Investors in People (IiP) was launched in 1991 by Conservative Minister Michael Howard with a quote that is less memorable and more takes three reads to understand, “Investors in People is a standard designed by business, which will be met by business, because it is in the interests of business”. Since 2010 it has been governed by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and according to data on the UKCES website 26% of the UK workforce are employed by organisations that have the standard.
My first brush with IiP was in 2002 when I joined a company that was is the throes of going for assessment for the first time. The biggest thing I noticed about the process at that time was the key resource you required was a well maintained photocopier. What I witnessed was not an assessment of the organisation, it’s leadership, management and people but more an assessment of the people processes and the organisation’s ability to execute them – more an investigation of policy and execution than of culture. At the end of the process we achieved the standard – a binary yeah or nay, and the organisation got a plaque and the Training Manager got a bottle of champagne. I remember reflecting at the time that is a lot of work to do for a plaque and the use of a logo that in my view didn’t have much value to anyone – especially our employees.
Somewhere in the mid 2000s IiP had a radical overhaul based on the feedback of those being assessed and the thinking generally in the firmament that the paper based approach and the binary system was not living up to Howard’s ‘lofty’ vision… The more robust and well articulated assessment model, a change in assessor approach and the ability to achieve core IiP or the shinier bronze, silver or gold.
Fast forward 10 years and I join another organisation which has been considering IiP assessment for some time and has worked with assessors and the governing bodies to understand where it is on the journey and lo and behold what appears in my objectives? Obtain IiP accreditation. My heart sank – firstly because I am usually the person most likely to bugger up the photocopier but secondly and most importantly I have a high developed in built streak to resent anything I need to deliver that I (somewhat arrogantly) don’t believe adds value. So I embarked on my quest to deliver the OD strategy I had set out and agreed and if I’m honest kept the need to obtain IiP at arms length – until my arm got chopped and there was no way to avoid it.
In May of this year we went through the assessment process and I was pleased to say achieved beyond the expectations I had spent many months setting. Reflecting on the process I am absolutely convinced it added value – maybe not transparently for every employee in the organisation but to their unseen benefit. The assessor spent 2 weeks with us, meeting people from top to bottom of the organisation in a combination of 1 to 1 meetings, focus groups and informal chats. He toured some our operations, came to staff recognition event and worked hard to truly understand the operation and more importantly the feel of our organisation. He gave me daily feedback and any issues that arose were discussed before being shared more widely.
Did I enjoy the process? Absolutely not – it was unnerving having someone ‘out there’ looking under the bonnet and I will happily I admit I spent the whole 2 weeks on tenterhooks about what would be found and what the outcome would be. Whilst I am pleased we achieved more than we set out to achieve on reflection I really feel I was wrong in keeping it at arms length. It was tremendously valuable in getting an external expert view on what we are doing, how we are doing it and understanding that view provided validation of our business strategy (and OD strategy) and it’s execution which I believe has been to my benefit.
At the end of it what did I get? A bucket load of insight, a well structured report (which has formed a distinct input into my future thinking), a sense of achievement and of course – a plaque! So if like me you experienced IiP in the Paper era I would recommend picking up the phone and talking to them at the very least you will be making a more informed judgement on whether it should be part of how you measure your effectiveness
P.S. No photocopier toner was injured in the process