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The Critical Need for Strategic HR

June 26th, 2015 by Bill Mugavin in Talent Development, Talent Management

StrategyWhen asked why Indiana isn’t attracting and keeping enough IT top talent, Mike Langellier, CEO of TechPoint, told the audience at a recent public meeting that it’s “because too few organizations have a strategic HR function.” This isn’t a problem unique to Indiana or IT, however; all organizations regardless of geography or industry need to have a strategic HR function. None of us can afford to “burn and churn” our people any more—there aren’t enough individuals with needed skills—so we must all hire, develop, and retain the best. That takes an HR department filled with highly skilled professionals who are consciously aligned with the business strategy.

There’s a lot of talk about transforming “human resources” into “talent management,” a strategic function aligned with the organization’s strategic plan. That transformation cannot be merely the hollow window dressing of new titles and a simple plan. After all, a plan alone won’t earn HR a spot at the table with senior management if it’s not coupled with deadlines, metrics, and consistent actions that quickly deliver needed results.

If you’re an HR professional, how can you become more strategic and more valued by the organization?

  1. Raise your skills. Understand that business will never slow down—it will only speed up. That means each employee in every department must bring more to the table. All of us have to grow our skills on a continual basis. No matter where you are in the HR hierarchy, get certified in HR. Get your PHR, SPHR, CPLP, or other designations. Finish your degree. If you’re certified and have a degree, consider getting an MBA. With or without tuition assistance, take charge of your own development. There’s no time like the present.
  2. No matter your title—whether generalist or specialist—start thinking of yourself as a business person first. You happen to specialize in talent management, and talent management is the key to meeting larger strategic-growth goals. Your decisions and actions have an impact on the future of the organization. Reframe your priorities in order to become more valuable to your organization.
  3. Build your business acumen and vocabulary. Read business publications and industry journals. Take a class. Learn about business in general (how to develop a budget, read a P&L statement, etc.).
  4. Immerse yourself in the business. Learn about your organization specifically. Who and where are your competitors? Where is your industry going and what is your organization’s place in it? Once a week have lunch with a different peer in a different business unit. What are your peers working on? What keeps them up at night? How can talent management assist? Partnering with management at all levels can happen only when management knows that you know the business.
  5. Thoroughly understand your organization’s strategic plan and talent management’s role in achieving growth goals. Until you and each of your peers understand your role in taking the organization into the future, talent management will not have the brand it needs in order to influence individual managers or the executive team.
  6. Become a technology wizard. More of the tactical elements of talent management—payroll, performance management, even the initial stages of talent acquisition—are becoming more automated. Simultaneously, your organization is utilizing project management software, advanced Excel, and more. Take a class. Make technology your friend.

Our organizations need more talent management professionals who can connect the dots, divine future needs, and deliver needed results in a timely manner. There will always be a role for the tactical elements of talent management, but as more departments automate certain functions and as individuals are given broader responsibilities, there will be fewer and fewer positions that are purely tactical. You can become a valued strategic thinker and doer.

Bill Mugavin is a consultant at FlashPoint. He focuses his consulting on talent systems and processes, as well as leadership and management development.

Image courtesy of John Morgan

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Talent Development Trends from the ATD Conference

June 16th, 2015 by Sean Olson in Talent Development, Talent Management

FlashPoint had the priviatd2015[1]lege of exhibiting at the Association for Talent Development (ATD) conference in Orlando in May. With more than 10,000 attendees and 400 vendors, the conference brought together thought leaders to talk about the latest trends in the talent development industry, and we were excited share in the dialog.

ATD President and CEO Tony Bingham set the stage by describing the global movement from “training” to “talent development.”  While functional training will always be present and necessary, the shift is toward developing employees in a holistic sense.  This was echoed by former Avon CEO Andrea Jung in her general session presentation.  She motivated the audience by describing the need to move the heart of employees.  Engagement, she noted, occurs when we touch the heart.

The following are a few other prevailing messages from the conference:

  1. Collaboration

Internally, more companies are developing methods to break down silos and promote collaboration in the workforce.  They recognize the benefit of employees who understand the total business and how their function acts as a lever for other functions.

Externally, companies see the value in partnerships to drive business.  This was truly a global conference with companies from all over the world.  Many of the foreign companies were seeking US partners to help drive the learning and development of their people.  Global collaboration is a huge opportunity for many learning organizations.

  1. Measurement

Talent development spending is on the rebound.  With increased investment comes increased scrutiny on its value.  How do we measure whether learning is successfully implemented?  How can we show the return on investment?

There are answers to these questions.  Coaching appears to be an important tool that moves the needle from learning to implementation to ROI.  Both in-person and online learning require consistent follow-up if they are going to have an impact, and both individual and group coaching reinforce the learning and maximize the investment of the company.

  1. Innovation

Technology is driving much of the talent development in companies today.  As evidence, consider that the majority of vendors at the conference were technology firms sharing innovative ways to deliver content.  No longer is a learning management system (LMS) sufficient by itself.  Organizations must consider several modes of technology to develop employees.  One of the focal points was on-demand, mobile delivery, which helps keep pace with the fast movement of 21st-century business and creates the opportunity for more work/life balance.

ATD 2015 helped set the stage for what lies ahead in the realm of talent development. As you look toward innovative, holistic talent development programs that drive business outcomes, what is the next move for your company?  How can FlashPoint partner with you for success?

Sean Olson is a business development consultant at FlashPoint. In his role he works to understand client needs and help them find the answers that move their organizations forward.

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Five Acknowledgments That Will Free You to Do Your Best Work

June 8th, 2015 by Sean Olson in Coaching, Talent Management

LighthouseThrough my work in talent management, I often coach individuals around becoming more strategic, stepping up their leadership skills, and growing in their careers. Of course people struggle, and my goal is to help them find the answers and free themselves to do their best work. A key concept I try to get across is that “you are the one who is responsible for your life and career. You control what you do and how you respond to what is done to you.” And as I’ve shared this message over the years, I’ve come up with a handful of fundamental suggestions to help give direction.

So I share them here: My “five acknowledgments” to help you do your best work.

  1. Acknowledge that you have stuff. We all have a history. We have all made stupid mistakes and done stupid things. Our actions have impacted who we are today. Own it! You have “stuff.” In order to be the best you that you can be, enlist the help of a mentor or coach and begin working through it. Investing in yourself will help you to free your mind and emotions, and you will execute on a much higher level.
  2. Acknowledge that you can do only what you can do. Superheroes are on the small screen and the big screen. They are all fictional characters. I’m sorry to break this to you but YOU ARE NOT A SUPERHERO. However, you do have some incredible gifts and skills that you can use in your job. So use them. Develop your gifts to maximize their impact. But at the same time, remember—you can do only what you can do. Simply be and do your best—not as a superhero, just as the best you.
  3. Acknowledge that you do not have to be the smartest person in the room. No one really thinks you’re the smartest in the room. Why pretend you are? You’re only limiting yourself if you take this stance. If you have to be the smartest, you’ll close your ears and minds to the brilliance that surrounds you. Acknowledge that you can learn from anyone—yes, anyone. Surround yourself with people who think differently and act differently and learn from them all. In the end, you’ll learn more and become smarter.
  4. Acknowledge your character over your competency. Being competent is vital. It is why you have your job and why you’re getting paid. Nevertheless, your character overshadows your competency, every time. Build your character. When you focus on building and preserving your character, your competencies usually grow simultaneously. You can always learn a new competency, but you cannot replace your character.
  5. Acknowledge you are afraid. We all suffer from fear but never talk about fear. Fear is common. Face your fears and move forward. Fear has a foundation only if you give in to it. Acknowledge it and press on.

Admittedly, these “five acknowledgments” will not change your life. But I do hope they give you a sense of purpose and freedom to do your best work—and that they encourage you to start your best work today.

Sean Olson is a business development consultant at FlashPoint. In his role he works to understand client needs and help them find the answers that move their organizations forward.

Image courtesy of Waqas Mustafeez

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Change Creates Opportunity for Talent Development Teams

June 1st, 2015 by Kristi Gaynor in Talent Management, Talent Systems and Processes

ChangeChange is eminent. Whether you’re dealing with an acquisition, a merger, a reorganization, or another common business scenario, talent development teams play a critical role. Are you ready for the challenge?

Scott Thomas, Senior Director of Content Development and Certification at Salesforce, recently spoke to the central Indiana chapter of the Association for Talent Development, sharing his experiences with change and offering advice to talent development professionals. When change comes, he finds, “it is critical to show your team’s value early and often.” Talent leaders play a key role in this. Thomas notes that the closer the talent development team can get to the strategic team, the more smoothly any transition will occur. Talent development professionals can advocate for transparency, monitor and support employee engagement, and help the workforce manage change.

When dealing with change, Thomas notes, talent development professionals should focus on the basics:

  • What is the #1 objective?
  • What do we want our employees to learn?
  • What do we want them to do differently?

Aligning your team’s focus to the strategic work in front of you will help guide the organization through the change process. Having done this often, Thomas offers several lessons learned:

  • Always keep your eye on the ball (again, what is the objective/what are we trying to achieve?)
  • Understand and align to the strategy
  • Avoid making rash decisions
  • Don’t forget basic training principles
  • Communicate early and often (gossip channels are dangerous)
  • Consider all steps; follow a methodical process
  • Be prepared by anticipating what may come/what questions may be asked
  • Align human resources and talent development with public relations; be prepared to answer per the strategy

Employees are critical to the success of your company, and when change comes, your role as a talent professional is to ensure they execute while providing a relatively easy experience for them. Change brings stress . . . so how can you alleviate it as much as possible? The responsibility is great, but the opportunities to make an impact are boundless.

Kristi Gaynor is business development manager at FlashPoint. She directs FlashPoint’s clients toward outcomes-oriented systems and processes that drive accountability, execution, and results.

Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee

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Moving Women through the Talent Pipeline for STEM Careers and More

April 17th, 2015 by Nancy S. Ahlrichs in Talent Development, Talent Management

Girl with Magnifying GlassInclusiveness is a topic we hear a lot about lately, and when it comes to the workplace, building an inclusive culture can center on a wide range of stakeholders and initiatives. One focus area is moving women through the talent pipeline, particularly in careers related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) but also in other fields.

HR can play a key role in opening the talent pipeline so that more women flow through to the top. Here are ten ways to do this:

  1. Build a business case for diversity and inclusion—and be sure to include women. Every organization needs to create a talent pipeline in order to hire the best and the brightest today and tomorrow. With changing demographics, this requires developing relationships and a positive employment brand for employees from different backgrounds.
  2. Add inclusion to your organization’s strategic plan. Ensure that the entire organization understands why inclusion—including female candidates and employees—is critical to the long-term success of the organization.
  3. Add diversity and inclusion to your organization’s core competencies and your performance management criteria. Inclusion is more than women, of course, but it needs to specifically include women if that is the category of diversity that your organization lacks. When inclusion is one of your core competencies, it is woven into recruiting, manager development, performance management, succession processes, and other stages of the talent life cycle.
  4. Create a long-term recruiting strategy to attract more women to your field and ultimately to your organization. An example of a long-term strategy for moving women into STEM careers is to have your organization sponsor a weeknight homework hotline for students. Even as early as grade school, female students need to know that there is a future for them in STEM industries. That requires reaching out to female students (through tools such as the hotline) and encouraging them to sign up for required high school classes such as chemistry, physics, calculus, and so on. Whether you use your own employees to staff the hotline (this can be a meaningful volunteer activity) or tap into a local college, the result will be more high school students prepared for STEM majors. Another example is to sponsor scholarships to help female students attend college in a STEM major. Follow up by developing a relationship with each student: visit her, invite her for a tour, introduce her to potential role models, offer an internship, and give her a job interview when she graduates.
  5. Create a short-term recruiting strategy for new grads. Sponsor a student professional organization chapter or create your own student-level professional organization to get to know students in the right majors. Invite the chapter to meet on your premises, give members a tour, introduce them to potential role models, offer internships, and communicate about job opportunities.
  6. Prominently feature women engineers, accountants, chemists, and similar professionals on your website and in your social media. Whether you simply feature them in a video clip about “why I work for XYZ Corporation” or have them discuss a current project and the impact it’s having, introduce female faces to the public.
  7. Feature your female leaders—or bring in national or state-level female leaders—at staff meetings, awards presentations, and similar events.
  8. Reexamine your recruiting process to be sure that every effort is made to have at least one female candidate among the talent pool for any position. Yes this is extra work, but it’s well worth it. If you don’t interview women, you won’t hire women. Source female candidates from college alumni rosters, local professional organization chapters, LinkedIn, national professional organization websites, online chat rooms, and more. Connect to as many females in your field as possible on LinkedIn and push out your job openings to them.
  9. Using internal or external mentors, develop the emerging women leaders in your organization. Many communities have professional organizations with trained cadres of women mentors in search of protégés. Seek out consultants with a track record of success who help organizations to set up targeted mentoring programs. Then offer a mentor as a benefit—because it is one!
  10. Ensure that succession planning reaches down throughout the organization and that women at all levels are developed for future positions. Too often succession planning stops at the top. Preparation for next steps can be a recruiting tool and a retention tool.

As you look to build an inclusive culture, keep these ideas top of mind. They’re great tools to help draw women to roles that have typically been male-dominated. And of course you can also apply many of the concepts to attracting and hiring other diverse groups, which will continue to add strength to your organization.

Nancy S. Ahlrichs is a business development consultant at FlashPoint, where she interacts with human resource professionals, executives, and business owners in order to understand their organizational needs. She collaborates with our other team members to develop appropriate consulting solutions and supports prospects throughout the sales process.

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Proactive Coaching: Four Questions to Help Move Your Organization Forward

April 10th, 2015 by Nancy S. Ahlrichs in Coaching, Talent Management

WhistleCoaching has gained an important foothold in the 21st-century workplace. Whereas in the past most organizations viewed it solely as a last-ditch effort to improve employee performance, today many more are using it as a proactive measure to develop their team members.

As employees face increasing demands that require new skills (e.g., anticipating fast-changing customer needs to drive innovation, or managing far-flung staff in different countries), companies are using coaching as a key development tool. And according to the Harvard Business Review Research Report: The Realities of Executive Coaching, many are using it to prepare for future talent needs (e.g., developing high-potential leaders and facilitating transitions into new roles or positions).

To grow your talent and remain competitive, you should explore coaching opportunities for your own organization. Understand, however, that coaching isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept, and you’ll need to consider different types of coaching and coaches for different types of people. You’ll need to look at the level of employee (executive, manager, etc.), your resources/budget, the time investment required, the skills you’re trying to build, the participant’s experience with coaching, the skill set of the coach, and the outcomes you’re trying to achieve.

To set the stage for success with coaching, here are four key questions you can ask to help you make decisions and shape the program that’s right for you.

1.  When should coaching be integrated into a broader development program?

Coaching is very effective when offered in conjunction with other development opportunities such as classroom training. Coaching supports learning retention and behavior change, allowing participants to hone in on specific areas of development. Organizations that provide coaching as a development supplement often see faster and sustained outcomes.

Coaching is especially effective as a component of leadership development programs. Coaches can provide leaders with real-time feedback, hold them accountable, help them make progress toward personalized development plans, and offer support and guidance as they work through ongoing challenges and successes.

 2.  When should coaching be a stand-alone tool?

Sometimes coaching is most effective when it’s delivered on its own and not paired with other development programs. For example, you should consider stand-alone coaching if:

  • You’re trying to develop a specific skill like communication or delegation that applies to a small group of leaders.
  • You have a potential successor for a particular role and you want to accelerate his or her development.
  • You’re concerned that a leader may be a retention risk and you want to invest in his or her individual development.

3.  When should you use one-on-one coaching?

In addition to choosing between integrated and stand-alone coaching, you need to consider whether you want to provide coaching on a one-on-one basis or as part of a group.

There are many benefits to individual coaching. First, it offers customized support as well as an opportunity to dive deeper into personal issues (e.g., strengths and weaknesses, barriers to development, career trajectory). It tends to be better for the execution of ideas and approaches because the participant focuses on making progress on his or her own individualized action plan.

Participants in one-on-one coaching report that they are more comfortable being honest and candid with their one-on-one coach than in a group setting. They appreciate being able to be vulnerable without the fear of being judged.

4.  When is group coaching most effective?

Group coaching, on the other hand, is effective when team members have a common experience and can support one another in pursuing development plans, goals, and associated action items. Group coaching participants experience camaraderie and learn that the problems they face are not unique; together they can share insights and lessons learned to solve problems.

One of the most positive outcomes of group coaching is when participants come from across the organization and have the opportunity to break down barriers or silos. As participants learn about other departments and functions, they develop relationships that may be useful as they face future challenges. In addition, group coaching allows participants to hone their skills in giving and receiving feedback, sharing knowledge, and encouraging others.

As the various considerations above indicate, coaching is a flexible tool for development. When you explore the options, remember the end results that you’re planning to achieve. A well-thought-out program that’s supported by management and that engages participants will inspire them to think, feel, and behave in new ways. This in turn will provide them with opportunities to be creative, perform more effectively in their roles, and move your organization forward. And in the end, this creates impact for you and your business.

Nancy S. Ahlrichs is a business development consultant at FlashPoint, where she interacts with human resource professionals, executives, and business owners in order to understand their organizational needs. She collaborates with our other team members to develop appropriate consulting solutions and supports prospects throughout the sales process.

Image courtesy of Steven Depolo

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Transparency Is a Bottom-Line Issue

April 3rd, 2015 by Nancy S. Ahlrichs in Talent Management, Talent Systems and Processes

Bottom-Line TranparencyTransparency is not only good for employee happiness but also great for the bottom line. According to a 2013 study of more than 300 organizations with 40,000 confidential employee responses, management transparency was found to be the number one factor in determining employee happiness. Just as investors have demanded increased transparency from corporations, so too do employees want the same from their leaders.

As the competitive landscape changes, it has dramatically shifted the balance in favor of companies that can respond effectively and rapidly, whether to share current and projected business and financial information or to respond in a crisis. In his book Creating a Culture of Candor, Warren Bennis writes, “Studies show that companies that rate high in transparency tend to outperform more opaque ones.” He cites a 2005 study finding that a group of 27 U.S. companies noted as “most transparent” beat the S&P 500 by 11.3 percent. In the case of the transparency-employee happiness connection, to give is to get.

So how does an organization boost transparency? First managers need to make an ongoing commitment to regularly share information with the employees. This means repeatedly reinforcing ideas around the mission, vision, and values and also connecting these three concepts and the strategic plan to employee-level goals. When employees know not only how they fit into the larger picture, but also how what they do in their jobs affects the bottom line, they’re more likely to do more of the things that positively impact the organization.

Transparency often means trusting employees to keep confidential information confidential. But even though it involves risk, there are also rewards: sharing information can improve operations, decrease costs, and strengthen employee engagement. Furthermore, because trust is almost always a two-way street, in exchange for operational and performance information, employees are more likely to speak up about issues that are holding the organization back from achieving its goals or to volunteer suggestions and ideas that streamline processes or develop new services and products.

What does transparency look like in action? As an example I’ll point to the company I work for, FlashPoint. Senior management shares performance information on a monthly basis at an all-staff meeting. We discuss business trends, finances, operations, and more. Is the income or productivity trend line going up or down? What can each of us do to keep the arrow going up or change its direction? What successes do team members have to celebrate regarding the business? What ideas and solutions do we have to offer? Of course every one of us has a stake in the success of the firm whether or not we discuss these matters, but we can more effectively direct our thoughts and actions in a transparent culture.

Every organization should be thinking about how it too can be more transparent. Transparency is one of the lowest-cost initiatives with the greatest bottom-line impact. Informed employees are engaged, and engaged employees:

  • Help recruit their talented friends (and thus lower recruiting costs)
  • Tend to stay longer (reducing turnover and related expenses)
  • Do their best work (meeting goals and revenue projections)
  • Share ideas (improving production and promoting innovation)
  • Accept promotions (helping to ensure the future success of the organization)

Transparency builds trust and commitment, which in turn builds better-performing organizations. What is your company doing to be transparent with your team and to build your bottom line?

Nancy S. Ahlrichs is a business development consultant at FlashPoint, where she interacts with human resource professionals, executives, and business owners in order to understand their organizational needs. She collaborates with our other team members to develop appropriate consulting solutions and supports prospects throughout the sales process.

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Manage More Effectively through Constructive Feedback

March 31st, 2015 by Bill Mugavin in Talent Management, Talent Systems and Processes

FeedbackThe ability to offer constructive feedback has become a critical management skill. Good feedback gives focus to employees, helping them direct their work so that the organization achieves its strategic goals. Unfortunately, though, many managers struggle with providing constructive feedback. They often commit one of three sins—omitting, minimizing, or exaggerating feedback—only to find that an issue grows rapidly because they’ve failed to address it or have misaddressed it.

If you’re a manager, how do you make sure that you regularly offer feedback that’s clear, concise, and effective?

  • First, when setting goals with employees (whether annual goals or project-specific goals), make sure they understand and agree that feedback will be part of the process. When employees expect feedback, it becomes a natural part of the conversation and they’re more receptive to it.
  • Determine how often you will review progress in person and through reporting. If the employee sends you a weekly report, are bimonthly in-person meetings enough to ensure that you’re able to reinforce positive progress and correct course when issues are small? Or are weekly update meetings the best approach?
  • Keep the feedback brief. Constructive feedback should not be an hour-long ordeal; instead, plan to meet for a five-to-ten-minute discussion.
  • Remember that often the best feedback is just in time. It’s important that you plan for regular feedback, but if you see an opportunity to provide constructive guidance in the moment, take it. It will be much more effective than if you wait until a scheduled meeting time.
  • Whether feedback is planned or spontaneous, pay attention to the desired outcome of the feedback. What is the positive purpose of the feedback that you plan to give? Do you need to teach new skills? Do you need to build confidence? Does the employee need tips to increase productivity and efficiency? Keep the end goal in mind so that the feedback is focused.
  • Take a structured approach to the feedback. Share the constructive, positive purpose of the feedback, state specifically what you have observed, and discuss how the issue impacts coworkers, the department, and the organization. Pause to let the employee respond.
  • Be prepared for sidetracks. If an employee tries to deflect, deny, or get emotional, remind the employee of the original goal-setting agreement, focus on what you observed, and offer specific recommendations for improvement.
  • Remain positive and ready to move forward. Be sure to express support and confidence in the employee’s ability to respond to the feedback. Confirm the employee’s plan of action and then move on to the next topic.

Taking a deliberate, goal-oriented approach can make delivering constructive feedback much easier for managers. It still allows for a personal touch but helps to focus on the facts and eliminate much of the emotionally draining aspects. And a result of the regular, well-structured feedback, managers and employees can form better working relationships, keep strategic goals top of mind, and achieve more meaningful outcomes for the organization.

Bill Mugavin is a consultant at FlashPoint. He focuses his consulting on talent systems and processes, as well as leadership and management development.

Image courtesy of Dennis Skley

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Training Your Team—Like Oil on Water?

March 20th, 2015 by Kristi Gaynor in Talent Management

Oil on WaterAt FlashPoint we spend a lot of time talking to organizations about how they train their teams. And while a lot of people are excited about the opportunities they offer, we often hear frustrations creep in. Sometimes, it seems, the training is like oil on water—floating on the surface with no great reach throughout the organization.

Some examples:

  • “We hold quarterly lunch and learns for our employees . . . but it’s limited; we want to do more and don’t know where to begin.
  • “We offer employees access to e-learning modules to develop their skills . . . but interest and participation are low.
  • “We grow our managers by offering frequent leadership development programs . . . but even though enthusiasm is high at first, participants quickly go back to their daily routine and don’t incorporate the ideas.
  • “We invest a lot of money on training . . . but we don’t seem to create sustained change.

If you have frustrations similar to these, of course you want to work through them. You want to spend your valuable resources on training opportunities that promote improvement throughout your organization. But how do you begin to do this?

A good place to start is by asking some important questions up front:

  • What strategic objectives are we as an organization trying to drive?
  • What habits and behaviors are we seeking to change?
  • By improving these habits and behaviors, what is the intended business outcome?
  • How can we ensure that individual and organizational objectives are clearly tied together?
  • What can we do to ensure lasting impact?

Take time to reflect on these questions before taking action. Involve others by asking them what they suggest. This can come in the form of a survey to all employees, interviews with organizational leaders to understand their needs, or a cross-functional team that openly discusses needs and solutions.

Once you’ve narrowed your focus and can clearly articulate training opportunities that support organizational objectives, create a program that ties all learning activities together. Make it a point to define activities, outcomes, audience, timing, and roles and responsibilities.

When establishing the program content, be sure to consider pre- and post-session work that reinforces the learnings and ensures lasting impact. Pre-session work may include readings, assessments, or meetings with managers that lay the groundwork for a positive experience. Post-session work may include action learning; follow-up webinars; meetings with managers to foster engagement; individual and/or group coaching; reassessments; and quick learning bursts in the form of articles, videos, e-mail reminders, and other tools.

Of course this is just a high-level look toward taking training to a new level, and to really be effective you’ll have to dedicate intense focus and energy as you plan, design, build, and facilitate your program. But considering the overall picture is a good start, and it’s an important step as you begin the process of eliminating the oil and ensuring that training permeates your organization.

Kristi Gaynor is business development manager at FlashPoint. She directs FlashPoint’s clients toward outcomes-oriented systems and processes that drive accountability, execution, and results.

Image courtesy of RHL Images

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Accelerate Leadership Development through Action Learning

March 13th, 2015 by Linda Dausend in Talent Development, Talent Management

Action TeamLeadership development is changing—for the better. In many organizations it is no longer solely a classroom experience. Instead it often involves multiple components that accelerate learning. Examples include combining classroom training with webinars for reinforcement or providing coaching in order to customize individual learning experiences.

Another development tool that’s increasing in popularity is action learning. Action learning involves all of the training participants in a real-life organizational challenge so they can build and use new skills—and significantly benefit their organization at the same time. A wide community of businesses, governments, nonprofits, and educational institutions are recognizing its effectiveness and using it.

Action learning includes:

  • A real problem that is important, critical, and usually complex
  • A diverse problem-solving team
  • A process that promotes curiosity, inquiry, and reflection
  • A requirement that talk be converted into action and ultimately a solution
  • A commitment to learning

Many action learning projects utilize an external coach who is responsible for promoting and facilitating learning as well as encouraging the team to be self-managing. The coach helps the group to:

  • Succinctly reframe the problem
  • Identify the goal
  • Strategize actions
  • Take action

One benefit of action learning is that it helps participants “learn how to unlearn.” This is vital because employees often start to think the same way, merging ideas into a group mindset that eventually becomes established as part of the organizational culture. When they become action learners, on the other hand, team members learn how to question, probe, and free themselves from what they “know.” They practice setting aside assumptions, preconceived notions, and what they believe to be true. The critical inquiry they develop helps them to think more creatively and strategically, both to their personal benefit and the company’s benefit.

Solving complex problems by using new ways of thinking demands a wide range of skills across the team, and as a result individual team members can develop a customized learning agenda for themselves. The action learning approach is quite different from the “one size fits all” curriculum that is characteristic of many training and development programs. The individualization often means that participants become more engaged, commit to learning, and grow as leaders. The skills and knowledge they acquire can be applied to solving other important problems.

Of course all of this has a positive impact on the company too. Organizations are being challenged by their local and global clients to change their business models, delivery channels, and even products or services. In many cases there is also pressure to streamline processes. Through action learning, the company establishes teams (often consisting often of the best minds from a cross-section of the organization) to tackle these real-world problems and come up with viable solutions.

With proven results, action learning continues to grow and evolve. More and more it takes place not only in brick-and-mortar organizations but also in virtual environments, offering a cost-effective solution at all levels of the organization. This broader availability has added to the acceleration of learning. As a result team members are developing much needed leadership skills for a new era, and organizations are seeing both short-term and long-term return on investment.

Linda Dausend is a consultant at FlashPoint. She collaborates with clients to develop more strategic approaches toward managing talent and to help them prepare leaders who actually lead.

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