Learning to change

Biz-ability tailors human performance solutions for companies with otherwise no, or some, HR strategies in place

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By  Charlotte McDonald Published  July 12, 2001

Biz-ability's philosophy|~||~||~|It’s always wise to research a project before you jump in feet-first. And that’s the head start that new company, Biz-ability, has in the human resources market in the Middle East. As a recent breakaway from the more widely known ‘Attitudes’, Hazel Jackson and partners are using their broad spectrum of HR knowledge to jump into a new and exciting concept. Where companies are now, where they want to be and what the best solution is to get them there is not necessarily a new concept in the HR market. But where Biz-ability is aiming to be ‘unique’, is in the approach that it is taking in doing this and the fact it stays with organisations for the long haul.

The Biz-ability team consists solely of HR consultants who are striving to use innovative ways of helping other organisations. As the company’s philosophy goes, “Biz-ability is no more and no less than the talented people who choose to be a part of it.” Biz-ability doesn’t want anything less than experts in the field, and says it’s not only driven by internal needs, but through client needs as well.

“It’s very important to us,” says Jackson. “It was quite an opportunity using long-term experience gained in the market, to look at exactly how we wanted to structure Biz-ability from scratch using knowledge we had previously used on clients,” she says, adding that the partners were invited to look over the business plan. “We gave our clients the sort of partnership that we had previously, and still have, with them,” says Hazel Cowling, partner. “It was an open and honest approach — we value their opinion.”

The company looks specifically at ‘human performance’ through its own knowledge and via continual company assessment. As a preference to using this term rather than ‘human resources’, Jackson believes it’s the people’s actions that make an organisation work, and that includes anyone from office junior to management level.

“The idea is to accelerate business improvement through strategic human performance solutions,” says Jackson. “A lot of this market understands the words ‘human resources’ and perhaps pigeonholes it with the non-strategic part of the business,” she adds. But Biz-ability wants human performance solutions to be linked to the bottom line of an organisation and carried through until an organisation is confident enough to deliver on its own.

“Companies should be about profitability, productivity and improved performance, either when a company starts up or when a company is setting its goals for the year,” says Jackson. “One of the things about Biz-ability is saying that your employees are an investment. You would never put an investment into a bank and not expect to get a greater return and really that’s what you should be looking at in your organisation —the rate of learning needs to be equal to or greater than the rate of change,” she adds.
||**||Tailored solutions|~||~||~|
With companies being at a number of stages in their growth, Biz-ability has numerous different solutions for each. The truth is, there isn’t just one fixed solution for human performance within an organisation. Biz-ability tailors solutions for individual companies through extensive research on each individual company’s criteria.
With an extensive client base, Biz-ability has already managed to aid companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Philips and National Bank of Dubai. But perhaps its most impressive project to date is that of the HR overhaul of Jumeirah International.

In this case study, Biz-ability has installed an online e-learning tool that supports classroom learning and project learning. Employees get information about a course they are attending, so whatever the level of the employee, they can do the necessary reading and research work beforehand. This prepares employees to be on a similar level in the training room. This is followed by a 4 hour practical work shop involving very little theory and then work-based projects that ‘force’ employees to put the objectives learnt into practice. There is also a management development centre that everyone goes through. This involves a series of exercises followed by a one-hour individual feedback session.

“What we’re trying to do with Jumeirah International is to move away from the textbook by applying the ‘classroom’ setting of application and implementation,” says Cowling. “It’s a lot more hands-on and it’s about managers wanting to buy into it — not just getting a check list and ticking the yes or no boxes. We want everyone, at all levels, training in this way,” she adds.

The emphasis is on the change of behaviour afterwards, so Biz-ability has to tailor solutions to suit individual needs within an organisation. With the introduction of online technology and the ability to use the Internet to support the organisation’s learning, the responsibility for learning goes over to the employee. The employee is responsible for logging on to pick up any information.

“It’s an added value element — not a replacement to anything already there,” says Jackson. “We have things called ‘learning snacks’ which people can delve into in spare minutes of their day to remind them of skills i.e. ‘how to handle a conflict in a meeting’ and so on,” she explains.

Online training is a relatively new element of the educational mix and Biz-ability believes it removes the excuse of not being able to make it to training due to the time element. Busy organisations, in particular, now have the ability to go online and learn.

“Jumeirah Beach is an interesting case study because it is a forward thinking organisation that is able to follow the whole cycle,” says Jackson. ”It’s an exciting study to launch with by illustrating Jumeirah are ahead of the game with management training,” she adds.

The programme itself follows an ‘action learning’ method, a recognised approach to programmes run by institutions worldwide. In fact, it has done so well that Cambridge University has been in talks with Biz-ability to accredit the programme, although, currently, nothing has been set in stone.
||**||Porsche's continual assessment programme|~||~||~|
Another client Biz-ability works with is Porsche Middle East. Mark Bishop, managing director, Porsche Middle East FZE, explains how, for the last 18 months, Porsche and Biz-ability have been working together to carry out all the sales and after-sales service training, advisor training and management training for all the Porsche importers in the region.

“Effectively, we, as the manufacturer’s representative in the Middle East, have set up the training courses because we feel a huge need for it,” says Bishop. “The modules we do are ones we have created with Biz-ability — they’re not ‘off-the-shelf’ modules, they’re tailor made using training materials that are already available from our own head office in Germany,” he added.

Working with Biz-ability, Porsche has adapted the training to suit the local market. “The challenge is trying Western training techniques on local people – the language is always a barrier,” Bishop explains. “The majority of the staff we have are Arabic-speaking but most of our training is done in English because it is the business language,” he said.

Porsche is aware of how the business philosophy in the Middle East is different and feels that there has always been a slight reluctance to change. “But we are getting there and we are starting to see some improvements, there’s no doubt,” says Bishop. “We also use the training as a continual assessment programme and we give feedback to our partners. We just wanted to go back to the basics where we put proper training programmes in. Two years ago, there was no training here at all,” he added.

Bishop believes the work is slowly starting to pay off. The big issue he sees, though, is getting managers to understand what Porsche is doing. But through the new management training scheme, he hopes the programme will be able to educate employees at every level of the business.

As for market competition, Biz-ability has an open mind. “This is a great marketplace for everyone,” says Jackson. “We don’t mind working alongside other talented consultants — it’s only a saturated market over here in the number of companies,” she says. Biz-ability believes it’s healthy having other successful HR companies in the market. “As long as everyone is delivering good services to their clients, then that continues to give a good name to HR as a whole,” says Jackson.

And the partners truly believe that competition isn’t a struggle. “Our pricing is right,” says Cowling. “We’re value for money but not the cheapest. We have a business ethic that clients stay with and we deliver — we don’t go chasing after contracts just for the sake of it if we feel we can’t work to the best of an organisation’s needs,” she adds.

Biz-ability is currently operational and it’s looking likely that September or October 2001 will see the hard launch.||**||

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