Training And Development And Organisational Strategy At Marks And Spencer


The training and development policies to be examined will be those of Marks and Spencer (M&S). This is one of UK’S most successful retail companies with over 60, 000 employees under its wing and numerous stores found in the region. Training and development forms part of its organisational strategy mostly because the company has been characterised by numerous expansion both without and within the region. Consequently, there is a need to merge organisational skills, knowledge and culture with the new challenges and demands. Marks and Spencer needs to use training and development largely because it is operating in a highly competitive retail sector. Consequently, there is a need to ensure that the company remains ahead of the competition. Management realised that there is no better way to achieve this rather than through the use of training and development. (Paisley, 1999)

Policies at M&S will be measured against the backdrop of ‘best practise’ models. The model is based upon the belief that when organisations adopt certain human resource strategies, they are able to make their employees highly motivated. As a result, those employees will become more efficient and they will help in the realisation of competitive advantage within the organisation. Best practice applies to various sectors that include retention of employees, performance improvement, enhancing and promoting training and development, enhancing corporate culture, enforcing organisational structure and also in the determination of pay costs. However, for purposes of this report, we shall mainly focus on training and development.

Methods of data collection

The Research primarily focuses on the use of secondary sources of data. This is because secondary sat gives an overall picture of the situation at Marks and Spencer. It allows one to obtain all the relevant information to the research question and compile them to come up with new answers. If primary sources like interviews had been used, it would have been difficult to see the overall picture as results are mostly person centred. (Schutt, 2006)

Secondary data allows comparisons between different elements of the research that would otherwise have been too complex to collect using primary sources. Consequently, there are very accurate results that come out of the usage of such a source of data. (Banta, 2007)

However, one must not under look the disadvantages of this method of data collection. First of all, it does not allow the progression from developing a research question, collecting data and formulating a hypothesis for the question.  Beside this, one may use sources that are not quite reliable. (O’Sullivan & Rassel, 2001)This was minimised by sticking to verified sources like academic journals and newspapers. Secondary sources may sometimes be biased when the original source had certain intentions. For example, there may be certain organisations that exaggerate their market shares. However, in the research, this bias was minimised through the use of sources written by persons other than M& employees or stakeholders. (Mochmann, 2007)

Evaluation of training and development policies within Marks and Spencer

Business strategy within M&S

Marks and Spencer leaders believe that training is quite an instrumental part of their business. This is because training equips members of the organisation with the right knowledge, skills and business competencies needed by the retail company. These leaders go on to add that most employees become more efficient after completing their training programs. Subsequently, such employees are motivated to work well. They also believe that training helps most of the staff members in their decision making abilities. (The times 100, 2006)

Development within the organisation is instrumental in the achievement of competitive advantage. This is because development gives employees the ability to achieve one or all of the following aspects;

-employee’s needs

-employee’s ambitions

-employee’s career aspirations

One can therefore conclude that training helps the organisation while development is instrumental to the employee. However, some of these benefits are eventually interchanged by either party. (Paisley, 1999)

But before one can analyse the training and development policies and their effectiveness, it is necessary to know what Marks and Spencer’s business strategy is. There are three aspects that stand out in their business strategy. The first is increasing value for money. Marks and Spencer wants to ensure that they deliver goods and services that will add value with reference to the customer. Training and development will greatly contribute towards the achievement of this aspect of their business strategy by improving business skills. Details about the achievement of this objective shall be examined subsequently. (IPC, 2001)

The second aspect of M&S business strategy is making investments in different elements of the business. Marks and Spencer believes that the business can be successful after managing all smaller sections effectively. The stock keeping section is quite instrumental in efficient running of the business. The sales team makes sure that all is well in the outflow section of the retail company. The company believes that if these sectors improve their overall output, then the benefits will trickle down to the rest of the business. Training and development is quite instrumental in this area because employees within those various parts of the business can be seen as a part of the investment. Training will provide the necessary technical skills to achieve this objective. (The times 100, 2006)

Lastly, the Company aims at providing better customer service. They believe that when customers feel welcome within the company, then they will be encouraged to come back and purchase other items. It should also be noted that this part of their business strategy cannot be achieved when staff members do not have the necessary tools to provide good customer care. Training and development teaches employees the communication skills needed to provide good customer care. Consequently, there will be better returns from the consumers. (Paisley, 1999)

All in all, Marks and Spencer believe that training and development is helpful in all aspects of the business. They look at it as an investment. Besides this, they assert that it allows the employees the ability to fit ion well with the organisational strategies since each person is equipped with the necessary technical skills to go about their day to day business. In line with this, training and development helps in the achievement of succession management. The latter term means preparing employees for future roles especially in the event that they get promotions or move from position to position. (IPC, 2001)

Merging training and development with organisational structure

Marks and Spencer previously had an elaborate organisational structure. Most of the time, issues had to pass through a number of authoritative figures. Consequently, decision making was quite slow and very little could be done at any one time. The Company decided to conduct a de-layering process. Here most of the layers within the organisation were eliminated; as a result, the company now has a leaner structure. This implies that there are numerous people who now have new and more responsibilities.

Pfeffer (1998) is one of the most recognised authors on the best practise model. He believes that there is a direct link between type of organisational structure adopted by particular companies and the level of effectiveness the company achieves. He believes that there should be fewer layers and organisations should move towards peer based systems. In this system, there are fewer hierarchies and decision making is also decentralised. Pfeffer (1994) believes that organisations in which more teamwork is involved usually perform better and are able to maintain competitive advantage.

The new organisational structure meant that most employees had to account for the decision made. Besides this, it is also necessary to make those decisions quickly since there is a lot that one single employee was expected to do. Training and development was therefore necessary to ensure that these employees can fit into the new organisational structure. It should be noted that most of the roles taken up within M&S are specialised. Therefore, employees need to be empowered by teaching them new skills in their new area or career. Some of the new roles and duties that employees have to do include;

  • marketing duties
  • purchasing stock
  • accounting duties
  • management of stock

All these duties must have supervisors. Actually most of the employees taken up by Marks and Spencer in their training and development programs are usually those ones who will take up managerial posts. Shown below is an illustration of the changes that were conducted within the organisation. These new changes needed more responsibilities thus more training and development.

Source; The times 100 (2006): Marks and Spencer: Benefits of training and development; The Times Newspaper, MBA Publishing

Because of the changes in organisational structure, there was a need for the previous managers to make arrangements for their replacements. This meant that there had to be a selection of the best qualified individuals for the positions available. But this is something that cannot just occur of there was no form of training provided by the company to keep employees ready for future changes and challenges.

Best practice advocates such as Morgan (2001) believe that for training and development to have relevance to an organisation, employees must be allowed to practise skills acquired from that training. He believes that training empowers employees to have autonomy in their work areas and to ensure that they are effective within their specific positions. Consequently, this best practise principle has gained popularity within Marks and Spencer because the firm allows its employees to practise skills acquired from training.

Merging training and development with competencies

Marks and Spencer understands that there are certain needs that are unique to various individuals. They identify these needs and give those specific individuals training that suite their lifestyles most. This is the reason why most managers in the retail chain undergo different durations depending on their levels. Here is how M&S achieves this (The times 100, 2006)

Type of level

Period of training

Trainee managers from A-level

24 months

Graduates that are fresh from university and have no retail experience

12 months

Experienced managers taking up positions for the first time in M&S

Maximum of 3 months

The Company realises that it is important to give new employees proper orientation into the Company regardless of the type of background they had. Best practice advocates believe that provision of good orientation processes has a symbolic aspect to it. Pfeffer (1994) adds that employees will feel valued when entering into such a firm where there seems to be concern for all staff members. They will realise that the organisation is an elite one and that is has high expectations for its employees. This will go a long way in ensuring that most of these employees are motivated o work since they realise that they must perform.

Identification of training and development needs

Normally the company needs to determine where there are training needs. It therefore conducts competency profiling. This implies that the Company identifies where the business competency gaps lie and then meets those needs by taking employees through training. The Company realises that different posts require different technical skills. Employees need to be familiar with business skills like sales management, team management and financial management. On the other hand they also need to have good communication skills, influential techniques, decision making abilities and business leadership techniques. All the latter mentioned needs are covered under the business competencies section of their training programs.

According to best practise theories such as the equity and expectancy theory, there should be a relation between what firms give and what employees put into the organisation. Adams (1965) claims that there should be equity within the organisation in terms of recognising their efforts. Employees should give different rewards for different levels of input. In this case, when employees have gone out of their way to acquire necessary skills and business competencies needed for the job, then there should be no need to engage in training again. However, if employees have put minimum efforts into acquisition of skills, then they should undergo thorough training. This principle has been adhered to by M&S.

Here is an example of how competency profiles are conducted by the company. If an employee called Grace has made her way into the organisation trying to look for a position within the company. It happens that Grace has some experience in the retail sector. She has work in an equally busy store and has a number of skills. First of all, Marks and Spencer will put forward the technical skills needed to become a commercial manager in Marks and Spencer. These include team managerial systems, financial management techniques, stock management methods, service management tools, general merchandise handling and sale management capabilities. But if it happens that the applicant has minimal capabilities in all the above skills except financial management, then she would have to do training in those lacking sections. (IPC, 2001)

Similarly, the company puts out all the techniques needed under business competencies. These usually include; change and innovation, commercial acumen, setting direction, decision making abilities, people management, communication and managing ambiguity. If it happens that Grace is not proficient in a few of the aspects, then she will have to take part in training in those specific areas.

Training follow-up

The Company normally conducts certain performance reviews in order to ascertain that the training they conducted was effective. This is normally done after a period of six months. Line managers are the ones given this responsibility. They normally talk about performance with the concerned employee. Normally, these performances are accumulated over the whole year and then compared to performance standards for the department. The Company justifies this action by claiming that performance reviews reveal gaps in the organisation’s departments and they will have room for improvement.

Later on, the Company gives employees the chance to discuss career ambitions. Line mangers normally conduct these discussions with the aim of forging career objectives for the next year based on performance of the previous year. M&S claim that this helps them in the maintenance of a motivated workforce. Managers within the company are suppose to create a career planning profile here they use results form performance reviews to come up with next targets. Staff members themselves are supposed to determine where training needs lie.

Best practice advocates such as Hertzberg (2001) believes that there should be certain factors within an organisation that lead to job satisfaction. He identifies one of them as giving employees room for growth and advancement within the organisation. This part has been covered very well by M&S since the discussions employees hold with line managers serve as a platform for career growth. Kohn (1993) believes that employee should be given the incentive to participate in decisions that affect their lives in the organisation. Again, Marks and Spencer has followed this principle by encouraging employees to contribute to discussions about their career paths

Forms of training available at M&S

Marks and Spencer offer either on the job or of job training. In on the job training, employees are usually attached to a manger whose skills they would like to analyse. By doing this, employees can see for themselves what it takes to succeed within a certain position. Besides this, on job training can also be done on a practical basis. Here, employees are given special training through participation in project teams. They are able to improve some of their business competencies and technical skills while doing those projects. Another aspect to on the job training within the retailer is the issue of performance coaching. Here, employees and line mangers come up with ways to improve a given employees performance against the backdrop of their performance reviews. They usually work on the weaknesses highlighted by the performance reviews and polish up on those areas. (Paisley, 1999)

Off the job training is done by employees outside the Company. Sometimes employees are able to use workbooks as a valuable resource in improvement of their skills. Also, they can utilise workshop resources available to them on a regular basis. Employees are also expected to get information from the M&S intranet that is relevant to there area of specialty. Consequently, their skills are improved.


In summary, we can say that Marks and Spencer uses performance reviews as the platform for determining training needs within the company. In those performance reviews, they use two parameters to highlight employees’ strengths and weaknesses. The first is an employee’s technical skills and the second; their business competencies. This is the basis against which employees will undergo training and consequently improve their capabilities. After training, reviews are done after six months and this forms the basis of career development for the employee. Normal, line managers discuss this with their staff members and together, they forge ideas for the employees’ career path. (The times 100, 2006)

All the above techniques used by Marks and Spencer are in line with best practise principles. First of best practice requires that there should be lean organisation structures within the company in order to encourage team work. This is exactly what the company has done; it has included this as part of its strategy. Decision making is not as centralised as it used to be before thus necessitating the need for training and development. Best practise advocates also believe that employees should feel valued within their organisation through certain job incentives. When employees are given room to grow and enhance in their career, they will be satisfied with their place of employment and will try their best to maintain good performance. Again, this is a principle that Marks and Spencer has adhered to. (Pfeffer, 1994)

Lastly, best practice advocates also believe that employees should be given the mandate to take part in decisions that affect their operations within the organisation. This is why M&S normally gives employees the chance to contribute to decisions regarding their place in the organisation. Their career paths are determined by the employees themselves under the supervision of the line managers.


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Source by Carolyn Smith

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