CHICAGO–"Action learning" projects can be a boon for an organization in solving a problem, or a “colossal, frustrating waste of time,” according to one expert, who is sharing advice on five mistakes to avoid in such efforts.
Action learning–a process that involves a small group working on real problems, taking action, and learning as individuals, as a team, and as an organization–can provide an immediate ROI that more than pays for your training investment, according to Karin Hurt and David Dye, writing on LetsGrowLeaders.com.
Or, they can show little to know ROI at all if not done right. To avoid the latter, the authors recommend avoiding these five mistakes when implementing Action Learning Projects:
1. Floundering: “Crap, how were we supposed to know that?”
Hurt and Dye noted participants get REALLY excited about their project and pour their heart, soul, and many long hours into making it happen.
“But they’re oblivious to the political dynamics or bigger strategic picture,” they wrote. “They don’t have access to the right people or all the information, and when they go to present their findings, they’re met with a scowl, ‘Didn’t you consider…?’ ‘Why didn’t you talk to…’ ‘Don’t you know so and so has already been working on this for three years?’”
The result is high-potential employees end up spinning their wheels, killing themselves on top of their day job, and all this time they’ve been climbing rocky terrain in an unfamiliar land, observed Hurt and Dye.
“Sure, learning to stakeholder is all part of the learning but if the mountain is gnarly, a knowledgeable sherpa is only fair.”
2. Fuzzy Guidelines: “What are we supposed to be doing anyway?”
Be clear on big rules, resources, and other parameters, the authors recommend.
“If the real deal is they must solve the problem with no funding or other limitations up front, say so,” recommended Hurt and Dye. “You want the best ROI on these projects and most strategic thinking. The companies we work with who do this best, spend solid time up front defining the projects and thinking through what’s in scope and communicating any resource constraints.
“If you want your team to think more strategically, giving them as much context as possible to think strategically.”
3. The Wrong Players: “We thought this guy was high-potential?”
Action learning projects give participants exposure to executives, said Hurt and Dye.
“Not all exposure is good exposure,” they said. “Be sure you pick the right talent who are ready for this experience. Yes, stretch, but don’t send them into the deep end the first day they learn to swim. We’ve seen people’s careers seriously damaged from being pushed into such programs before they’re ready.”
4. Lack of Boss Support: “Yeah, no… I need you focused here.”
Sure, one sign of a high-potential leader is that they can do THIS and THAT, meaning they pull off the work on this project while doing their day job, observed the authors, before noting it’s also important for supervisors to understand the investment necessary in such programs.
“If they consistently get in the way of participants attending meetings or doing their fair share, the high-potential participant can become very stressed worrying about balancing their relationship with their boss and preserving their reputation with their action learning team.”
5. Failure to Execute: “Well, it seemed like such a good idea…”
Typically action learning programs result in recommendations with an assumed handoff to the appropriate team or department for implementation, according to Hurt and Dye.
“Be sure to secure the appropriate commitments. Nothing’s worse than the ‘Whatever happened to that project?’ feeling. A few false starts, and your action learning program will lose all credibility.”