The role of training and development in career progression



As an organisation develops, it creates working practices within the business that reflect its way of doing things. These practices become embedded in decisions and operations. The way of doing things guides and influences employees as they carry out their work. However, when organisations develop a new business strategy this creates a process of change. This leads to different ways of working.

Company background

business values

With more than 120 years of heritage, Marks & Spencer is one of the best-known British retailers. The company has more than 450 stores within the UK and employs more than 65,000 people. It also operates outside the UK where it has a developing business in places as far afield as Hong Kong.In recent years, the UK's retailing industry has been characterised by intense competition. Customers are more aware of where and how they want to shop. They also know what sort of shopping experience they require. This has made it much more difficult for retailers to survive.

Facing the challenges

The result was that Marks & Spencer had to develop a new business strategy. This created a period of change for the whole organisation. The period of change involved refocusing the business upon the basics. This included the three business values of Quality, Value, and Service.

Marks & Spencer developed a promotional campaign that emphasised 'Your M&S'. This helped the company to connect customers with the heritage in the business. It also linked the business in the minds of customers with its two other values of Innovation and Trust. The process involved three key features:

  • developing products that customers wanted
  • investing in the environment within stores
  • providing good customer service to look after customers.

These changes have created a business environment with more challenges for employees. Managers had to prepare employees for whatever role they would be asked to undertake in this new environment. The answer was to develop career paths for the employees.

This case study looks at the processes of training and development at Marks & Spencer. It shows how this helped employees to cope with the challenges they faced and created a career path for them.

Organisational structure and careers

the layout

The changes within Marks & Spencer have created a business that now has a flatter organisation structure. The business lost a number of layers of authority through a process of delayering. This means that employees throughout the business have more responsibility. This enables them to make quick decisions when required. At the same time, these employees have more accountability than before. This means that they must be prepared to explain and justify the decisions that they take.

The Marks & Spencer Head Office in London employs around 3,000 people. These employees have specialist roles within the organisation. There are the buyers of stock, people involved in managing stock and its layout within stores, and staff working in marketing or accounts.

The changes within Marks & Spencer have created a business that now has a flatter organisation structure. More than 60,000 employees work in the Marks & Spencer stores, many in management roles where they lead and motivate a team of people. The company also has many franchise outlets overseas. These employees also have training needs.

Identifying a training need

In a flatter organisational structure, many employees have bigger jobs. There are higher expectations that staff can contribute more to the organisation. Marks & Spencer needs to keep its staff well-trained and able to respond to the business needs. There is also a need for succession management. When individuals either retire or move from one job to another, managers have to plan their replacements so that experienced staff with the right skills and competencies are selected.

It is important to develop a career path for people that meets their needs as well as the needs of the business. To match its business strategy, Marks & Spencer develops existing staff from within the organisation. It also recruits managers at three different levels:

  • trainee managers with A-levels undertake 24 months of training
  • graduates who join the organisation from university have 12 months of training
  • experienced managers who have retail experience undertake up to 3 months of training when they join Marks & Spencer. This helps them understand how Marks & Spencer operates.


Each management post at Marks & Spencer requires a number of technical skills and business competencies. These are related to the job's level in the organisation. Marks & Spencer uses competency profiling to identify gaps in skills. Employees need these competencies and skills to be successful in each post. For example, technical skills are relevant to areas like team management, financial management and sales management. Business competencies include areas such as business leadership, decision-making, and communicating and influencing.

comercial manager  profiles

Marks & Spencer uses competency profiling to identify gaps in skills. In the example, Jane is a Commercial Manager in a large store. The standard profiles (figs A and B) show what technical skills and business competencies are necessary for that role. Jane's personal profiles (figs C and D) are compared to these standard profiles to assess what training and development she needs.

This example shows that, for technical skills, Jane needs to improve in most areas except Financial Management. In business competencies Jane's skills are a better match but she needs additional skills in People & Resource Management, Commercial Acumen, and Communicating and Influencing.

Reviewing performance

At the end of every 6 months a performance review or appraisal takes place. Employees discuss their progress with their line managers. Employees are given ratings for the skills and competencies they have shown over the past year. These are compared with expected skills profiles for these areas. This feedback helps employees identify how they are performing in relation to the expected technical skills and business competencies and reveals any gaps.

Personal development

The line managers and employee then discuss and agree on a plan for further development for the following year. All staff have a personal development plan in which they set objectives based on the feedback from their performance review. This helps them to construct a realistic and focused career path. They use training and development to improve the technical skills and business competencies they need in order to undertake particular management roles. This performance cycle helps Marks & Spencer to maintain an efficient, effective and motivated workforce.

Training and development

Areas hilghighted in a review

All managers at Marks & Spencer are able to create a career planning profile. This enables them to focus on their next target role. They can then develop a career path to support this ambition. Staff identify specific training needs based upon the technical skills and business competencies for that role. The profile also highlights what programmes of training Marks & Spencer needs to plan for. There are two forms of training:

  • On-the-job training. This takes place while employees are carrying out an activity in their place of work.
  • Off-the-job training, as its names suggests, takes place away from the workplace.

On-the-job training

On-the-job training might include having an attachment to a section manager responsible for inspiring and motivating a team. An employee gets to see first-hand what it would be like to work in that role. On-the-job training also involves practical learning. This could mean being involved in a range of projects to improve technical skills and business competencies. The key to this training is to get Marks & Spencer employees 'to enjoy their work and feel they have all the skills they need to do their job to the best of their ability'.


An important way of increasing skills is performance coaching. This is a form of coaching by line managers. They review a person's performance and give feedback on their strengths and any development needs. Together, they agree how to improve and identify the opportunities to demonstrate these skills in their own jobs. The coaching gives the trainees confidence and is a successful element of the training programme.

An important way of increasing skills is performance coaching.

Off-the-job training

Marks & Spencer uses a range of different methods to help its employees with off-the-job training. For example, within the organisation there is an intranet. Staff can find learning materials on this that enable them to develop their technical skills and business competencies. Other resources for training and learning include workbooks that are used by staff, often for open learning. Workshops and other more formal activities provide opportunities for employees to practice their skills with the opportunity for feedback from other staff.

Benefits of training and development

Training and development brings benefits to both Marks & Spencer and its employees. Training provides a series of planned learning experiences for individuals and builds their technical skills and business competencies. Training also helps to improve efficiency and can motivate employees to do well. This helps to make positive changes to the way in which they work and make decisions. Development helps individuals use the training to meet their individual needs and ambitions. By training and developing its staff well, Marks & Spencer is in a position to develop a competitive advantageover its competitors.

Business strategy

Marks & Spencer's new business strategy focuses on three main areas:

  • Developing value-for-money products that customers want. Training and development brings new skills which help to add value to its products and services, for example by cutting costs. This enables the company to keep prices lower to benefit the customer.
  • Investing in the environment within stores. Better technical skills in sales and stock management mean that staff can use the store to better advantage resulting in higher sales and profitability.
  • Providing good customer service to look after customers. If staff have improved skills in, for example, communication, this can have a positive impact on customer service.

Training and development equips individuals with the skills they need to achieve their targeted role in the business.

Although training is a cost to a business, it is also an investment. It helps Marks & Spencer to link the people who have the right technical skills and business competencies with the roles they are best able to do. It ensures that, as a person moves from a post, he or she is succeeded by the best possible replacement. This is at the heart of succession management. By acquiring technical skills and business competencies, employees can plan their career path. This gives them responsibility for achieving their career ambitions. It also helps to create the future leaders of the organisation.


This case study highlights the link between the cyclical process of performance review and the way in which individuals can develop a career path. This allows employees to manage and plan their own training and development. By using a framework of technical skills and business competencies, Marks & Spencer is able to develop a precise link between the requirements for each post and the necessary characteristics of the people to fill each post.

The process enables Marks & Spencer to plan its staffing needs with certainty and invest in appropriate areas for training. In an industry where competition is intense, developing staff has probably never been so important. The success of Marks & Spencer is evidence that such investment has been worthwhile.

Marks and Spencer Logo

About this case study:
This case study shows how training and development support new business strategies and company values and help a company to cope with change.

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