and a decline in physical workshops. There are now more than 500 pieces of ‘on demand’ content that people can access.
The new portal, launched to retail managers and store support centre employees around a year ago, and will be made available to all House of Fraser employees from March. One of the aspects of the new approach is a move towards training videos and elearning which can be distributed and accessed on an individual basis, in a bid to provide greater choice and flexibility.
“We have 62 locations across the UK so being able to give people access to learning at the point of need is where we can have the biggest impact going forward,” said says Stirzaker-Philips.
When it comes to what makes a successful team, having the right people with the right skills and mind-set is vital. “Everyone is very commercial, very customer focussed, with a real passion for the business,.” he says.
At House of Fraser, the L&D team has gone from being a function that delivers training to being “part of the business to help drive results.”.
Part of its success is “getting that balance between supporting individuals in the business who want to learn and develop to reach their potential whilst while at the same time making sure that everything we are doing is commercial, adding value and is helping the business progress and achieve its strategic aims.”, Stirzaker-Philips says.
He adds: “In the past our focus was more around individual development and we didn’t have that commercial edge as a team. and I think that’s probably the biggest shift we’ve made in the past three years.”
Having a team of people who are ‘ambassadors of learning’ and collaborate with stakeholders are is vital.
“Yes, of course businesses are interested in individual development but also it’s about showing where you can add value and where learning can really drive business results –- whether directly in sales or saving time through reducing classroom training so it impacts on productivity.” according to the L&D head.
Stirzaker-Philips goes on to cite one example where people now get product training via virtual classrooms, without having to leave their stores. “We’ve got examples where certain products and brands that we’ve talked about on the training have had sales uplift of up to 30% directly after the training.”
In terms of the leadership development programme, the team started from scratch just three years ago and now have has hundreds of delegates going onattending courses each year. The results have been impressive, with 97% of delegates still working at House of Fraser – and it is supported by staff at the very top of the organisation.
Stirzaker-Philips comments: “What people like about House of Fraser is that there’s a uniqueness about it, there’s a real entrepreneurial spirit about working in the organisation that I don’t think you get at some bigger retailers. We wanted to make sure that was represented in the leadership programme.