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Leadership and the Tesco Academy

by Richard Ferguson

FoodBev.com – 10.11.2009

Tesco will spend £3m on senior management training through its Tesco Academy over the next 12 months. While some retailers have scaled back staff training, Tesco’s investment represents a 23% increase on training spend in 2008…

According to Tesco, the ramping up of the Tesco Academy initiative “will support its national and global growth ambitions, properly equipping the business’s future leaders”. Why is it so important to train through the recession and is Tesco making the right decision?

Building capability beats slashing costs if you have an eye for the medium-term and a bit of foresight in the organization. Given the challenging times organizations have faced over the last six to eight months, the response of so many has been to cut costs as quickly as possible.

First to go is usually marketing and advertising budgets, closely followed by training and development. Surely these are ‘good’ costs and should be considered as an investment in the organization? When is it more important than in a hyper-competitive and challenging time to be shouting loudly about who you are and how great you are, or ensuring that you have competitive advantage through people with the capability and passion to figure out the best way of winning and growing market share.

I’m inspired by the response of Tesco and applaud the great leadership, courage and foresight that has prompted the investment it’s making in its people. People are the only truly unique asset in most organizations; when the going gets tough, surely it pays to have the most capable people you can?

If you agree that it makes sense to invest in your people, the next question is identifying who the priority audiences are. Clearly, any investment will need to deliver business benefit and never more so than now. This is why thinking of development as an investment rather than a cost changes the way organizations think about the decisions, and puts more emphasis on the outcomes rather than the activity.

The current challenges require organizations to have clarity and confidence. For me, this means that development investment should be focused on the leadership cadre throughout the organization. Investing in key leadership skills and behaviours, and ensuring that the key leadership teams are interacting as effectively as they can has got to be the place to put an organization’s hard-won cash. Get the leadership team right and they will ultimately develop the people around them.