Welcome to this first edition of the Business Performance Newsletter for 2009. This year, we maintain our commitment to bring you down-to-earth, practical advice for advancing your organization and your professional development. By tapping into this newsletter, you will also be the first to hear of new products and in line to receive our exclusive product offers.
So, to get things started, we want to recognize your efforts in getting prepared for the challenges that 2009 will bring. With the full implications of the global financial meltdown set to ripple through the markets throughout 2009, we all know that money will remain tight into the foreseeable future. Given the financial constraints that you will be working under, you will need to make every dollar count. This applies especially to developing your people. Training budgets will be cut. If your budget has already been cut, expect it to be cut again as the year unfolds. This is also not the time to be losing your valuable people, as replacing them will prove even more expensive in this climate.
Our feature article this month helps you on both counts. Senior Associate, Andy Beaulieu, shows you how to make the most of your leadership development programs, whilst at the same time giving your high-potential employees a compelling reason to stay. After you have digested the article, check out our exclusive offer to help you develop and keep your valuable employees.
Action-Based Leadership Development: Design Tips for a Successful Program
Successful leaders achieve competence through job-related challenges – a stretch assignment, rescue situation, or greenfield build – more so than classroom training, executive education, or any other developmental source. The challenge for learning programmers, however, is to generate enough of these opportunities to meet demand. One approach – action learning – has emerged as a reliable and effective alternative. Typically, an iteration of the program involves teams assigned to executive sponsors with a “challenge project” to be completed. Although program parameters may vary, presented below are some “best practices” which should help your program succeed. Because an action learning program stresses application over the presentation of new “learning content,” it can complement existing curricula without major program surgery.
Prepare the broader organization for “innovation.”
The teams are going to need to innovate: solve problems, develop new ideas, run quick validation tests, and implement solutions. If your organization is used to layers of review, careful consideration, damage control, risk avoidance, and similar norms, you had better work with leadership ahead of time to explain the new paradigm being employed in this program. Otherwise your teams will hit a wall and come to a grinding halt.
Select meaningful, compelling projects to challenge the teams.
Identifying good projects is critical, so don’t leave it to chance or the last minute. When you meet with executives to discuss the program, ask them for project ideas. Their strategic plan could be a great source, both for new opportunities and issues. Also ask about survey results, including customer and associate satisfaction. Process improvement projects are also good candidates, but can become routine if overused. Whatever you do, shoot for a mix of projects over time and within each iteration of the program.
Require bottom-line business results from all projects.
The biggest error that action learning program administrators make is to allow projects to deliver anything but bottom-line business results. Any staff group can pull together some research and cook up impressive-looking PowerPoint slides with recommendations. Where’s the learning in that? Instead, work with your sponsors to define an outcome that involves developing and implementing a solution that carries a desired bottom-line result. That result can entail costs saved, the acquisition of new customers, the introduction of a new product, or any other economic benefit. It must entail, at the very least, a test or trial that proves its value to the organization. Consider making one of your financial analysts available to review any claims of economic benefit.
Rightsize the projects to minimize risk.
Although the implementation requirement might seem to demand a longer project cycle, fourteen weeks, plus or minus, is about the right amount of time. Any shorter and the activity collapses into one long rush, any longer and you increase the risk of projects floating off into neverland. Often a larger project can be “scoped down” to the right size: only one region, just on one production line or shift, just for a certain demographic. Since the projects must include implementation in order to achieve bottom-line results, a narrower scope is often better.
Hold the project sponsors accountable for both developmental and business results.
Sponsors have two objectives – project success and participant development – and must maintain a focus on both. A sponsor who leaves development up to each participant has failed just as sharply as one who lets a team “off the hook” for a project that does not deliver results. Be sure your sponsors understand the role and are serious about fulfilling it.
Make the projects a substantial part-time commitment.
Some organizations conduct a form of compressed action learning with full-time projects lasting only two weeks. But a more typical approach is to scope the projects at about 25% of participants’ time over a longer program duration. This forces participants to balance the program with their regular job, but also to need to plan ahead and delegate (a key skill for leaders anyway, right?). It also allows time for the developmental aspects of the experience to kick in.
Leave out the content delivery.
The premise of action learning is to integrate and apply the lessons of other programs to the challenge at hand. You can make this point most definitively by avoiding the temptation to “throw in” a lesson or two “just in case.” At this point, let participants marshal all their resources. If no one knows how to create a project plan, they can get help when needed from a self-study course, a coach, or even that binder from an old class someone once took.
2008 © Andy Beaulieu
To read all ten tips, click here for the full
About This Month's Author
Andy Beaulieu is the Principal behind Results for a Change and acts as a Senior Associate for Business Performance Pty Ltd. He has over 20 years experience consulting to management, helping groups form and succeed, developing leaders, managing change initiatives and reengineering business processes. Andy’s Action Learning Leadership Development program has achieved outstanding results for his clients. He is also the author of Succession Planner, a comprehensive leadership succession planning tool. Andy may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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From all of us here on the Business Performance team, we trust that your year is off to a productive start. Stay tuned for more practical advice and great offers next month.
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