My last few posts have been about management and leadership development. In this post, I thought I would bring some of those ideas together in the form of a process or heuristic for a management development system built around defined business challenges, informal learning approaches with less reliance (or no reliance at all!) on classroom learning.
Here is an alternative management development process then…in just 5 easy steps!…built around authentic learning tasks and supported by informal learning assets and small team action learning sessions.
Step 1: Define a management/leadership model suited to the organization
Too many senior leadership teams abdicate responsibility for defining coherent roles and expectations for their managers. Instead, they “buy” a management model in the guise of a training program, rather than defining one consistent with their values, organization design and business goals.
HR and Training enthusiastically taking up the charge and end up buying management programs currently in vogue or that suits their personal vision of leadership. Also many purchased management programs focus only on the “people” side of a manager’s role and ignore the many other important facets. I’ve seen many management development programs that are completely at odds with the actual management culture of the organization. Behavior and performance that gets rewarded and encouraged on the job is not what is taught in development programs. Not good.
HR and Training have a role in helping the senior team craft a vision and approach for management but they should not be digging it out of the recesses of a commercial management program. Learning and training initiatives should support a coherent model of management not the other way around. Of course, the model can and should be fluid. Adjustments should be welcome and encouraged as an organization learns and matures over time.
Step 2: Develop an inventory of management scenarios and business challenges
Using the management model as a guide, create a series of realistic scenarios, cases, and business challenges (whatever your term of preference) that will be the core of your management development program. We know the best management development is built around authentic problems, tasks and opportunities. Managers also tell us it’s the way they prefer to learn.
Make it your mission to work directly with the managers of the business units you support to understand their day to day challenges, responsibilities, successes and best practices. Use this inside knowledge to create a progression of challenges from simple to complex, perhaps based on the levels of management in your organization. The inventory should be highly dynamic and constantly evolving as goals and objectives change.
Challenges can and should have focus on desired competencies and target all of the spheres of responsibilities managers have including business, functional, financial and human. Mangers themselves can start creating challenges and problems scenarios to add to the inventory.
Step 3: Organize the business challenges into learning paths.
There are a variety of ways the business challenge scenarios could be organized. By management level, by progression of challenge complexity, by competency or skill area, by management responsibility. All of the above are possible using simple tagging tools.
The most important thing is to provide an organizing structure for managers to access and use the learning assets. One of the early failings of social learning environments is the assumption that people will fully manage their own learning in personal learning environments. Some may, but the majority prefer guidance and a few nudges along the way.
The learning paths are most useful for new managers. More experienced managers will begin using the business challenges on an as needed basis, which is the way it should be.
Step 4: Acquire and/or develop a series of learning resources and performance aids to support solving the business challenges
Using the business challenges and problems as a guide, purchase or develop learning assets that contain the key concepts, principles, practices and practices that will help managers solve the full range of business challenges in your inventory. Use media appropriate to your audience and technical infrastructure including print, digital video, performance guides, e-learning, people (coaches/mentors), job assignments and others. They are getting easier to find as learning content suppliers are starting to deconstruct their programs into smaller learning assets for use in social media environments.
They can be housed in your organization’s social media suite , Management Community of Practice, Learning Management System (if you still have one), or in an old-school style learning centre. Most importantly they must be connected directly to the business challenges managers will be assigned to solve as part of their development.
Learning assets should not be the exclusive purview of the learning function. Social Learning has taught us that “user-generated” content is both powerful and motivating. Get managers involved in contributing learning assets.
Learning assets will be used by managers individually and in action learning teams to research and discuss solutions to the business challenges from your inventory. Assets can be organized into clusters or paths matched to the scenarios. The scenarios are the learning motivators. The content is only the path to the solution.
Step 5. Assemble action learning teams
The learning assets can and should be used independently to solve the business challenges, but doing so exclusively misses the benefits of social learning. We’ve learned that small teams of managers working together (face to face or virtually) to solve business challenges is a key success factor in management development. Action learning has refined a robust approach to small group learning that incorporate the best of informal learning. Other problem-based and case-based learning models also offer springboards to build management learning teams. See the links here for a few examples). I offered an approach using management communities of practice here.
Whichever approach is used the goal is for managers to share their experiences and perspectives together as they solve the business challenges. Here here is a diagram of how management teams working together can use the business challenges and informal learning assists to continuously develop.