Although the benefits of Investors in People (IIP) are now starting to gain wider recognition within the insurance industry, the qualification process does make substantial demands on management time and resources – so why is it important ?

IIP is the national standard for good practice in staff development and training. It was developed in the early 1990s by the National Training Task Force, in partnership with organisations such as the CBI, TUC and Institute of Personal Development, and is facilitated by a nationwide network of Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) and Local Enterprise Councils (LECs).

According to the official literature, IIP provides "a national framework for improving business performance and competitiveness, through a planned approach to setting and communicating business objectives and developing people to meet those objectives".

The result is that what people can do and are motivated to do matches what the organisation needs them to do. The process is cyclical and should engender a culture of continuous improvement.

Now, if you asked the average UK broker what they look for in a premium finance provider, it's a fair bet that Investors in People accreditation might not be the first words to spring to their lips. When my company last canvassed brokers on the subject, a couple of years back, the suggestion that we might seek IIP at some stage in the future registered barely a flicker of interest. But then again, when we asked brokers what they thought would make third-party premium finance more attractive to use, by far and away the most common response (ahead of lower rates!) was better service and administration. And, if you think about it, a well trained and highly motivated staff is almost certainly the key to providing that same good service and administration. So IIP is highly relevant to meeting broker expectations.

What really swung it for us, was the realisation that if we didn't take IIP on board sooner rather than later we would end up as followers not as innovators. As IIP becomes more established in our industry, a number of larger, more forward-thinking brokers are qualifying (several members of our own broker club included). And if our broker partners were starting to care enough to make the effort themselves, we could see no excuse for hanging back. In any case, as we began the process we realised that we were already implementing many of the initiatives required for IIP qualification – so why not go the whole way and do it on a properly accredited basis?

At the beginning of last year we had just completed a project aimed at revamping our staff appraisal and goal setting system. It was done to ensure that everyone in the company had a well-defined set of personal goals which combined with the goals of all their colleagues to form a coherent set of business goals. With everyone pulling in the same direction, the company would be able to deliver superior service and efficiency, and logically therefore prosper. We also re-engineered our system of staff bonuses and rewards to ensure that every single employee had the opportunity to benefit financially from the company's success.

As part of this process, we instituted a new training and development plan, to ensure that every member of staff got the assistance they needed to do their jobs successfully, and to provide opportunities for the ambitious to progress.

One of the underlying objectives of all the work we had done up to that point was to lay secure foundations for a system of fixed service standards, which we introduced for brokers later in the year. With the decision to apply for IIP, taken in the early Spring last year, we had an opportunity to provide our staff with positive proof that we took all these previous initiatives seriously. In early summer TIFCO began the process that would lead to objective independent recognition and accreditation.

From our head office in Hitchin we contacted the local TEC, which provided assistance, advice and coaching to help us attain the necessary standards. It interviewed staff members at all levels to build a picture of TIFCO's staff training and development provisions company-wide. Its remit was surprisingly wide-ranging; and essentially what emerged was that, whilst we had already attained a good standard in many of the key areas, such as the communication of corporate goals, there were several less obvious areas in which there was still some room for improvement.

The two main areas in which we made changes resulting from the TEC's initial findings, were in instituting a detailed company-wide training log so that we could always see exactly what training was outstanding on any individual (and what impact completed training had) and improving our induction training procedures. We introduced a number of refinements during the autumn of last year, and we prepared a detailed manual on all staff training and development issues – as is required as part of the appraisal procedure.

An ongoing process
The TEC then came back just before Christmas to review progress, and concluded that we were ready. IIP inspectors spent a day at our offices in January interviewing randomly selected staff at all levels. On 18 February, we heard officially that we had been accorded IIP accreditation.

But IIP is an ongoing process. It's not simply a question of adding the logo to your letterhead then resting on your laurels. Retaining IIP status requires an ongoing pattern of development and improvement – and reassessment comes round again in 2001.

So for now, I am delighted for all our staff, and grateful for all the time and energy everyone has put into IIP qualification. But if we are to deliver the very high levels of service our broker partners have a right to expect, we have to see this not as an end in itself but as a platform for further development.

Going through the IIP process was worth all the time and effort involved. It was not so much for the award itself, but above all for the opportunity it gave us to review and develop our procedures across the board in a comprehensive and structured way, and to ensure that every relevant factor had been properly considered and acted upon.