When successful, action learning is a powerful tool to help leaders apply and retain what they learn in development programs. Unfortunately, in practice, clients tell us that many leadership programs fail to successfully incorporate action learning or drive measurable impact. Our work with leading organizations suggest three pitfalls to avoid:
Pitfall 1: Unrealistic Simulations
Simulations can be useful for exposing leaders to new and different experiences in a safe environment, or to allow for practice of difficult or challenging concepts. However, all too often, leaders, not having real “skin in the game,” don’t take the simulations seriously and struggle to link the exercise back to business challenges they are grappling with. Simulations have a place in learning programs, but relying on them to drive sustained application of concepts is rarely successful.
Pitfall 2: “Manufactured” Team Projects
Work is increasingly “horizontal”; it involves a high degree of teamwork. It’s only natural that development programs should reflect this reality. However, all too often, leaders are presented with team-based business projects that have been invented solely for the purposes of a formal development program.
While the business challenge is often a real issue confronting the business, the team often lacks the decision rights or resources to solve the problem. The result of this well-intentioned attempt to create a collaborative learning experience is that leaders don’t take the projects seriously or, even worse, they become unmotivated when the organization fails to follow through on their project recommendations.
These exercises can create great visibility for the leaders within the organization as well as opportunities to connect with peers, but they rarely drive sustained application of concepts with measurable business impact.
Pitfall 3: Relegating Action Learning to Informal Experiences
As the above two examples make clear, it can be difficult to make action-based learning work well in formal programs. It’s tempting to simply give up and relegate it to informal, on-the-job learning. While informal learning opportunities are critical, taking practical application out of formal programs severely limits their impact.
Take stock of your own leadership programs; do they fall into any of these traps? If so, consider incorporating real projects with immediate relevance to your leaders in your programs.
Engage Leaders with Real-World Projects in Formal Learning
Many of the best organizations are using technology to integrate real-world projects into their leadership development programs. Individuals work on projects within their span of control, and collaborate with peers who are working on similar, but distinct initiatives as they apply key concepts from the program. When organizations use technology in conjunction with authentic work projects, learners are able to immediately apply what they have learned, thus cementing the information more firmly within their mind.
This approach also has the benefit of making it significantly easier for HR teams to measure the impact of their development programs by looking at the impact of the projects learners are working on.
Speak with our team today to learn more about how ExecOnline can help integrate real-world project into leadership development programs.