Executive KnowledgeWorks
Leveraging Executive Education and Leader Development For Strategic Planning, Action Learning, Customized Executive Education and Enhanced Business Meetings - all supported by a philosophy of Breakthrough Centered Development.
Research and Publishing:
Eight National Benchmarking Reports.

Action Learning

There are four action-learning realities that we try to share with our clients:

  1. When we speak of and practice action learning, we are referring to a rather strict definition of the development process. Executive KnowledgeWorks thinks of action learning as:
    A problem solving process in which a carefully selected group of individuals is responsible for exploring in detail and providing recommendations on a current, specific and critical business problem or opportunity. Throughout the process, individual and or team learning remains a primary objective.
  2. Action learning is probably the most powerful single* source of both individual and organization development - with the exception of multi-dimensional "Breakthrough Centered Development", no other form of human resource and/or organization development that we have experienced has the potential of action learning.
  3. Action learning can be costly. On a per-project or per-individual-developed basis, action learning can, in terms of pure dollars and other resources expended, be expensive.
  4. Action learning can be risky. Action learning targets an organization’s key emerging business issues and cutting-edge strategic challenges. Failure or mediocrity of execution can be a setback for the organization’s development efforts and even for the organization itself.

For each of the above reasons, Executive KnowledgeWorks cautions our clients to engage in an action learning intervention only when the appropriate commitments and controls are in place.

Case Study: Cigna
Article: A Letter to the CEO regarding Action Learning
Article: A Story About Action Learning

The Action Learning Project As A Leadership Lab

The action learning project can be an exceptional opportunity for the individual manager to receive feedback regarding his or her leadership style. This is particularly true for a senior manager. It is sometimes difficult for any one of us to receive constructive criticism. Receiving that criticism on the job and as part of a team with one’s subordinates can be all the more challenging. This seems to get further complicated as an individual moves up the ranks of the organization and becomes a key executive.

The challenge then becomes to find a venue or opportunity that is grounded in the business reality but is outside the complications of the leader’s team of subordinates.

An action learning project, while not without its own challenges and complexities, can be an unusually rich opportunity for examining leadership style and providing constructive coaching and feedback. When properly designed, an action learning initiative allows for and even amplifies the same communication, problem solving, decision-making, conflict management and leadership behaviors that the executive will rely on in his or her normal day-to-day interaction with direct reports. It can even include timely (but non-personal) feedback from the executive’s team "back home". But, it does all of this in a reality grounded exploration with one’s peers. It can be an exceptional vehicle.

The Executive KnowledgeWorks Process

The services that Executive KnowledgeWorks provides in action learning projects can be thought of as similar to those of both architect and general contractor. EKW helps the client conceptualize, design in detail, build and deliver the agreed-upon project. Often such initiatives require or can benefit from the services of "subcontractors" such as world-class subject matter experts, government officials or highly regarded corporate practitioners. Like the general contactor of a construction project, we fully manage the contributions of all contributing suppliers.

At the same time, the staff of Executive KnowledgeWorks personally handles the research, design, facilitation and overall management of the project. Executive KnowledgeWorks prides itself on 1 1/2 decades of attention to quality, budget control and timely project completion. But, above all else, we have a history of delivering results -- of achieving high impact. The steps we follow while providing such services include:

  • Upfront research and data collection regarding the client, its senior management team and its business challenges and opportunities
  • Conceptualization of a program or project likely to meet the unique demands and organizational realities of the client, including discussion of the concept with your senior management and your internal design team
  • A detailed design of the project, including desired outcomes, recommended processes, likely required resources and likely required support
  • Preparation of a detailed design document, review of that document with your senior management and your internal design team and completion of all necessary adjustments to the document prior to senior management’s sign-off
  • Identification of the external resources called for in the design document (subject matter experts, corporate practitioners, etc.) as well as the management of those external resources and their materials up to and throughout the actual event
  • The facilitation of all plenary sessions of the action learning project and, in co-operation with the client’s management team, coordination of the research and fieldwork of the action learning participants
  • Overall project management - from start to finish - including weekly, if not daily communication with the client’s design/management team.

A Note about Facilitation

Our experiences have taught us that one of the most critical factors for the success of an action-learning project is the facilitation and coaching. At the same time, one of the great opportunities presented by an action learning project is the "learning moment" -- the chance to provide just in time learning, coaching or feedback, and to do so at those moments of any action learning process when the individual or group wants or needs the insight or teaching.

Capitalizing on this opportunity requires a special kind of highly experienced facilitator -- one who can help with the business focused discussions, knows when and how to stay out of the way, and has the experience and knowledge to constructively help the group capitalize on the learning moments. Executive KnowledgeWorks has been providing just such facilitation to major U.S. corporations for over 15 years. As a result, our clients, more often than not, realize both of the potential benefits of an action learning initiative -- a breakthrough on the strategic task or challenge and accelerated learning and development for both the individual participants and the team as a whole.

* Action learning is often a component of "Breakthrough Centered Development" -- which we consider to be the most powerful (multi- component) form of individual and organization development.


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