Native new yorkerOn 1 Sep 2002 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article NatalieBeckerman has all the qualities we connect with a manager from the BigApple-she’s forthright,lively and very focussed. Now she’s based in Preston atThe People for Places Group. Stephanie Sparrow asked her to compare styles andtrends from across the pond and found out about her role as head of quality anddevelopment with the Lancashire-based social housing giantI didn’t take this job to sit down,” laughs Natalie Beckerman,referring to her busy 10 months as head of quality and people development atThe Places for People Group. This is a typical lively comment from the former member of the US hockeysquad, who rarely pauses for breath, let alone sitting down. Beckerman was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey, but after eightyears in the UK, finds herself based in the North West of England, where sheholds a multi-faceted role at The Places for People Group. The Places for People Group was formed two years ago from the North BritishHousing Group. It provides housing and regeneration solutions across the UK andhas assets in excess of £1.6bn. Its companies include Bristol Churches HousingAssociation, New Leaf supporting independence, a charitable arm which managescare and supported housing, and Emblem homes, which focuses on developing homesfor outright sale. The broad remit of this rapidly-expanding group is reflected in Beckerman’srole, which knits together customer service and employee development issues. “What this title means is that my job is about the tools and techniquesfor developing staff. The quality side is very much about the customerdelivery, the service quality issues and dealing both internally and externallywith customers and internal relationships,” she explains. “But I seethe two going completely hand-in-hand. Every time you do something with thecustomer externally, you have got to have the developed staff. It’s not easybut it’s quite a similar job title to anyone who’s trying to move both aspectsof an organisation together.” The job title was designed by the chief executive. “I buy into ittotally,” she says. And she is working hard at moving quality from aconceptual area into one of action and delivery. “I think people withinthe group already understand staff development but the quality side of it hasnever been exhibited and that needs to be developed because there was littleaction there before.” Beckerman was appointed in October 2001 to a role which is a new one for thegroup – her predecessor was charged with simply producing courses. “Thekey difference with this new job and why I feel so strongly about the way wework is to be completely in line with what the business is actually trying todo,” she says. “Everybody in my team who has responsibilities for the businesses andthe functional angle will hopefully get inside those and know them better thanthe businesses themselves. It’s not just about delivering training,” shesays. “It’s about delivering the right solutions for the business.” Her ambition is to get her team of seven, which has only been in post since July,”to be able to talk in the language of the business, so that when they aresitting in meetings, they understand how to speak; they understand the bigissues facing housing and they can talk the language”. As the group has expanded throughout the past two years, declared aims forleadership and people development have been written into the Group Strategy for2002/2003, again endorsing her role and integrating it with the business. It isup to Beckerman to ensure these come into fruition for the close on 2,000employees, who work in many diverse areas from management to maintenance, carework to customer contact centres. “I’m basically responsible for the groupas a whole in staff development and working with the companies, which is notalways easy because they want some autonomy,” she admits. However, thereis little time for elaborate deliberating on culture across such a broad group.”If I had started with a fresh sheet, that would be something that Iwould have tackled, but the needs of the group in terms of training, themandatory requirements, changing aspects of the group, and the real move to abusiness culture, has forced us to go into a development programme veryquickly,” she says. Competencies Beckerman has done some thorough ground work and designed and offered a coretraining programme for all staff. This is no mean feat considering the breadthof jobs available at Places for People, but she admits to thinking of the firsthandbook of core programmes which resulted ‘as a first stab’ and is far happierwith the work she has done on competencies and individual learning plans forevery staff member, in which the learning and development team will make surethat employees are meeting their learning requirements. “What we have for the very first time is individual learning plans –something we are managing as a team.” These are grown from appraisals.”From the appraisal, we’ll be working with those plans to service thebusinesses, the companies, the different [job] areas to come up with more targetedlearning solutions.” Beckerman is enforcing this strategy by asking her team to play a supportrole in working with the managers to meet staff development needs. This isfurther backed up by a leadership programme which she kicked off in February. Fromthe target of top 100 senior managers, 60 managers have been through it so far.”For the first time, what we are trying to do is to get managers tounderstand a little bit about themselves, and their own behaviour,” shesays. Beckerman has worked with focus groups to identify a number of values andkey leadership practices, such as integrity and respect which managers arebeing assessed upon. She worked as a facilitator on the project, run with aconsultancy called the Vector Group – “They deserve a plug,” laughsBeckerman. “They have helped us to lead it from our business objectives.They’ve been superb.” Two-day leadership centres have been followed-up with personal developmentplans, which Beckerman is seeing though with continuous development for each ofthe managers and tailored three-hour programmes called express courses,covering subjects such as effective support and challenge, and coaching skills.Feedback from the leadership centres is also contributing to a group profileof senior managers, including the top team – the group executive board andchief executive are going through the centres. Having got this far in 10months, Beckerman is determined to maintain the momentum. Group action plans tofollow-up feedback from the development centres are planned, as is a leadershipconference for April 2003. Vision Beckerman has to push through change but she has to do it quickly as thegroup is expanding rapidly. “The biggest thing here is that the businessis going 100 miles an hour – its growing fast. The chief executive is veryclear about his vision to grow and be the best, both in terms of [social]housing, and because the commercial side of the group is winning commercial andregeneration bids over major builders. So we’ve got to move and think like acommercial organisation, one which is a big difference for some of thestaff.” Working at this level requires thorough evaluation. “Because we workdirectly with the businesses, we can do one-to-one evaluation. We’ll be able tomeasure the individual learning plans – have they been achieved? Most of thisis direct evaluation. The other area in evaluation is to look at ouroperational performance targets in relation to the training and support thatthose managers have received.” Beckerman’s role sounds fairly unique, but then so is her background, whichpulls together expertise in sport and psychology. This must leave herwell-placed to contribute to the current coaching debate in UK training circles– particularly as she has just taken-up monthly meetings with a business coachfor herself. “I think coaching is key, although people require different things fromcoaching and I’m not just going to sit here and say everybody needs a coach. “I’ve just started working with one and for me its about having someonecompletely outside the business to come in and look at what I do. I have a hugeamount of work to do and I am incredibly achievement-orientated and I find thata business coach can help me get things into perspective.” Coaching will play its part in the leadership programme. “We’re lookingat both internal and external coaching and some cross-company mentoring. Wewill find people within the company that feel they would like to speak tosomebody from another company inside the group or completely externally, suchas the private sector. We’re waiting until the final development centre inSeptember to deliver that – we’ve got a group of people who are from theleadership programme have found it would help them,” she says. Beckermanis also keen to work internally to get other senior managers to help each otherand to implement mentoring. Beckerman is very good at visualising how she wants to move projects forwardand has a time chart for the positive outcomes of the leadership programme. Shealso has an informal deadline for her department. “By April 2003, we willhave proven our existence,” she says. “By then, I’d like to see theteam of people I have recruited making a difference to the group and see thatlearning and development as a function is integral to any movement of thisgroup and respected.” It sounds tough, so where can she seek comfort and inspiration? “Do I really want to be hated?” she laughs. “I just lovereading management books by Jack Welch.” Transatlantic talkAccording to Beckerman, the biggest difference between the USand UK’s attitudes to people development is in a hesitancy to get thingsmoving. “I really picked up on this at an international leadershipconference,” she says. “In the UK, you’ve got business cases thathave to be written and developed as opposed to just doing it. I think theAmerican approach is ‘just do it’, in other words, just deliver it, whereas inthe UK the approach is more along the lines of ‘just tell me if this is goingto work… do I need to change it’ – there’s almost a bit more scepticism.”She believes the UK is actually more training focussed than theUS, although the UK is less pioneering than it thinks in the leadership debate.”I think the question of leadership is much bigger than itis here in the UK. And if you do an MBA in the US, you will be developed as aleader, whereas leadership still hasn’t broken into many of the UK Mastersprogrammes,” she says – although ironically she undertook herinternational MBA in the UK.But the biggest difference is in approaches to team-work.”That is the real key one for me. In the ability to work closely as a teamto deliver corporate objectives, I think the US is ahead of the game. Somepeople might disagree but my personal experience tells me otherwise. My viewcould come from my personal experience of competing but I find that inbusinesses in the UK, the development of teamwork is something that is verybehind. I’m not referring to teambuilding, but teamwork, which is being heldback by the UK’s healthy cynicism.”CVNatalie Beckerman 2001 (October) Head of quality and development, The Places forPeople Group2001 (February) Relationship manager, ABN AMRO Bank NV 1998 Senior development manager1995 Regional development manager, Sport England1994 Regional development manager, Bristol City Council andEnglish Hockey1991 Academic adviser, Michigan State University1989 Research associate, Northwestern University, Illinois Related posts:No related photos.
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