A practical guide to implementing the 5As Framework for making any learning and change intervention in organizations successful.
5As Framework for Increasing Impact of Training Sean Murray interviews Steve Gill about the 5As Framework for achieving business impact from training. This is a 45 minute Webinar with several audience polls and responses to chat room questions from audience.
I had the good fortune to vacation in Spain the past few weeks. While in Barcelona, I took this photo in the Picasso Museum.
Banksy, the graffiti artist, engraved a large stone with a quote from Picasso and then crossed out Picasso's name and put his own. Both Picasso and Banksy were trying to say that one kind of creativity is presenting art in new and different ways. Picasso did this with his riffs on paintings by Velazquez and others. Banksy does this with his parodies of popular and commercial art.
It occurred to me that those of us who create tools for organizational learning and improvement also stand on the shoulders of the talented people who came before us. Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lippitt, Peter Drucker, Chris Argyris, Donald Schon, and many others, contributed the theories, tools, and techniques that are now part of every effective consultant's and trainer's storehouse. We have "stolen" their art out of respect and made it our own.
In an article for T+D titled, A Closer Look: Myths vs. Reality in Training, Pat Galagan presents a number of provocative challenges to popular assumptions about training and learning. One of these “myths” that grabbed my attention is, “Performance management can be improved by installing the right software to manage performance data or changing the way people are rated.” Galagan writes that recent research suggests that the reality is, “Human nature plays a bigger role in performance management than any process or software.” This observation flies in the face of popular rating and ranking systems and software designed to track course completion and goal attainment.
Galagan references the writing of David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work. In an article for the NeuroLeadership Institute, Rock and co-authors present the case that the most important factor in improving performance is a person’s belief system. They write:
Research suggests that people’s beliefs about whether intelligence or talent is born or can be developed, dramatically impacts the success or failure of a whole performance management system.
Based on Carol Dweck’s work at Stanford, Rock and his co-authors say that employees can be divided into two groups: those who believe talent is “fixed” and those who believe people can develop their brains and abilities. The problem is that most performance management systems reinforce the belief that talent is fixed and that people can’t change and, therefore, fail to encourage development. These systems are used to monitor achievement of goals, not progress toward goals and not shifting goals, sending the message that the organization only cares about a static set of competencies.
I’ve written previously about the importance of creating a learning culture in organizations. Performance management systems that are based on the talent-is-fixed belief are a barrier to creating a learning culture. If Rock and his co-authors are right, employees are being discouraged from admitting failure and exposing their short-comings. That would be an admission that they don’t already have the talent, which, if talent is fixed, would mean that their future in the organization is limited.
This explains much of the resistance to learning and change that is evident in many organizations today. A fixed-talent mindset, expressed through the culture of the organization and demonstrated in the behavior of its leaders, prevents employees from taking steps to continuously improve themselves, their teams, and the organization as a whole.
The answer to this question is important because of the
impact culture has on an organization. I
like this quote attributed to Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for
breakfast”. You can have the most elegant strategic plan, but if your
organization’s beliefs and assumptions, values and guiding principles,
workplace symbols and artifacts, and company lore are not consistent with that plan, not much will happen.
Culture used to be considered a byproduct of organizational
life. Today, many companies are being quite intentional about culture. So, how
do you know what kind of culture you have and, if you want
to create a learning
culture, how do you know when you have one? Dharmesh Shah, Founder and CTO at
HubSpot, gives us a way to think about this. He writes, “The true nature of
your company – and its culture – is determined by how you instinctively react.”
Taking a cue from Shah, here are some espoused values (not
necessarily values in use) and instinctive reactions that indicate either the
presence or absence of a learning culture.
The espoused value says, “We want all employees to develop
their skills and abilities.”
An executive assistant asks her boss for permission to attend
a series of workshops on financial management that is being offered by the
company. She explains that this would help her understand the company better,
be more helpful to him, and strengthen her career portfolio. Is the executive’s
first reaction to say, “I appreciate your ambition, but I need you here right
now. We can look at arranging something in the future. And, besides, I don't have the budget for that.” Or, is the executive’s
first reaction to say, “I appreciate your ambition. That would be useful
knowledge for you to have. Thanks for bringing this request to my attention. Let’s
talk about how we can make that happen as soon as possible.” Both reactions are
reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the other is not.
The espoused value says, “We learn from our mistakes.”
A project team member reluctantly admits to the team leader
that due to some unforeseen factors their project will not come in on-time and
within budget. Is the team leader’s first reaction to say, “I’m very disappointed
in our team. Why weren’t these problems anticipated? Why wasn’t I told about
this sooner?” Or, is the team leader’s first reaction to say, “Let’s get the
team together and review what happened. I want us to learn from this experience
so that we can do a better job of reaching our goals in the future.” Both
reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the
other is not.
The espoused value says, “We share information and have open
and honest lines of communication.”
The R&D department of a company has produced several
prototypes of an exciting new product that has the potential to become a
blockbuster for the company. Manufacturing helped with the prototype but has
not learned enough about it yet to move it into production. The Marketing Department
is telling potential customers about the new product and the Sales Department
is taking orders and promising delivery. Is the CEO’s first reaction to say, “We
have to fast-track this product with Manufacturing so that we can fill orders
and keep customers happy.” Or, is the CEO’s first reaction to say, “Let’s get
all of the departments heads together and find out what each of them needs to know from
each other in order to make a successful launch of the new product.” Both
reactions are reasonable, but one is indicative of a learning culture and the
other is not.
How would people in your organization instintively react to these situations? What other situations would help you determine if you have a learning culture in your organization?
I have to admit that prior to hearing Elliott Masie talk
about “learning agility” last week at the virtual Human Captial Media Symposium for CLOs, the concept was not on my radar. However,
aspiring to be agile myself (mentally and physically), I’m willing to learn
something new and, maybe, discard some old notions about human development and
It appears that there are at least three definitions of
learning agility being used in the field. Each is worth considering. One has to
do with openness to experience, another has to do with adaptability to change,
and a third has to do with the range of methods one uses to acquire new
information and abilities.
In Learning About Learning Agility, a white paper from researchers
at Teachers College, Columbia University and the Center for Creative Leadership,
the authors argue that agile learners are effective leaders because they are
life-long learners about leadership. They write that agile learners…
…show the willingness
and ability to learn throughout their careers, if not their entire lives…Learning-agile
individuals seek opportunities for growth and are able to process these
opportunities in order to learn. They are open to new experiences, seek
challenges, and are willing to introduce new ideas and question “norms”.
Moreover, they are able to remain present in challenging situations, performing
and adapting “on the fly”. Finally, learning-agile individuals understand that
experience alone does not guarantee learning; they take time to reflect,
seeking to understand why things happen, in addition to what happened.
The authors make the point that we usually judge people
based on what they have done and what they already know when another, maybe better
indicator of leadership success is how well they learn. This is a profound
observation because it flies in the face of standard recruiting and selection
practices. Do we throw out the resume and observe how people behave in novel
Vicki Swisher, with Korn Ferry International, in a webcast says that organizations
with learning-agile leaders succeed more than other organizations. These leaders
adapt their leadership style and actions to the changing internal and external
environments of their organizations. Agility, according to Swisher is about
having the flexibility to change given the circumstances.
I would say that this kind of learning agility is most needed when leaders are under pressure to respond
quickly and decisively. We know that when people are under stress they become less mindful, their perception of options becomes restricted, and they often make the most expedient and safest, rather than best, choice. Agile leaders are able to step back from these pressure situations, engage with others in a way that helps them see the range of possibilities, and make choices that are best for the organization.
Masie’s comments suggest a third definition of learning
agility. This is the ability of leaders to find the information they need when
they need it, to use a wide range of methods of learning (technology, social, practice, etc.), and turn that information into the knowledge and skills they need
to be effective leaders in the situation. Being an agile learner by this
definition means being able to sift through all of the sources of information
that we have at our fingertips (literally), evaluate what is useful and what is
not, and apply that information to solving problems and improving the
performance of employees and our organizations.
Online resources for leaders and wannabe leaders are quite extensive these days. We are witnessing the democratization of leadership, making the "servant leader" even more possible. Everyone can become a leader (as well as an effective follower) by learning about leadership when and where it is most convenient and applicable.
One of the very useful features of the list is the categorization of topics. These include:
Women in Leadership
While Masters in Leadership has created an excellent resource, that has something for everybody, as with any best-of list, each of us can think of people and organizations that we would have included. For example, I would have selected the sites of Wally Bock and John Baldoni for a hundred-best list. I hope Masters in Leadership continues to monitor the sites on their list and remove and add links as these Web-based sources of information change over time.
I recently returned from a nine-day trip to Rwanda where
I teamed with two colleagues to train the
leadership team of Agahozo-Shalom
Youth Village, a residential community for orphaned youth, in how to use
evaluation to continuously improve their educational and personal development
One of the first things we did with the staff was to ask them
to share a story about when they discovered that they were leaders. This
exercise, which had their enthusiastic participation, set the stage for our
week of training and learning. We heard many inspirational stories. We heard
Feeling compelled to take action to right an
Making a difference in other people’s lives and
Being entrusted with leadership
responsibilities by people who are highly respected
Taking a risk to fill a major leadership
role and then succeeding
Having leadership thrust upon them and
rising to the occasion
Being chosen by peers to be their leader
Interesting to me was that nobody mentioned a college course
on leadership, a leadership training program, or leadership coaching. Their
newly acquired awareness of their own leadership capabilities came from meeting
challenges they faced in everyday life.
When did you first discover that you were a leader? Where
were you? What were you doing? What happened that told you that you could lead
others and be effective at it?
I participated in a presentation on coaching at Zingerman’s Roadhouse in
Ann Arbor, Michigan on September 21, 2012. My co-presentors were Rob Pasick and Barb Allushuski. We talked about the growth of executive coaching, the range of styles of coaching, the ups and downs of coaching, and how
to evaluate coaching. See below:
Executive coaching has quickly become a nearly two billion dollar industry. Many companies now rely on coaching for the development of their leaders. Having a coach, once perceived as an admission of failure, is now perceived as a normal part of managing large, complex organizations. And coaching has also become common for entrepreneurs who need help transitioning from a leader of a start-up to a leader of a second and third-stage company.
With this acceptance of coaching, as with any performance improvement intervention, CEOs and Boards are beginning to ask if the substantial investment they are making in it is paying off. However, we don’t know any more about the impact of coaching then we did in 2008 when I wrote the blog post, “Coaching for Results.” Studies of coaching tend to be surveys of people being coached. Sometimes they include direct reports and supervisors to find out if anyone observes attitude or behavior change in that executive.
The problems with these kinds of studies are fourfold: first, they lump all coaching into a black box without examining the many variations of coaching; second, they assume that the purpose of coaching is to change the individual when, in many cases, the purpose is to change the organization; third, they don’t tell us exactly how the coaching contributed to performance improvement given an environment in which many other factors could have contributed to the change; and fourth, they rarely look at long term impact, which is what is often the intended purpose of coaching.
Coaching is an organisational intervention. The client is part of the organisation. He brings with him deep traces from the organisation. And if anything changes, he will act differently upon the organisation, where more people will be affected.
So if one is interested in the impact of executive coaching, one would have to measure its effects at the organisational level. This has only been done to a very limited extent. Three hundred and sixty degree assessments by others in the organization about the client have been used in the past to measure effectiveness of executive coaching. However, in those cases, feedback from bosses, peers and direct reports was used essentially to measure the impact of executive coaching on the client, not on others in the organisation. As far as we could determine, organisational feedback on the impact of executive coaching on organisations in a wider sense, has not been investigated or analysed.
Coaching can take many forms so that when someone says they are being coached, that doesn’t tell us very much about their coaching. Do they mean coaching for greater self-awareness, for developing leadership skills, for making a transition to a new job or role, or for solving a specific problem? Do they mean face-to-face, by phone, or email? Do they mean an hour a day, an hour a week, an hour a month, or as needed. Is the coaching process mostly inquiry or mostly advocacy? Does the coaching include interviews of supervisors and direct reports? Does it involve observation of work situations and interactions? What does coaching mean for that executive and that organization?
What we need are studies that tell us what kind of coaching under what circumstances contribute to what kind of results for the organization and over what period of time. Surveys are helpful for knowing the extent of coaching and the general attitude of employees toward coaching. To understand coaching well enough to be able to replicate successful coaching or improve coaching for an organization, we need to tell the story of the coaching experience. How did the executive get involved in coaching? What were her expectations? How did she work with the coach? What did the coach actually do? How much time did they spend in coaching? What happened? What did the executive learn? What is the executive doing differently? What impact is that having on her team and organization? What evidence is there that this kind of change is occurring and that it is linked to coaching?
When we can answer these questions we will understand what it is about various coaching interventions that has an effect on results. We will be able to compare coaching to other potential interventions and replicate effective methods.
What are the tools of organizational learning? As I’ve stated in a previous blog post, a high performing organization needs a comprehensive approach to learning and a set of tools to facilitate learning. A training program, or an educational event, or even a CEO’s speech about the importance of learning is not enough. Continuous learning requires continuous learning interventions that encourage and facilitate knowledge acquisition and application to the workplace. An online leadership course is nice but it will have little to no effect if not integrated with a long-term learning and performance improvement plan and an organization-wide culture of learning.
One way to think about organizational learning is to consider who are the learners (hint: everyone) and what kinds of tools would help them learn. Learners are: 1) individual employees/members/volunteers; 2) work teams; 3) the enterprise as a whole (company, nonprofit, government agency); and 4) the communities in which the organization lives and interacts. Types of tools that can be used for learning are: 1) assessments of level of functioning; 2) models of organizational systems; and 3) solutions to deficiencies in individual, team, organization, and community performance.
These categories of learners and tools translate into a four by three matrix of learners and learning tools. In the left-hand column are the targets of learning interventions and in the row across the top are the types of tools for learning. A true learning culture is constantly considering what tools to apply in order to enhance learning in every cell of this matrix. I’ve inserted examples of tools in the matrix below.
Interview questions to Identify causes of performance problems
Chart of the learning process in organizations
How to have a learning conversation between manager and learner
Survey of team readiness for high-performance
Table of characteristics of high-performing teams
How to apply action-learning to teams
Survey of employee engagement
Chart of process for achieving strategic goals
How to overcome barriers to organizational learning
Survey of community's capacity to support organization
Chart of community pressures on organization
How to engage external community in mutual learning and change
Each tool in this matrix is intended to be used in a reflective environment. To ensure learning from each tool, participants must be willing to collect information and feedback and then have conversations with others about what the data mean to the organization and what can be learned from this data. It’s the feedback and reflection that results in learning, not simply the application of a tool. For example, assessing team readiness for high-performance isn’t useful unless the team looks at that assessment data, reflects on its meaning, and intentionally learns from the information.
If you’re not going to evaluate a leadership development program, don’t do the program! It will be a waste of time, money, energy, and trust. End-of-program reactionnaires (aka smile sheets) don’t count as evaluation. I’m talking about a systematic, evidence-based look at why it was done, what was done, how it was done, what happened as a result, how it can be improved, and what the organization learned from the process.
Viv Nunn of UK’s Open University, in an article for TrainingZone, explains some of the reasons for evaluating professional development programs. She writes that evaluation should provide the following:
Evidence of the extent to which the professional development is contributing to your organisation's success
Validation that the correct learning solution has been identified and suggestions for programme improvement
Advice about how to get the most from your L&D budget by considering the workplace learning environment
I would add:
Reinforcement of learning. That is, the act of evaluating (i.e., observing) a leadership development program reinforces learning. If done well, evaluation heightens awareness of goals, unintended consequences, and the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that were learned.
To achieve these purposes, you have to look beyond the seminar, workshop, internship, mentoring, coaching, online course, or any other method of instruction. Learning, especially about leadership, is affected by the organizational environment and external factors, as well as the program. To fully understand why and how learning did or did not occur and what impact it had, you have to examine organizational factors in addition to program factors.
Nunn provides us with an excellent description of the factors that can affect learning:
If the workplace learning environment isn't right, if learners cannot find opportunities to apply what they have learned at work, if the organisational culture is not one which encourages them to try out their new skills and knowledge, there will be little or no impact to report, regardless of how effective the actual learning solution has been. Isolating learning from its context will not provide useful data alone. Evaluating the context of learning along with the learning solution will give you the greatest opportunity to get the most from your investment.
I hate to think about how many leadership development programs I’ve participated in as either a learner or facilitator that were thought-provoking, information-rich, and emotionally powerful only to find that they resulted in little or no change because there was no immediate opportunity to apply that learning back on the job. Participants might learn about team-building but not have a team to lead in the workplace or be discouraged by management from applying what they learned in their teams.
Evaluation of professional development must examine how workplace culture supports or hinders learning. Knowing whether intended results follow, in time, a professional development program or not, won't help you unless you understand the factors that affected those results. And, as Nunn suggests, it's things like clarity of goals, manager's attitudes toward learning, incentives for professional development, opportunities to apply new learning, and feedback, that have more to say about performance improvement than does the quality of instruction alone.
Evaluation is not an option; it’s an integral part of the learning process. If you want a leadership development program to be more than entertainment and you want it to achieve learning that results in significant performance improvement, than you must evaluate the program and the organizational evironment of that program.