'Action Learning Questions have been integrated with the Organisational Development Core Practice Programme delivered by Mayvin to the Civil Service in the UK, The process has proven immensely powerful in supporting HR professionals in developing their capability to make significant contributions to organisational change. The ALQ approach can be transformative both at an organisational and personal level.'
James Traeger, Director, Mayvin
In the UK the Civil Service Reform Plan is being implemented with urgency. This requires civil service departments and agencies to reform their structures and ways of working in order to deliver effective services in a climate of economic austerity and rapid social and technological change. Historically Human Resource (HR) professionals have provided services based on the HR Business Partner model which has meant a focus on strategic and operational HR services.
As part of the Civil Service Reform Plan HR managers and other professionals are now required to develop their capabilities in providing Organisation Development (OD) advice to their internal clients. In order to make this happen the Civil Service’s expert Organisation Development and Design Service launched an OD Capability Building programme and engaged OD specialists Mayvin to deliver it. The programme incorporates the postgraduate level accredited Action Learning Question method developed by Dr Richard Hale called, in this context, Organisation Development Questions (ODQs). Participants on the OD Capability Building programme are required to complete an ODQ over a five-month period. This entails scoping an OD challenge with key stakeholders, conducting some research and making recommendations for change or implementing such change. The participants work in 'action learning sets' and support each other with their problem solving and learning.
A final report is written up by each participant leading to the award of postgraduate level credits. Examples of ODQ areas include:
'As an action learning practitioner for 8 years in both the UK and Australia, I have seen the value it brings to organisations across two very distinct business cultures. It enables the right environment for change to occur because it impacts on peoples' behaviours very effectively. Communities of practice come together from diverse backgrounds within an organisation to work on a common challenge that is framed in the form of an Action Learning Question. Whilst success is naturally measured on achieving the desired outcomes, for me the huge value placed on the experience by all participants never fails to inspire me in finding new ways in which to employ this exciting methodology.'
Adam Trevaskus - Commercial Director, Ennesty Energy, Melbourne Australia
Programme evaluation undertaken by an external researcher.
Participants found that the programme had challenged their previous modes of thinking in quite substantial ways. These included complete changes of ‘mind set’ to a much more business oriented ways of thinking, particularly in terms of the procurement process (which was now seen as a supporting process contributing to ‘the bottom line’ rather than in isolation) together with increased understanding of an insight into processes generally. In addition, the programme contributed energy, focus and impetus which helped to accelerate the implementation of the Procurement Improvement Plans.
One project saved the company in the region of $25m.
'I graduated with a Masters in Management programme and my work-based project, entitled 'The Green Leaf Standard', is an employee engagement programme designed to reduce the carbon emissions that my organisation produces through its operations.
The programme strives to engage employees at care home level, firstly by improving their knowledge and awareness and then using motivation and incentives to encourage positive environmental action. The Green Leaf Standard, is 3 separately defined standards - Good, Very Good and Excellent. Individual sites, led by a Green Leaf Champion strive to achieve set criteria for each standard across various environmental categories such as heating efficiency, lighting efficiency, waste management and environmental management. Achievement at each standard brings rewards, including a financial bonus, a certificate, free energy saving equipment and the sought after Green Leaf lapel pin badge! The programme has been successful and by the end of 2013 all of our homes and hospitals were engaged in the programme, with 44 sites having already achieved the Good Standard. 4 of these sites going on to achieve the Very Good Standard and 2 the Excellent Standard.
This level of engagement has brought clear benefits with average monthly savings of 10% in electricity and 25% in gas. Apart from significant savings in carbon emissions, the energy reduction equates to a projected annual group financial saving in excess of £1 million. This resulted in a project Return on Investment in a matter of months. In terms of waste, the national recycling rate has increased from 20% in June 2012 to over 45% by the end of 2013. Over the same 18 month period, our organisation planted over 5,000 trees on its own grounds, in partnership with The Woodland Trust, this being a carbon-offsetting scheme within the Green Leaf Standard.
A number of indirect benefits of the Green Leaf Standard have also been seen, including identifying and creating leaders (Green Leaf Champions), the participation of our residents and tapping into the creativity and imagination of a 17,000 strong workforce to produce many ideas to improve environmental efficiency at a local level. This has resulted in some very positive PR, particularly at care home level where the efforts of many homes has aroused the interest of the local media.
In summary, The Green Leaf Standard has underlined our corporate responsibilities by significantly improving its environmental performance and in doing so, has brought tangible benefits to the business.'
The Action Learning programme was part of an Executive Development Programme designed to change the company from a lossmaking organisation into a private sector profitable company. Managers on the programme concentrated on resolving a number of important issues including:
How do we reduce the overhead?
What is the cost of quality?
How can we improve supplier performance?
How should we do our market planning?
The programme was also designed to help the company win new contracts – so securing their competitive position through the next decade. It did so by focusing on specific projects in the areas of business strategy, operations and systems management, human resource management, financial and cost management and marketing management.
The success of the programme was clearly demonstrated when the company won the contract for two capital ships.
‘I never thought I would be the sort of person to do a doctorate but when the opportunity presented itself I was very excited to be part of the SEAL doctoral group. Not only did I discover my unique contribution but I was able to convert it to a more commercial book the following year. These together helped me to land the appointment I now hold with the Neuroleadership Institute based in New York (MD Europe). I spend my days presenting keynotes at conferences and writing articles, together with the facilitation and coaching work I have always done with Boards. I don’t think I would have got here without it. Having a doctorate put me in a different bracket.’
Dr Jacqui Grey FCIPD, Transition Ltd
'People sometimes ask me how I “use” action learning since studying for the masters programme through AL, and I have struggled to answer this. Although I do facilitate some action learning sets, this seems an inadequate response. I recently realised that AL has now become part of who I am and how I think. I don’t know how to answer the question “how do I use AL ...” because I don’t use AL as a separate, special technique – it’s just the way that I tackle problems now. I look for problems (often when others are running away from them), I try to make sense of them (involving others) and I seek to bring external information and multiple perspectives to explore potential solutions. This seems normal ... and I generally forget that it’s not!'
John, Pfizer, MMgt
'Westbury Homes really valued the "projects" (ALQs) people were working on, and for me the experience was hugely developmental, and beneficial, as the Action Learning provided real and timely business benefits. One example, was a Build Director, who after implementing learning around influencing others, was able to save the organisation in the region of £1m. As a learning and development expert, I am proud of having implemented a learning programme in an organisation that has made so many tangible bottom line benefits.'
Ashley Hawkins, Learning & Development Manager, Westbury Homes, ALFA Graduate
'My context was to find innovative means to improve operations effectiveness and efficiency, this formed the basis for my ALQs. I found the experience beneficial - on a personal level I worked with senior managers from across the organisation which helped me to broaden my knowledge; I also learned a new way to solve problems, which I still use today. In particular, instead of learning theory and then trying to apply it, I start from the problem, seek out methods to understand the problem better, and then seek others perspectives and knowledge. Action Learning helps to transform a person in many ways, in particular helping us to better understand things from others' perspectives, to ask better questions which of course helps to ensure far better answers. Overall, Action learning synergises work improvement and leadership development.'
Maria O, Senior Manager, Banking
'I chose the Senior Executive Action Learning doctoral programme because it offered greater flexibility and a stronger practical focus than other more traditional doctoral programmes. It challenged and encouraged me to think at a different level - to question more and take a broader perspective. The programme has definitely benefited my practice.'
Phil Dale, Consultant & Coach
'I am naturally an activist in terms of learning style, and the Action Learning programme helped me reflect and develop the use of the other 3 learning styles. As a consequence I had a far richer learning experience. In fact one of my ALQs resulted in me being able to draw a correlation between exemplary leadership practice (as per Kouzes and Posner model) and leaders who regularly used all 4 learning styles. I have since implemented Action Learning in a Graduate Development programme in a previous organisation that I worked in and more generally, the AL approach has greatly benefited my own performance as an L&D expert.'
Helen Walker, Learning & Development Manager
Professor Reg Revans as President IMCA (© IMCA 2014)
'Action learning is 'the collective treatment of real and threatening problems'
'We must try to give more time to questions from the floor and less to instructions from the rostrum'
'The treatment of complex administrative shortcomings cannot possibly be expected merely from the deliberations of distinguished committeesaction must involve the ordered change of some complex system - it is not enough to point out what ought to be done'
'We need to develop a capacity for questioning insight, to pose fertile and imaginative lines of enquiry when none around us knows the answer'
'The more those responsible for taking action are ask quite fresh questions the greater the chance of perceiving some useful line of action'
'We may more accurately describe action learning as development of the self by the mutual support of equals...'
'It is one's ignorance most needing to be explored, one's uncertainties that must be faced, one's troubles that must form the syllabus'
'For doing, or action, calls for commitment or true belief, while talking, or argument, calls only for intelligence or quickness of wit'
'Comradeship in adversity has a lot going for it'
'It has been assumed the education system can teach industry; action learning suggests the influences might flow in the opposite direction'
'Managers knowing they are in trouble will learn quickly with and from equal colleagues in the same misfortune'
'Some believe projects need exist only in the imagination of members & may regress back to the case study & the academic massage parlour'
'Meeting regularly to report on behalf of the project teams facing the real problems in the real world where real changes have to be made'
'What is printed now because it was proved a little while ago is becoming less sufficient to cope with uncertainties of tomorrow'
“We need to move beyond trying to teach our people. We need to give them a chance to learn. We recognise everyone has potential and brings something different to the table - knowledge and experience is valued with models and the academic piece coming after. The Action Learning Facilitator Accreditation programme enables us to develop the capability to learn and tackle real life business challenges and to move from just discussion to action and learning.
It has given me the opportunity to think differently about how I learn whilst at the same time tackling real business issues. It is different from the taught, case study approach where qualifications are delivered by ‘experts’. It turns the old model of learning on its head. I think businesses today cannot try to deal with issues as they have done in the past - business challenges today require people to be much more agile, flexible, fluid and dynamic. Having the ‘expert consultant’ come in and tell you what you should be doing doesn’t really work - you need the buy-in of the organisation and the people.
I definitely was out of my comfort zone many times on the ALFA programme. However if you trust in the process and are open to learning it is very rewarding. There is no one right answer to business challenges, they are all different and Action Learning Facilitators enable groups of people to learn and find the answers that are right for them in a collaborative way. I have realised action learning facilitators need the ability to listen, to be inclusive and committed to making a difference without being judgemental.”
Sharon Williams, Director of Human Resources
"The Action Learning Questions approach used in the ALFA programme is first class. This sets it apart from other Action Learning facilitators programmes. It led me to re-evaluate my role as a facilitator in a way I wouldn't have done otherwise, and as a result, I have made changes and improvements to my facilitation approach which have resulted in significant benefits for me and my clients. In addition to the learning from the Action Learning Facilitator Questions researched on the programme, there has also been considerable "spin off" learning from the insights gained which have been fascinating and motivational. There has been a significant return on investment from my point of view"
Andy Radka, Consultant
“As a business we introduced an action research and action learning approach to help us become an organisation that turns learning into knowledge, skills and abilities to solve our work challenges, deliver business benefit and achieve our strategy. We have established in Bright Horizons what we call the principles of Learning and Leading with Heart: as leaders in our field, we are committed to continuous learning and improvement. We challenge ourselves to ask questions, seek solutions and embrace new ideas. We value reflective practices and create the opportunity to help other functions.
The action learning approach enables us to work in an empowering and collaborative way, working cross functionally and maximising the wealth of experience and knowledge in our organisation. The Action Learning Facilitator Accreditation programme has enabled us to build a team of skilled facilitators acting as advocates and enablers of this action learning approach - the senior team are role-modeling the change we want to see.
Personally I wanted to build my knowledge and skills as an Action Learning Facilitator. I was keen to be part of the senior team who play a crucial role in ‘marketing’ the approach to the business. I believe that in today’s environment an action learning approach has a key role to play in engaging the workforce and creating ownership for learning.
My own Action Learning Facilitator Question has been around engaging action learners virtually and helping them to see the benefits of using our online portal. I have been helping them to see it as an integral way of working and not an ‘add on’ to their working day. The key challenge for me in terms of facilitating style is about finding the balance between directing and facilitating in a supportive way. It calls for the ability to question, listen, challenge and reflect. It demands patience and a sense of timing - judging how and when to move the action learning set on and when to step back and look at the group as a whole.”
Helen Mitchell, Learning and Development Manager
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