Action learning is a powerful tool that not only enhances the learning experience for participants but also can contribute meaningfully to the business. In the 2015 Brandon Hall Group HCM Outlook survey, 38% of companies said they were not using action learning projects. So, what are they missing?

action learningAccording to a 2014 Walgreens case study on leadership development, a single action learning project netted the company an increase in sales of $22 million, with other cohorts reporting similarly impressive results of their own. When I think about any organization utilizing action learning, that figure immediately comes to mind and helps to drive home just how effective it can be.

Measuring Business Impact

I was reading a document recently and ran across this quote:

The time it takes to develop a formal training solution is frequently out of step with the small amount of knowledge it is designed to impart. (Source: e-doceo)

That is an insightful look at how training is structured, and I believe tools like action learning help us to get around some of the traditional learning set-up. It’s meant to be more free-flowing, and the word “action” is contrary to most of the passive training lectures we have all endured.

The Walgreens example demonstrates this well. A few other items from the Walgreens case study of note:

  • Executives work in teams with no designated leader or facilitator on an actual business challenge or opportunity that most often has little or nothing to do with their “day job.”
  • This learning strategy requires them to hone and practice their inquiry and questioning skills, broadens their awareness of what other business units do and grapple with, and introduces them to a network of subject matter experts both within and outside the company.
  • Within the teams, executives must determine and apply “rules of order” regarding such dynamics as delegation of roles and duties, decision protocols, and productive debate and conflict.
  • Each team assigns one member on a rotating basis to serve as coach, following suggested guidelines. This person is the “process monitor” for the Action Learning methodology.

By the way, if you’re interested in checking out the full text of the Walgreens case study as well as two others focused on leadership development from Global organizations, you can get them in the Measuring Leadership Development Excellence in Practice report.

Linking Learning to the Business

Companies are constantly trying to figure out how to link learning with the business, and many times they can’t even get the process started. This is a simple answer. Develop an action learning project that is related to business operations, and then let leaders participate in the program. At the conclusion, measure the impact of the project against the organization’s previous performance.

This not only measures value creation for the business—it also allows L&D to demonstrate its capability to improve the organization in ways that make sense to business leaders. Instead of relying on traditional reporting such as, “Employees are 90% compliant with the training requirement,” imagine how much more valuable it would be to say, “Our learning projects increased revenue by 7% this year.” It’s only then that we can truly measure the ROI of our development efforts and truly gauge the impact of training.

Does your organization use action learning for development purposes? What have been the results to date?

Ben Eubanks, Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group
@beneubanks

Ben Eubanks

Ben Eubanks, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is an HR professional and industry influencer. His experience working as a leader in the human resources field has provided him with a broad range of experience encompassing smaller organizations, government contracting firms, and the nonprofit sector. He has hands-on experience with various HR disciplines, including recruiting, benefits, employee relations, and compensation.

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