When calling 3G’s head of leadership and development, Andrew Tanner, the standard ‘ring ring’ is replaced by Rolling Stones’ Miss You, an upbeat way to start an insightful interview…
Starting out as a school teacher and having moved into various L&D roles, Tanner has always surrounded himself with people he can educate, guide or train and this has been a continuing thread throughout his career.
After studying the Americas and completing a PGCE at University, Tanner became, in his own words, a gardener and not-particularly handyman before landing his first teaching job. In secondary schools across the country, he taught history, politics and economics and soon realised the world is a big place with new environments to offer. His reason for leaving is eyebrow-lifting, Tanner says: “The children were fine, it was the adults who were hard work.” And with that, he moved to Sainsbury’s.
During nine years with the UK’s third-largest supermarket, Tanner progressed from departmental store manager to the head office’s educational division. Here he launched the first national vocational training initiative, also known as a retail NVQ. “I get itchy feet in any job and can usually get through two cycles of any work before getting twitchy and moving on,” explains Tanner. With toes twitching, he once again, set off for a new challenge.
His expertise in L&D spreads to pharmaceutical, finance, retail and construction totalling a mighty 17 years’ experience to date. The unusual thing about Tanner is his background working across a range of sectors, however, the start of every new job presented fresh obstacles with Tanner needing to adapt to unfamiliar industries.
Eighteen months into 3G, Tanner has moulded into the telecoms culture and is living the 3 Story – clarity of the business strategy, which changes people’s behaviour and achieves objectives. Working with people in telecoms compared to pharmaceutical is about understanding the nature of the workforce and differentiating between learning styles.
He explains: “When training pharmaceutical companies, their employees rely on logic and data, therefore training revolves around providing theory and validation. Once they have been presented with the facts you can give them the practical. In contrast, employees at 3 are more concerned with ‘how this helps me’. [In this industry] people become curious about the ‘how’ and eventually might ask for a bit of theory.”
The sector is one where there is specific and speedy change, and it is Tanner’s job to slow things down and embed good practice into every-day working life. He champions the arrival of the latest CEO, Kevin Russell, claiming a gap in training and capability before he arrived. “You have to think simple with training and development and the key is to stick at it, Russell does this,” he says.
Like most employees, Tanner is given objectives, which he has just delivered, setting out an accomplished learning and development programme. This requires understanding the team and giving clear direction and communication within the business. His next focus is to make sure the programme is driven into the business ethos and continues its growth. He even aims to align the retail side of 3 with the rest of the company, a step that will demand vigilant planning. And the third major goal for 2010 is to identify talent earlier in peoples’ career paths to prepare them to be the future of 3.
Why are you a good HR person?
I’m very rational, practical and honest and focus on the solution rather than the problem. When faced with challenges, I try to deal with them calmly and without panicking but it’s about taking a step back and not always needing to react straightaway.
My strategy is: ready, aim, fire, as opposed to ready, fire.
Also, many managers want to ‘slay dragons’ and take the credit for it but it’s about building and developing your people so they are equipped to do it themselves.