Monday, 29 September 2008

Action Learning....Part 2 second post on Action Learning focuses on what the elements of it are and how they fit together....

What is Action Learning and why bother....?

Action learning is an approach to management development – its supporters would say that it is the only really effective way to develop managers . Not only does action learning achieve growth in individuals – it does it in a way that delivers direct benefits to the business as the development is focussed on overcoming challenges in the real work of the individual.

Compared to traditional training programs, action learning is relatively inexpensive as there is not the cost of trainers or the need to develop training materials. But action learning is not cost free -participants are required to attend action learning set meetings. Each one lasts a couple of hours and they are scheduled at regular intervals (eg. monthly) for a period of about 6 months.

How do the elements fit together...?

1. Experiential learning – take action to solidify learning and reflect on action to increase learning in a continuous cycle

2. Cooperative approach – people take turns to help each other with their problems. Working openly with colleagues helps the person to externalise their thinking and gain insights into the reality of their situation.

3. Questioning process – others are there to help the person understand their situation, their options and their choices. Colleagues are not there to give advice or direction –they act as a mirror to improve the quality of the individual’s reflection on their situation.

What's in it for me....what's the deal?

Participation in an action learning programme imposes three obligations on participants

  • As ‘problem owner’, to take the challenging actions that have been agreed in the action learning set (ALS) meeting, so you actively experiment with new ideas and gain new experience.

  • As ‘problem owner’, to reflect openly and honestly with others on the action that you have taken so that you can learn fully from the experience and plan further actions during the ALS meeting.

  • As ‘supportive colleague’, to help others reflect on their actions by questioning and challenging what they have done and plan to do in a supportive manner, in the ALS meeting

Action learning programmes are run by the combined efforts of participants, for the benefit of participants. A collaborative partnership amongst all set members is essential for everyone to benefit and everyone must ‘pull their weight’ – by attending set meetings, by engaging with participants when at the meetings and by moving their own actions forward in between meetings.

So participation in an action learning programme is first and foremost an opportunity for personal development. The cost to the individual is measured in the time they give to the programme, the tension they may feel as they open up to others on their problem (opportunity) situations, their willingness to give support to their colleagues on the programme.

Who else needs to be involved....?

The role of the facilitator:

  • In establishing the set, the facilitator guides the formation of the participant group, helping in the definition of its purpose, the selection of its members, the engagement of stakeholders (especially line managers and sponsors), the preparation of participants – so they understand what they can expect from action learning and what they will be expected to give in return.

  • At the first set meeting the facilitator will help participants to establish appropriate ground-rules, explain how the process within the set meeting interacts with activity outside the meeting to produce Action Learning, explain the way that dialogue should be handled within the set meeting, and explain how each person, at different times, takes on the role of ‘problem owner’ or ‘supportive colleague’ to create a powerful learning environment.

  • Once the process has started, particularly after the initial meetings as participants gain confidence with the process and build trust in each other, the facilitator will intervene less and less. Their aim is to set up an environment where dialogue is driven by participants and outcomes are owned by the participants. It is common (and healthy) for established sets to meet without facilitation.

The role of the sponsor:

  • As sponsor, your interest will be in the project or process that is to be the subject of the individual’s actions and reflection in the meetings. You will want to stay close to what is happening so that the organisation benefits just as much as the individual. And you will want to help the individual to benefit the organisation.

The role of the manager:

  • As manager of the individual, you are interested in their development, their welfare, and their productivity. Balancing these three will need your support for the individual, in the (potentially) emotional cauldron of an action learning set where personal challenges are being confronted openly and perhaps for the first time. However, as senior-level people themselves, you will want to ensure that the individual takes ownership of their own development within action learning, engaging fully in what is being offered to them.
In the next post we will look at tips for getting Action Learning going in your organisation and also how to integrate it with your other learning activities.

Ride the Credit Crunch with Action Learning

In my experience the use of Action Learning within organisations has grown over recent years as a great way to support the development of people.

In the current environment where there is a tightening of purse strings action learning is a fantastic way to continue the development of people in your organisation in an extremely cost effective way.

I will be publishing a series of posts that will help you understand what action learning is, how it can be used, why it is so important and how it can support and be integrated with other learning activities.

Today I want to start by giving you some  background: 

What is Action Learning.....?

Action Learning was pioneered by Reginald Revans in the 1940s. Through his own observations during the  Second World War and work in the mining industry  Revans believed that managers posessed within them the latent knowledge to solve their own problems, if only they could first gain an insightful understanding of that problem and the uniqueness of their place in it. In his view academics might develop general theories and teachers might explain them, but only the individual could learn by practical experiment how to make these theories work for them.

Some of the core principals of action learning:

  • The Central Theme of Action Learning - that managers learn best with and from each other, in efforts to treat real problems in real time by regularly explaining among themselves what they are trying to do, what is stopping them from doing it and what they intend to do about it.
  • The first qualification of management is to take and implement better decisions. To identify their problems (and opportunities) more precisely, to specify more clearly their courses of action to follow these into practical effect.
  • The challenge of continuous learning - only if managers are constantly faced with the insistent obligation to improve their performance continuously (as they must in a changing world) are they likely to want to learn as part of their daily routine.
  • The learning equation (L=P+Q): The rate of learning (L) is a function of the acquisition of programmed knowledge (P) and the developing of questioning insight (Q). P is obtained from colleagues and Q is obtained from action learning. The qualities of P and Q are not related. Indeed P may actively inhibt Q.
"The Origins of Growth and Action Leanring": Revans 1982

In the next post we will explore how the elements of action learning fit together - how does it work and what is an action learning set.....

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

A second bite of the Apple - some words of inspiration

Sarah, a friend of mine pointed me to this great speech that was made by Steve Jobs back in 2005. If you feel you are at a bit of a cross roads in your life or career and want some inspiration then this should be top of your reading list.

Steve tells 3 personal stories from his life that have shaped who he is and what he does.

"Connecting the Dots"
"Love and Loss"

Here are some excerpts:

"You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all
matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle."

"....for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked mys
elf: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about
to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Monday, 22 September 2008

The Crunch Starts to Bite...

A few months ago I put up a post about the Credit Crunch and whether this was having any impact on L&D budgets. The response that I received was fairly mixed - some people were cautious but hadn't yet seen any impact, some had already experienced an impact whilst others predicted no change.

I suspect that the picture may now have changed and I would love to hear an update from you all.

When the pressure to meet targets is really on this is the ultimate test for an organisation's faith and commitment to its people. If you have to put some L&D investments on hold for a while then don't break the golden rules:
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate: most people will understand if some L&D activity has to stop in the short term if you explain to them why. Communication with people in different but consistent ways to make sure the reasons are clear.
  • Postpone the L&D rather than cancel it: If people know that their training will still be taking place but just a little later than expected then that's a much better message than 'all training is cancelled....".
  • Budget for the postponed training: If you are putting back L&D activity until next year then make sure you include it in next year's budget.
  • Focus on no cost L&D activity: Demonstrate your ongoing commitment to developing people by encouraging and facilitating L&D activity that has no or minimal cost. For example ensuring managers are equipped to and are having appropriate coaching conversations with their people, ramping up the use of web based learning, encouraging lunch time masterclasses, set up action learning groups, facilitate a mentoring programme,  encourage work shadowing, ecncourage people to document their personal development plan and 'best next move'.....
Tough times can be a really interesting time for L&D professionals. You may have to be creative but it means you have a chance to demonstrate your real worth to the organisation.  Are you up for the challenge....?

Monday, 15 September 2008

Experiential Learning

I came across an interesting presentation on TED today by Jonathan Drori called "Why we don’t understand as much as we think we do".

It asks what appear to be some basic science questions that most people can't answer. For example "Could you draw a diagram of the solar system showing the shape of the planets' orbits?"

Interestingly people mostly get the answer wrong (I did). Jonathan emphasises the points that quite often we teach theories without really spending much or any time actually playing around with things to see if the theory actually makes sense. If we are told something then we generally will accept it and then even find examples that reinforce the belief.

Why is this relevant to learning & development? It made me think about the folowing important factors to consider when designing some learning:
  • It is really important to give people the opportunity to try stuff out for themselves. Tell them about a new approach, technique, theory or concept but let people make their own connections. 
  • You may need people to 'unlearn' things before they can take on a new concept. We are creatures of habit and like to do things the same way. Create an environment that encourages people to try something new but also show them that there are benefits to doing things differently - give them a carrot.
  • Be clear that you can only give them a taste of the real thing in a learning environment and it is back in the real world where the real learning will take place You can learn about things on a course but the real learning takes place when you get back to work. People need support back in the work place to both reinforce the learning and to stop the old habits slipping back. Without support the training will have minimal impact on performance.
  • Ensure that the people providing support are actually involved in the course, ideally in delivering it. You want to make sure that a consistent message is being applied. If they can't be involved then make sure they are briefed appropriately.
So, another question from Jonathan:

"How does an aircraft's wing create lift?...........and ensure you explain how planes can fly upside down"!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Apples and Pears....

Delivering training in a corporate environment can be a really rewarding and interesting job. One of the big learns for me over the past years is that it is increasingly important to deliver the learning in a way that is as engaging as possible.

How can you deliver learning in a way that appeals to a distracted, busy, multi tasking audience that has a wide range of personalities, learning styles and age......? This is perhaps even more relevant now that training can be delivered through such a wide variety of channels be it face to face, webinar, on demand, mobile learning etc.

On the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies site I was recently pointed to an interesting article that Tom Brigham of Learning Circuits has written. It describes how to train multi taskers and has some really practical advice covering 4 main themes:
  • Start Strong
  • Think in Pictures
  • Use Words - Not Corporate Cliches
  • Vocal Variation
Personality preferences should also be a consideration when designing your learning. Speakingofmbti gives some excellent advice on this in a recent post including specific considerations to make for each of the E/I, S/N, T/F, J/P combinations.

Finally when thinking about visual learners have a read of Presentation Zen's analysis of John McCain's recent address to the Republican Convention. It makes some insightful comments about the use of the background visuals used during his speech and the impact (or lack of) that they made.

Who said it was an easy job...? 

Friday, 5 September 2008

Coaching Return on Investment

I was interested to read John Castledine's recent post(s) on Performance Support v Training:

"Performance Support is defined as providing the right people with the right information at the right time. In other words: expanding just-in-time 'coaching' to replace (where appropriate) just-in-case training."

One of the themes discussed is why some people seem to get more out of the training than others. Clearly there is a lot behind this ranging from personal styles to evaluation techniques. 

For me it highlights the important part that coaching plays in the learning environment, both in it's own right but also to support other learning interventions. Coaching doesn't have to be delivered by external suppliers (although there are good reasons for doing this), it should also be part of every manager's toolkit.....but sadly in my experience it isn't. published a survey recently by HDA Associates that looks at measuring the return on investment of executive coaching:

"Astute businesses should only invest in executive coaching if a compelling business case can be presented; this inevitably requires an understanding of the return on investment executive coaching yields. In this short article, HDA goes some way towards proving the valuable role coaching plays in improving business performance, by showing evidence of the tangible business benefits observed as a result of coaching." 

They found that outcomes-focused executive coaching delivers tangible business benefits, particularly where the following combination of ‘success’ input elements are brought together:
– Coaching is the ‘right’ approach for the individual
– The ‘right’ coach is selected to match the coachee
– Personal goals and objectives are closely linked to hard business outcomes

In my view if coaching is treated as an integrated part of the learning environment then this is going to enhance the chance of success further. You can learn about something during a training course but the real learning takes place back at the work place.....and for this people need ongoing help and support. This can be the difference that makes the difference......

Thursday, 4 September 2008

What's the Wordle....?

Although Wordle has been around for a while now I hadn't really paid too much attention to it. For those who don't know Wordle is an application that can analyse text in a document, web page etc and will create a neat graphic that represents the key words used. The larger the words the more frequently it occurs in the text. I pointed Wordle at my blog and got the results shown above (click on the image for a larger view).

It is quite interesting and actually helps me understand more about the impression I am making using my chosen words. For example I think I must use the phrase 'really great' a lot! Why not give it a try.

I am not sure how applicable this could be to a learning environment but if you have some examples I would love to know.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

New Browser from Google

Google, in traditional fashion have decided to launch their own browser called Chrome. They have started from scratch to really think about what people need both now and in the future.

However the thing that impressed me most was how they are communicating their initial thoughts and ideas via the Google Blog. They have published a Google Comic that provides a really easy way to learn about what they are proposing and even some of the more technical aspects behind the browser's architecture.

I found it a really great example of how to deliver some learning content in a simple way. Check it out.