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Opinion: A ‘debate’ about Investors in People

pp_default1 member Sue Harrison shares her experiences when researching Investors in People status as a business objective for her organisation.






I meet regularly with a group of HR managers as part of a network for our sector. I had put Investors in People (IiP) as an agenda item, with the intention of getting some helpful hints, feedback, opinion etc, because one of my directors had proposed it as a business objective – managed by the HR team. What I didn't realise was that my research would well and truly open the floodgates.

Of the six people around the table that day, only one of them had found the IiP experience worthwhile; and he maintains that this was mostly due to the fact that he had total control of the process, including choice of consultant. It had taken around 16 months from start to finish, but he did say that he probably wouldn't recommend it.


"Of the six people around the table that day, only one of them had found the IiP experience worthwhile."

Mandy had the best story – she always does. Since she joined her present employers, she has regaled us with tales of illegal working practices, corners being cut and funnies about the individuals working there. Here is a brief summary of her story:

Working for a company with the barest regard for anything but statutory requirements in most areas of the business, Mandy was intrigued to discover that her company has been in the process of attaining IiP status for the best part of two and a half years. Two and a half years! Even I know that the process normally takes around 18 months and even that can be considered a little long; so she had to find out where it had all gone so wrong.

It would appear that the main reason for Mandy's company to start down this road was because one of her directors had been convinced – at a seminar – that IiP was one sure way of getting some processes in place for areas such as appraisal and training. What did concern her was that there is a retained consultant who, when she met him for an update, rambled through a long, apologetic tale of failing process management, cancelled assessments, fading enthusiasm and rank inefficiency.

Too complicated

Well, that's a précis of Mandy’s tale. And here's my cynical interpretation of what I think has happened. Under the guise of IiP, it would appear that the consultant had done little more than provide the company with an overly-complicated and, ultimately, extortionately expensive appraisal and training system based on competencies.

So far, one positive experience of IiP and one extremely negative one.

As I do not want my company to go through Mandy's experience, I did a bit of reading around the subject in order to try and achieve a more balanced view and arm myself with some information to take forward to my management team.

I reviewed the IiP website to see if it could convince me of its value. The IiP Standard claims to be based on three key principles:

1) Developing strategies to improve the performance of the organisation.
2) Taking action to improve the performance of the organisation.
3) Evaluating the impact on the performance of the organisation.

Admirable as these may be, surely such principles should be enshrined as part and parcel of any well-run company? I've worked for a number of organisations, but even the most shambolic had appraisals, individual training plans and company plans upon which to propose a budget. Why on earth would a company pursue IiP as a way of putting these in place?

The IiP website suggests that visitors take a look at the views of other companies' staff on IiP, where "over 30,000 UK organisation (sic) are recognised as Investors in People, covering a wide spectrum of UK industries".

Sadly, I couldn't find any organisations even remotely representing my company's sector. I had hoped that finding some good case studies would give me some encouragement.

Feeling wary


" What does it contribute to an organisation that isn't already provided by good old-fashioned HR systems?"

However, while investigating IiP on the internet, I read several reports that state that it works quite well for large companies but not so well for small ones.

This whole issue has left me feeling very wary about the whole business of IiP. What does it contribute to an organisation that isn't already provided by good old-fashioned HR systems that support successful business with great recruitment and induction processes, effective reward and retention programmes and a respect for employee well-being?

Well, that's my rant, reporting back from a range of HR professionals – from someone who's achieved the 'badge', someone knee deep in the process and someone possibly about to jump into it.

So what do you think, fellow HR professionals? Is IiP a force for good and a powerful agent of change? Or is it yet another well-meaning initiative that keeps senior managers in 'status meetings' and management consultants in Lexuses? Write in and join the debate.

However, one final point – for my own part, listening to Mandy very much reminded of a time when I was involved with BS5750/ISO 9001 accreditation some years ago. It took a year of blood, sweat and tears, and in the final analysis, all my company achieved was the right to pitch for government tenders and a broad standardisation of forms used throughout the business… oh, and we also made some savings on the stationery.

Sue Harrison is a group HR manager. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of

4 Responses

  1. If you want a badge go elsewhere

    Hope you dont mind me adding an IIP Scotland perspective to this debate, but thought it might be useful to get a perspective from our experience.

    The first question I would ask is “what’s your motivation for being involved with IIP?”. If you simply want a badge on the wall, or you want to know how happy your people are you should probably look elsewhere.

    Key to this is breaking the notion of “doing IIP”. If you “do IIP” then it becomes something seperate to the organisation/business strategy and the driver is around getting a badge. The question I would ask is – where do you want to be, how o you lead, manage and develop your people to get there, and how do you know whether your appraoach is working for you.

    Two other points (briefly). One, if you think IIP is all about training and development, take another look. The focus is now much more on the effectiveness of leadership and managemt (at all levels), which includes responsibility for learning and development.
    It’s not complicated, it’s not rocket science, but it is difficult to get right.

    Secondly, you might say “well he would say that”, but the recent IES / Work Foundation study “People and the Bottom Line” identified a causal link that identified IIP as having the biggest impact on people management practice and associated increases in profit and sales. Also have a look at the IIP champions part of the IIPUK website were you will see a wide range of testimonials

    Finally (and I know I could go on) in reference to the example of the company who taped the interviews) that is terrible, but it says much more about the company than IIP, and I’d still argue that interviews are a more effective way of gathering evidence than portfolios.

    Hope this is at least thought provoking, if anyone would like to contact me direct with any questions, my e-mail address is [email protected]

    Peter Russian
    Chief Executive, IIP Scotland

  2. IiP – don’t waste money
    In the early and mid 90’s the standard was really worth something. It showed an organisation cared and was a decent employer. Approval was a rigorous and interesting process.

    Since then some organisations with appallingly bad HR practices have been given recognition. I know of one small organisation that got approval even though all the staff conversations with the assessor were secretly taped by the CEO but no one was brave enough to tell IiP! The standard just doesn’t have the value it once had.

    My division of a blue chip multinational was accredited in the mid 90’s. We ditched IiP in 2004 when it was up for reassessment and haven’t regretted it.

    The standard is still a useful checklist to see you are doing things right but don’t bother with going for recognition. It really is a waste of everyone’s money!

  3. Value of IIP depends on top management attitude
    Good article and I agree with most of it.
    I reckon the effectiveness of IIP depends almost entirely on the attitude of top management. Many applications of IIP were not made with any degree of committment, especially those in the public sector who went for IIP because they were told to.It needs really good committed top management to make IIP work well. And those are exactly the same people who do not need IIP because they have already been doing the right thing for their people. For them IIP is a convenient check list and a means of knowing that what they want of their managers is really happening. The others just tick the boxes get the plaque on the wall,and run up the flag.

  4. IIP
    Sue asks ” What does IIP contribute to an organisation that isn’t already provided by good old-fashioned HR systems?”

    My own experience, in running several organisations since IIP was first-ever conceived, is that that many HR systems are indeed old-fashioned, and not always very good…

    As such, I have found that IIP can offer a great operational ‘check-up’, as well as helping to ensure HR functions are as fully supported by their Boards as IIP aims to ensure HR policies and activities fully support their organisations.

    The IIP proccess *can* seem rather bureaucratic, most if not all the elements of the standards required may appear to be ‘no more’ than good practice, but I have personally found it very helpful in keeping organisations ‘HR-honest’ – if they want to be!

    Kind regards



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