SML in Cable and Wireless

LightbulbJeremy Webster, HR Director for Cable and Wireless in the Caribbean and Latin America, has written an article on the use of SML in his company. (The article has been published in Croner’s HRM Professionals Briefing, Issue 6.) It explains how the company picked up on SML in 1992 and has been developing its use since then. He describes how the work evolved as follows:



Groups were set up in different parts of the company, mainly where local personnel or training managers perceived a need and appreciated the potential of the method. “Buy in” was sought from business heads and was generally given, with the proviso that the project would not cost them money.

Groups were also allocated a small budget to use. This was the subject of a great deal of debate in the early days of the project and was discontinued when group members made it plain that their businesses or they themselves would provide any resources, rather than Cable and Wireless Group HR Department.

The project has now been running for three years and has proven extremely successful in terms of the number and location of groups which have been created. Initially, 35 groups were established in locations ranging from Sweden and Eire to the United States. Responsibility has now been devolved to the businesses, with Group HR co-ordinating the training and development of “champions” mainly from the HR and training community. Currently, there are 21 groups in existence with approximately 12 due to be established in the Caribbean shortly.

Two conferences and a champions’ workshop have been held (all in Europe) to energise the project and ensure consistency of approach. Finally, evaluation has taken place in the form of presentations of strategic learning contracts completed, or progress made, to Directors of the participating Group companies. Although the involvement of senior managers with the project has not been overly close, much useful coaching and mentoring has taken place, particularly from the Group CEO and Chief Operating Officers from two Group companies.


From the evaluations that have been carried out over the last three years, we have found the following to be the successes of the project:

  • It has involved the participation to date of around 200 employees worldwide, most of whom have acquired additional qualifications or skills as a result of their involvement. These skills have included all aspects of business management and modern office skills. Participants have also included the acquisition or resolution of more personal issues among their learning targets.
  • It has created a network of learners in the organisation, who have used each other, their managers and colleagues to draw upon previously untapped or unshared resources available in the organisation. To complement this a ‘Resource Guide’ was published to guide SML participants to the location of these resources.
  • It has stimulated an interest in training and development activity among groups of employees who were not previously targeted for it, e.g. among clerical, secretarial and administrative employees. It has proven especially popular with women.
  • It has appealed more strongly outside the UK. in places such as the US., West Indies and Ireland, although this may say something about the commitment of the training professionals who took up the approach and rolled it through in these areas.
  • Participants have appreciated the bonding that has taken place with colleagues who are attempting to find solutions to difficult questions connected with personal growth.

There have been, however, a few shortcomings n the project which have needed addressing:

  • The project has been somewhat outside the mainstream of the business. It needs integrating better with other training and development activity.
  • The focus of the SML groups has been on more junior staff – e.g. secretaries, technicians, junior managers. This has meant that more senior managers have not seen it as an approach that is suitable for them.
  • It was clear that some participants were resorting to SML as a antidote to limitations in the manager/employee relationship. This highlights a need to tackle this problem.

This brings in the key issue that the SML project raised, which was that development or training issues were of secondary importance to group members compared with their overall career progression, and that supportive processes were needed to address more fundamental matters that were being raised by the organisational changes.


The shortcomings we found through carrying out the project have not in any way invalidated the SML approach. However, we are working at how it can be adapted to the needs of different groups of employees, e.g. providing accelerated learning opportunities to younger managers. The problems raised have alerted the HR function to the need to balance this development approach with other HR strategies.

Jeremy Webster