The Investors in People (IIP) award encourages companies to achieve a base level of people management performance that all organisations should be able to achieve.

It enables organisations to benchmark their employee training and development practices against the nationally recognised standard.

Recognition is based on assessment against a series of 12 indicators, which reflect the four main principles of the standard: commitment, planning, action and evaluation.

To gain recognition, the organisation must provide evidence in 33 fields, in the form of a documentary portfolio, which demonstrates that assessment criteria have been met.

Evaluation is then carried out by an external assessor, who must establish whether or not the standard has been reached. By June 2000, almost 20,000 companies had been recognised by IIP UK and a further 21,000 were committed to working towards the standard. This means IIP reaches approximately nine million employees – about 38% of the working population.

Through the implementation, assessment and recognition process all organisations have to go through in order to display the IIP badge, a degree of consistency is achieved across different organisations.

IIP tends to be an indicator of predictability, rather than neccessarily a marker of outstanding organisational performance. In addition, it emphasises the measurable, observable indicators of employee training and development and focuses attention on the demonstrable aspects of people management.

A potential problem of this approach is that it can obscure some of the softer aspects of people management in order to satisfy the requirement to provide evidence.

We interviewed 80 employees from a range of functional areas – finance, distribution, customer service, purchasing, sales and marketing, manufacturing and human resources.

At the beginning of the IIP process during the initial commitment stage, we found senior managers tended to be relatively instrumental in their decision to commit to working towards the standard, citing influences such as public relations or training funding.

Getting the badge
Middle managers, while describing the process of working towards the standard, were more inclined to state that the principles behind IIP were in place anyway.

Later, prior to assessment, they found themselves more concerned about getting the badge than they were at the start, aware they had been involved in a “hoop-jumping exercise”, which had become an issue of personal, as well as organisational recognition.

Some line managers found the paperwork associated with appraisal onerous and time-consuming and several managers who acted as initiative champions for IIP described how they had been required to “sell” the initiative to other managers in different departments of the organisation, sometimes encountering resistance.

But our research shows IIP provides personnel managers with an externally recognised body of knowledge and helps the organisation to distinguish its employment practices from those of non-recognised organisations. It can also be used to enhance the public image of the company.

Lower-level employees should be made aware of the commitment to their training and development through regular evaluation of needs and reviews in accordance with the company's aims and objectives.

According to our research, however, a significant difficulty can be encountered by organisations as they seek to manage employee expectations in relation to training and development.

Respondents claimed IIP could produce a “wish-list” mentality among employees who did not realise the standard could actually impose tighter boundaries on development spending by relating training more directly to business needs.

IIP is a standard to measure good training practice. But companies also need to develop the potential to use IIP as a cultural tool in order to develop the learning organisation.

  • Emma Bell is a lecturer at Warwick Business School.