An experiential approach to training can solve business challengesÂ whilst strengthening leadership abilities.
By Michael McGowan
Industry 4.0 is permeating both business and personalÂ livesâand revolutionising the way people work. But inÂ corporate learning, one thing hasnât changed: PeopleÂ learn best by doing.
Experiential learning, also known as action learning,Â remains a highly effective way to solve business problems.Â In fact, 63 per cent of respondents to the 2018 DeloitteÂ Human Capital Trends survey indicate that the need forÂ complex problem-solving skills will increase in the comingÂ year, whilst 55 per cent say the same for cognitive abilities.
Action learning is designed to exercise and build theseÂ skills by solving an organisationâs specific business orÂ talent problems whilst simultaneously developingÂ leaders and teams. Creating an effective action learningÂ programme begins with assessments that help identifyÂ developmental areas within the organisation, ultimatelyÂ allowing teams to hone in on a single specific issue.
Innovation Incubation: A Case Study
Take the example of a leading technology brandÂ that was highly successful in the 20th century. ToÂ the admission of its executives, the brand had lostÂ its innovation luster primarily because of disruptiveÂ competitors. As a result, the company struggled to fosterÂ an innovation-based culture and launch new productsÂ that would gain traction with customers.
To rebuild an innovative culture and mindset withinÂ its workforce, the company sought an action learningÂ leadership development programme for cohorts of high-potentialÂ senior managers across different functions (i.e.,Â engineering, marketing, finance, IT), as well as across theÂ globe.
The programme was anchored through an onlineÂ technology platform that housed the innovationÂ curriculum. Throughout the five-month programme,Â participants took a series of online modules that gaveÂ them digital badges and certifications in innovation andÂ leadership. Whilst the programme included mentoringÂ and one-on-one coaching, the key was the actionÂ learning project. Each team was expected to buildÂ business cases and innovative product prototypes thatÂ they presented to the executive team.
The programme was very successful, resulting in twoÂ new product ideas that received $500,000 in fundingÂ for further development and ultimately, selectionÂ for the companyâs product pipeline. Within a year ofÂ their graduation from the programme, a staggeringÂ 90 per cent of participants were promoted within theÂ organisation.
Designing an Effective Action Learning Programme
One of the most important factors in a successful actionÂ learning programme is consensus on the problem toÂ be addressed. When choosing the issue, keep these keyÂ factors in mind:
- Choose a broad problem for high-level leaders.Â Action learning participants are often more senior-levelÂ leaders, so it is important that the issue is of a similarÂ magnitude to their responsibilities at their current orÂ next promoted level.
- Lean toward impact and passion. Select an issueÂ that will have an impact on the organisationâone forÂ which participants can be passionate, highly visible,Â and willing to spend the time and effort to recommendÂ innovative solutions.
- Involve senior-level sponsors. The team of seniorÂ executives sponsoring the action learning programmeÂ will likely have a personal stake in a certain issue and willÂ help narrow and select it.
- Choose a problem with multiple solutions. It isÂ ideal to work on an issue that can result in multiple,Â varied solutions to pitch to the sponsors. If itâs broadÂ enough, it could be reused for an additional cohort.
Once the issue and teams are determined, the actionÂ learning can begin. The combination of interactive one-on-one training, group exercises, coaching, and formalÂ skills training will push participants out of their comfortÂ zones, resulting in complete participant engagementÂ where employees build leadership skills, improveÂ leadership behaviour, and help create a business solutionÂ that will have a positive impact on the organisation.
For geographically diverse cohorts, itâs important toÂ address logistical issues that may pose barriers to success.Â Here are some tips for deploying an action learningÂ approach on a global scale:
- Run programmes in regional hubs accounting forÂ language and cultural differences.
- Incorporate a train-the-trainer model by guidingÂ participating HR or business leaders to replicate theÂ programme on their own in various locations.
- Engage past participants to take on different typesÂ of roles for new programmes, such as sponsoring,Â mentoring, or co-facilitating a programme.
Everyday Action Learning
Action learning need not be a formal programme. TheÂ concepts can be infused in everyday activities, such asÂ conducting meetings, communicating with the team,Â and periodic assessments of team functionality. AÂ learning coach can be assigned to observe, listen to theÂ team, and ask questions about how the team is doing,Â what is going well or not so well, and what needs to beÂ done differently.
The team then debriefs and creates an action planÂ for continuous improvement. This spirit of ongoingÂ learning is at the foundation of every forward-thinkingÂ organisation. Challenge the status quo by investingÂ in peopleâs knowledge, competencies, creativity, andÂ passion. The result may be just that: results.
Michael McGowan is the managing director and practice leader ofÂ leadership and talent for BPI group.