The Turnaround Factor: Digging Deeper

One of the most important leadership lessons of my life happened five minutes after I stepped off that stage. I’d been giving out recognition awards on my massive “road trip,” a 27 states in 45 days kind of tour of motivational kick off meetings in Verizon Wireless’ outsourced call centers.

I was the “client”–read that “scary exec”–who was doing everything in my capacity to have my team viewed as developers, not auditors.

As I made my way to the back of the room from the makeshift stage, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find a small, gray-haired women with eyes gleeming with pride. It was Lisa, the service rep who had swept the recognition awards. Lisa was one of the heroines in this call center’s turnaround story, I was delighted to talk to her to understand the secret to her success.

“Lisa, congratulations! You’ve got to tell me, what’s the secret?”

What she said next was so utterly simple and yet totally profound.

“Last year I was almost fired.  My metrics were a disaster.

Everyone kept telling me that I needed to be more confident, to be the expert for our customers. But the problem was I just wasn’t FEELING confident. And I didn’t THINK of myself as an expert.

And then one day, my team leader gave me an opportunity to re-record my opening greeting. I decided this was my big chance to sound absolutely energetic, confident, and convey my expertise. I recorded it again and again until it sounded just right.

And then a miraculous thing happened. The customers heard that greeting. They began to greet me with comments like, “Wow, you sure sound cheerful for so early in the morning.” Or, “I am glad that I got the expert, I should be in good hands.” Well, after that I just had to stay cheerful, and began feeling more confident. And you know what, I had to be an expert. Turns out, I am one.

After thousands of calls, only once have I had a customer respond to this in a negative way. My customers are getting a great experience because I know I can deliver it.

And now, here I am.”

That’s what we SHOULD have been celebrating… her story… that’s what the others needed to hear. Why hadn’t I heard the back story BEFORE I’d taken the stage? Why had I wasted that recognition moment?

I vowed to no longer be the executive hand-shaker without getting the details. (See also:  why your recognition is backfiring).

Full of confident-humility, she was poised to teach me what mattered most.

You Can Too

Even if it seems impossible to go that deep, it’s worth it.

Take time to understand the turnarounds. Hear the whole story. Ensure others know it too. Know matter how many layers fall between, as a leader, it’s always your job to know the good stuff.

I promise. It’s worth it.

5 Ways Social Media Can Accelerate Your Old School Sales Strategy

I was talking to a very successful sales executive friend of mine. “Oh, I don’t need any of that social media crap. I’m old school. You know, like building relationships, having a real conversation, solving problems…”

I laughed, “Sounds like the perfect way to use social media to me!”

Whenever someone spouts off about how “The rules of selling have changed,” I raise a skeptical eyebrow. The tools have changed, but not the rules that matter most.

5 Ways to Use Social Media to Improve Your Sales

1. Understand your competition

This used to be so much harder: mystery shopping stores, lurking at conferences, stealing talent from the competition. Now you can go onto Twitter and find out not only what companies are saying about themselves, but also what their customers are saying about the brand, AND how the company is responding in return. Not only that, you can reach out to your competitor’s dissatisfied customer and offer support to save the day. What old school ninja wouldn’t like to have a list of their competitor’s most disgruntled (and vocal) customers?

2. Identify key stakeholders

Whenever what appears to be a done deal turns into a dead lead with no real explanation, it’s typically the result of an unknown stakeholder weighing in. The best old school sales folks know that you’ve got to build relationships wide and deep with your customers and prospects. Whereas we once had to rely on prospects telling us who’s who, LinkedIn maps it for you, along with backgrounds, interests, and where they’re hanging out.

3. Show up where they’re hanging out

Of course not everyone in  your prospective company will be hanging out in forums, Tweet chats, or in LinkedIn groups, but someone likely is. And the old school chaps know all about the strength of loose ties. Begin making connections by inviting yourself to where they like to “party.”

4. Solve a problem

The old school handbook says, “People don’t buy products, they buy solutions.” Social media provides endless opportunities to be helpful, share expertise and save the day from the privacy of your office. 20 minutes a day offering value will open doors.

5. Know before you go

An old school teacher would tell you to scan a customer’s office to look for points of connection: children’s pics, sport paraphernalia, diplomas. Now a Google search can give you more than you’ll ever want. Want to know their birthday? If you’re even connected through one of the most benign platforms, Google+, you can get your connections birthdays all automatically imported to your calendar. Want to talk sports? There are lots of places to look for chatter. Know they’re running a marathon? Google their race time and call them to congratulate them. The possibilities are endless.

Don’t think of social media and relationship selling as competing strategies, but as a beautiful opportunity to leverage all you know, with tools to build your business faster.

I can help you think about your business differently. Call me on 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

10 Ways to Be Easy to Follow

Are you easy to follow? Before you say “Of course!” please know that every where I go these days, I ask this question. “Is your boss easy to follow?” The #1 response is just a belly ache laugh. The #2 usually contains some expletive. I’ve also heard some great metaphors, like how understanding what their boss thinks is like putting together Ikea furniture. It looks easy when you leave the store (meeting), but when you get back there a lot more screws than you need and the directions are in another language.

Most leaders make following harder than necessary.

10 Ways to Be a Leader Who’s Easy to Follow

1. Be crystal clear

Be sure your team knows the number one mission so well they can say it in their sleep. Sure you’ve got competing goals, but be crystal clear on how your team can change the game, and what you need them to do to make that happen. I recently ran into a guy who once worked on my sales team at Verizon Wireless. He was now working at a small company where I was consulting. He heard I was there, so he walked into a leadership program I was doing to say “Hi.”  We had just finished talking about being crystal clear, so I took a chance. “Eric, back when we worked together, what was the most import goal?” He didn’t miss a beat. “Winning in the SMB space. Everyone needs to get ‘All Aboard’ (which meant every one needed to sell at least five lines a month)” 6 years and another company later, he remembered.

Be that clear and you will be successful.

2. Be approachable

You want them to understand what needs to be done. If they don’t, they’ll spend a lot of time guessing. Be über approachable.

3. Be a teacher

Get in there and show them what to do. You’ll be seen as credible and helpful. Don’t do it for them. Be a teacher.

4. Be forgiving

People want to follow human beings who understand they’re human too. Be forgiving.

5. Be human

Show a little vulnerability. Be clear you don’t have all the answers. People find it easy to emulate people, not rock stars.

6. Be knowledgable

For goodness sake, know what you’re doing. And if you don’t, do everything you can to get smarter on the subject matter quickly. It’s hard to follow a bozo.

7. Be connected

The easiest to follow leaders are those who remove roadblocks by phoning a friend. Have lots of genuine connections to call when your team is need.

8. Be trustworthy

Do what you say. Every time.

9. Be a role model

10. ?

Number 10 is up to you. What would you add?

If you haven’t done this recently ask your team. “What could I do to be easier to follow?” And then be open when she tells about the “damn spreadsheet” that’s making them crazy, or the meetings that suck the life out of them.

Great leaders are easy to follow. Be that guy or gal.

P.S. I’m here to help. Please call 443-750-1249 for a free consultation on how we can make this your team’s best year ever.

This is number five in the series on 7 Ways to Beat the Competition. If you’re just tuning in…

1. Get there early

2. Be an explainer

3. Pay attention to your own game.

4. Help your team get smarter

3 Ways to Help Your Team Get 10% Smarter

Your team is smarter than they look. I promise. If they’re not learning as fast as they you would like, stop and consider. What if it’s not them– but you? Here are three ways to make your team 10% smarter.

1. Stop Interrupting

I didn’t get this right away in my growth as an executive. I figured these were seasoned leaders. If they were busy when I called, they’d tell me. But I soon learned that despite my best intentions, I was considered “the boss.” Yeah, you’ve got it– The “imperfect” kind. When I called, they answered–dropping everything to get me what I needed.

Of course every now and then that’s EXACTLY what you need. The sky is falling, the customer’s really ticked off, or your bosses’ hair is on fire. Got it.

Just remember, creative work and breakthroughs require concentration. No one does their best thinking in a constant barrage of interruption.

If it can wait, give back some mental energy by making ongoing lists for each person and setting a time to run through what you need. They’ll be in a better space to think and respond, and in the meantime they got on with their other priorites. Resist the urge to just pick up the phone and disrupt their flow.

2. Give Permission to Do

I recently met with the founder and CEO of a medium size company who had brought me in to do some leadership development work with the frontline team.  I shared the laundry list of amazing business improvement ideas that had surfaced as we talked leadership– literally side effects of deeper conversation. These were solid ways to improve revenue and customer service. His response, “Karin, what CEO in their right mind would be upset with them just doing these things? If they’re good ideas, why didn’t they just do them?”

His entrepreneurial spirit couldn’t imagine a mindset of waiting for permission, but he’d not said that out loud. Be sure if your team is busting with ideas they feel encouraged to share and try them.

3. Expose Them to More

In almost every company I’m working with one of the big asks is to help the team think more strategically. As I dig in the number one issue is almost always lack of exposure to the bigger context of the vision, the financial strategy, or how their work connects with other departments. It’s impossible to connect the dots if you only see half of them. The more your team knows, the deeper their thinking will become. If you want to grow big picture thinkers, give them something to think about beyond their current role.

The Rest of the Story

This is part four in a seven part series of how to outsmart the competition. If you’re just tuning in, here’s the rest of the story.

1. Get there early

2. Be an explainer

3. Pay attention to your own game.

 Looking for someone to help your team get a bit smarter? Please call me at 443- 750-1249 for a free consultation.

Are You Letting Your Team Outgrow Their Past?

Most leaders mature (and yes, that’s me on the right). And yet, often when someone has been with the company for a long time, it’s their old image that sticks. Be sure you’re helping your team outgrow their past.

I’ve seen too many companies go “in search of” the ideal candidate, hire them, and then find they had the right guy all along (after the first one didn’t work out). In fact, I’ve been that guy.

This post was inspired by a recent post by Dan Rockwell encouraging his readers to overcome their past. Brilliant insights. As I was reading it, my heart felt heavy for all the leaders I know who are desperately trying to escape their past and can’t grow beyond their early reputations.

“The past is a weight that grows heavier with the passage of time. Little mistakes grow larger. Offenses get heavier. Failures persecute.” -Dan Rockwell

Most leaders mature. And yet, often when someone has been with the company for a long time it’s their old image that sticks.

Be brave enough to see who’s really showing up.

Anticipate maturity and watch it florish.

Don’t miss out on the most fun part of being a leader– watching others grow.

Be an advocate.

Don’t overlook the game changers who were once young, naive and a little overly _________(brash, politically inept, unconfident, overconfident).

You were too.

Who do you need to give a second chance to?

What are you going to do this year to take your leadership development program to the next level? Call me at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

7 Ways to Show Your Team You Trust Them

Trust begets trust. The best way to get your team to trust you is to trust them. Hire for trust. Require trust. Rid your team of untrustworthy players. And then, show your team how much you trust them. Here’s how.

7 Ways to Show Your Team You Trust Them

1. Set Audacious Goals

Oh sure your team may grumble. But there’s no greater gift you can give your team than leading them toward head-turning results. Set the bar high and then look them in the eye, “I believe in you. I know what this team is capable of. Now let’s figure out just how, together.” Show trust by believing it’s possible.

2. Tell The Truth

Even when it’s hard.  Don’t sugarcoat the bad news. Play it straight. Show trust by treating them like grown-ups.

3. Invite Them To Come Along

I’ll never forget of my best first bosses, Gail. She would constantly take me along to senior level meetings, arguing that “no one could explain it better” than I could. Of course that wasn’t true, she was one of the most gifted explainers I know. But she trusted I would do okay, and was secure enough to give up the spotlight. I’ve been amazed at how many bosses are afraid to give such opportunities to their team. Show trust by sharing the stage.

4. Admit What You Don’t Know

Show your team you trust them by admitting you don’t have all the answers. Trust them with your concerns. Trust them with your questions. Show trust by being real.

5. Encourage Them to Meet Without You

This one took me a minute to get used to (you can read about that here), but a great way to show trust in your team is to give them a big hairy problem and ask them to meet to figure it out. Make sure that any information and parameters they may need gets out of your head and into theirs first, otherwise they’ll spin their wheels. Show trust by getting out of the way.

6. Tell Them

This one might seem obvious or even silly, but I guarantee it can’t hurt. Can you imagine how good it would feel to hear, “I really trust you because_________.” Show trust by telling them why.

7. Forgive Them

If your team screws up, talk about it, help them learn, and then move on. Show trust by letting it go.

PrintTrust Across America has once again released their list of Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trusted Business Behavior. See the list (and lots of other great content) in their lastest online issue of Trust Magazine. I feel very honored and humbled to be included with such amazing trust leaders.

Are you looking to build greater trust with your team? I’d love to help. Give me a call at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

Who Do You Trust? An Easy Team Exercise

“Do you trust me?” What a loaded question. It’s tough, even with people we love. “Sure, I trust you to be faithful, but do I trust you’ll remember to pick up the dry cleaning?” Even small actions can build or diminish trust over time.

Defining the behaviors that breed trust can go a long way in encouraging more of the good stuff on teams. Let’s have some fun with this easy trust building exercise.

An Easy Team Trust Exercise

Materials Needed:

for the initial conversation

  • yellow sticky notes
  • a wall or white board
  • easel paper and markers

to make it last

  • an artist (if you don’t have one on your team, you can find one online for a reasonable price. Joy Guthrie does a nice job. Or you can find other creative help on Fiverr)
  • a laminator

Process:

  1. Ask each team member to write down what they consider their own most trustworthy characteristics, one per sticky note (e.g. set clear expectations, tell the truth, follow-through). They can come up with as many examples as they like. Don’t skip this step, introspection is an important part of the process.
  2. Ask each person to share three of their trustworthy characteristics with the group. Some discussion may occur naturally here. Allow that to happen.
  3. Have each team member place their sticky notes on the wall or white board, and begin to group them into similar clusters.
  4. Identify the themes and write them on the easel paper.
  5. Now the fun part: have the team design their ideal trusted team member. For now this can be just a stick figure with labels, but encourage the team to get creative (e.g. sincere eyes, strong arms for heavy lifting, transparent heart). Name this little guy, or gal (e.g, Trusted Tracy).
  6. To keep the conversation going, have an artistic team member (or rent some help online) draw up the caricature of your ideal trusted team member (with labels highlighting the characteristics). Laminate the caricature (like your very own team Flat Stanley)
  7. When your team comes together for team meetings or other events, find time to ask who wins the “Trusted Tracy” award? And why. This is a great way for people to nominate and highlight the trusted behaviors that are happening on the team. Team members can do a casual “vote” to select a winner, and that person gets to hold on to “Tracy” in his or her cube or office until the next time. This works for virtual teams as well, just take a pic and turn it into an email-able image.

Let’s have some fun ourselves! Send me your ideas for building our own Trusted Tracy, and we’ll turn it into pic. If there are artists out there who want to play, I’ll include them in the post as well. Let’s have a big LGL Friday virtual team builder Even if you’ve never commented before, this is an easy time to chime in.

Thanks for all your contributions!  Here’s our composite (click to see a bigger version).

TrustedTracy(800x600)

Another Way to Outsmart the Competition

The hard-sell is so old school. Anyone with a passing interest in what you’re saying has 17 ways to get 17 different perspectives on what you’re saying in 17 seconds.  Your customers and employees have become conditioned to respond to any hard sell with a Google search for the truth.

The minute the Google-search has begun, you’ve inadvertently outsourced your explaining authority to the vortex.

And yet, the world continues to be filled with executives over-selling their vision, recruiters over-selling unrealistic lifestyles, and salespeople overselling features and benefits. More than ever, telling the whole truth has become a competitive advantage.

Outsmart the competition by being an explainer.

3 Ways to Outsmart the Competition by Being an Explainer

This is part 2 of 7 ways to outsmart the competition. If you missed #1 “Getting There Early.” Click here.

Great leaders are amazing explainers. They go slow to go fast. They take time to explain their ideas, perspective and values. They welcome the tough questions and the slippery slopes. They go there.

1. In Marketing: Teach Before Selling

So many people ask me why I give away so much content. I’ve been told “I don’t understand your model” more than once. But the companies who work with me get it.

My mission to grow leaders is vital. If you really can’t pay, you still need this, and I will share for free. I also know that the best work I do is face-to-face, helping you and your team go deeper. The deeper magic happens when we explore your world together.

I encourage you to adopt a similar approach. No matter what your mission, be a teacher. Help people understand the industry, their environment and what they don’t know. Give boldly. Important work will follow. If it doesn’t, improve your message.

2. In Recruiting: Give a Realistic Perspective

I was shocked to hear one of my MBA students come back disillusioned from a recent sales pitch of one of the big consulting firms. It was the exact same pitch I rejected 20 years ago. The story was “work-life balance.” The label I heard back then was “more nights home than away” (which I soon found out counted weekends, vacation, and holiday… essentially 4 nights of every workweek away.) Today, all it took was a few quick searches to hear the real message “We make it easy for you to hire people to raise your children, clean your house, say your prayers and do your gardening. You won’t have time.”

3. In Engaging Commitment: Tell The Truth

For God’s sake (and everyone else’s), don’t BS. If you are in a conference room trying to spin an uncomfortable message and your heart is sagging, listen to the voice. Your team will see right through any spin you are weaving. Do your best to tell the truth with the best words you can muster. If there’s still stuff you can’t share, whatever you do don’t lie about the future. You will win hearts, minds, and engaged arms and legs by telling the truth at every juncture. I’ve made a career of telling bad news well. Nothing opens the door for true engagement better than that.

How To Bring Out the Best In People

The story he shared in a recent workshop I led stopped my heart. We were talking about leadership and “bringing out the best in people,” when John (obviously not his real name) confided, “I’ve never seen anyone do what you’re talking about better than my wife.”

We smiled. “No. You don’t understand,” he continued.  (His eyes got bigger and his posture took on a sincerity that made everyone in the room lean in.) No one expected what came next.

“I was an absolute asshole. If you were to look up bad husbands in Wikipedia my picture would be there.”

I stayed totally still. There was absolutely nothing I could say next that would trump his story.

“I had been such a jerk for so many months. I knew it. She knew it. I was deeply depressed, and not myself. She didn’t complain. She never seemed to take it personally. Although, I can’t imagine how she wouldn’t. We had no money, which made the whole situation even more grim.

Then one day after a lot of long ones, she asked:  “Would you be willing to fully trust me and get up at 3am with me tomorrow and follow me?”

I felt so guilty, I said “Sure.” Even though I found the mere thought exhausting.

She woke me up, blind-folded me and took me sky diving–my top bucket-list adventure. We both knew we couldn’t afford it. But I leaped in. She took pictures and videos. As she played them back, she reminded me, “This is the man I love. This is who you really are. You can be this. You will get there again. I love you.”

Amen.

I’m going to admit right now, I’m not that big of a wife. This would NEVER have occurred to me. I’m in awe of this woman I’ve never met, inspiring a man with enormous potential to be bigger. As he shared his story, his eyes sparkled as they had for the previous two days. He was a ball of vibrant energy and potential. I’d feel lucky to have him on any team I was leading.

Perhaps someone you’re leading right now could use such a generous, humble and confident approach. A second chance to be seen for what’s possible.

P.S. I would love to schedule a free consultation about how I can help your team achieve breakthrough results in 2015.  Click here to download a one-page highlight sheet. karinhurt_One_Sheet

On Confidence, Conviction and Finding Success

A guest post from LGL tribe member, Tom Eakin, about confidence, resilience, and the courage to keep going.

As a U.S. Army Ranger-qualified Combat Engineer Officer, I learned how to find the confidence and conviction to do what it took to accomplish the mission even when it was really hard…especially when it was really hard.

Later, I applied what I’d learned in the corporate environment. I developed a values-based approach that helped my team increase performance by over 300% and was awarded at the highest level by my company.

Two years later, I was fired.

Even though I had proven my values-driven approach increased employee engagement, I was doing something others just weren’t ready to try to understand. Something was missing in the translation.

Why Confidence Can Be Good

Decision-making is the most critical aspect of achieving success: A decision precedes every act. Everything we do leads to what we have, and will, become.

Confidence comes from past successes and learning. Our experience teaches us we can be successful. We need confidence to make decisions in uncertain situations.

The Problem with Confidence

But… we can become lazy in our confidence. Relying more on what experience has taught us and ignoring relevant facts can trick us into thinking that just because something worked in one situation, it will work in another.

My own confidence proved to be deceptive as I tried to expand my values-driven approach beyond my span of authority.

Confidence can leave us without a solid foundation in times of failure.

If I ONLY had confidence to rely on as I introduced my new concept to the world, I would have quit long ago.

Where Conviction Fits In

Conviction comes from what you believe and compels you to inspired action.

While it was difficult for me to reconcile the organizational success I’d created with the personal result I’d reaped by getting fired, I believed in my new approach. I forged ahead. I developed “GPS Theory” and launched BoomLife.

Conviction has driven me past the frustrating failures and entrepreneurial loneliness that come with creating something that is not yet commonly understood.

The Challenge with Conviction

It’s very easy to inappropriately apply conviction to the means instead of the end.

When I launched the “GPS Theory” application on my website, people didn’t interact with it as I had expected. If all of my conviction was focused on this tool I would have given up. Instead, I realized I needed to find different ways to present the concepts behind “GPS Theory” in order for others to recognize its real value.

Find the Perfect Blend

Confidence and conviction are not mutually exclusive. You need confidence in what you’re doing, so you can repeat what works. You need conviction to compel you to keep moving forward even when things don’t go your way so you can find what works. You need to find the perfect blend to find values-driven success.

For more thought-provoking discussion on finding values-driven success, inspiring stories of people who’ve achieved it and strategies you can apply, read my new book, Finding Success: Get what you really want.

P.S. I receive dozens of inquires each day about guest posts. I welcome guest posts from those who have been active members of the LGL community (through comments and interaction with other LGL members) or who I have come to know personally and can ensure their message will resonate. If you have an important message to share, please start by getting engaged and involved.  This is a working community. We would love to hear your story.

What Wikipedia Can’t Tell You About Action Learning Projects

Done well, action learning projects are one of the very best forms of leadership development. A great action learning program (ALP) has tremendous benefits:

  • New ideas from fresh perspectives
  • Real work gets done
  • Learning is contextual
  • It doesn’t feel like training
  • Participants must manage through complex situations and team dynamics
  • Terrific opportunity to showcase talent to the executive team
  • Safe testing ground for high-potential talent

If you have no idea what an action learning project is, Wikipedia actually does a pretty good job of describing it.

Action learning is an approach to solving real problems that involves taking action and reflecting upon the results. The learning that results helps improve the problem-solving process as well as the solutions the team develops. The action learning process includes (1) a real problem that is important, critical, and usually complex, (2) a diverse problem-solving team or “set,” (3) a process that promotes curiosity, inquiry, and reflection, (4) a requirement that talk be converted into action and, ultimately, a solution, and (5) a commitment to learning. In many, but not all, forms of action learning, a coach is included who is responsible for promoting and facilitating learning as well as encouraging the team to be self-managing. In addition, the learning acquired by working on complex, critical, and urgent problems that have no currently acceptable solutions can be applied by individual, teams, and organizations to other situations.

But what Wikipedia can’t tell you is why this beautiful design so often fails. Having been involved with hundreds of action learning projects over the years, I’ve seen amazing, breakthrough work and also colossal train wrecks.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing an Action Learning Program

1. Lack of Project Sponsorship

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 lurking beneath the surface. They didn’t have access to the right people or all the information. They spin their wheels, and these high-potential employees feel frustrated that they wasted their time, and become resentful of the experience. Sure, learning to stakeholder is all part of the game, but if the mountain is gnarly, a knowledgeable sherpa is only fair.

2. Unclear Parameters

Be clear on big rules, resources, and other parameters. If the real deal is they must solve the problem with no funding or other limitations up front, say so.

3. The Wrong Players

Action learning projects give participants exposure to executives. Not all exposure is good exposure. 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. I’ve seen people’s careers seriously damaged from being pushed into such programs before they’re ready.

4. Lack of Supervisor Commitment

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. But it’s 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 the ALP team.

5. Lack of Implementation Resources

Typically such programs result in recommendations with an assumed handoff to the appropriate team or department for implementation. Be sure to secure the appropriate commitment. Nothing’s worse than the “Whatever happened to that project?” feeling. A few false starts, and your ALP will lose all credibility.

Done well, it’s hard to top action learning for leadership development. Be sure your design is well-thought through.

If you’re interested in creating or improving your leadership development program, or running an Action Learning Program for your company, please give me a call for a free consultation.

kellyriggsJoin me tonight on Biz LockerRoom radio at 4pm EST for more details click here.

What Wikipedia Can't Tell You About Action Learning Projects

Done well, action learning projects are one of the very best forms of leadership development. A great action learning program (ALP) has tremendous benefits:

  • New ideas from fresh perspectives
  • Real work gets done
  • Learning is contextual
  • It doesn’t feel like training
  • Participants must manage through complex situations and team dynamics
  • Terrific opportunity to showcase talent to the executive team
  • Safe testing ground for high-potential talent

If you have no idea what an action learning project is, Wikipedia actually does a pretty good job of describing it.

Action learning is an approach to solving real problems that involves taking action and reflecting upon the results. The learning that results helps improve the problem-solving process as well as the solutions the team develops. The action learning process includes (1) a real problem that is important, critical, and usually complex, (2) a diverse problem-solving team or “set,” (3) a process that promotes curiosity, inquiry, and reflection, (4) a requirement that talk be converted into action and, ultimately, a solution, and (5) a commitment to learning. In many, but not all, forms of action learning, a coach is included who is responsible for promoting and facilitating learning as well as encouraging the team to be self-managing. In addition, the learning acquired by working on complex, critical, and urgent problems that have no currently acceptable solutions can be applied by individual, teams, and organizations to other situations.

But what Wikipedia can’t tell you is why this beautiful design so often fails. Having been involved with hundreds of action learning projects over the years, I’ve seen amazing, breakthrough work and also colossal train wrecks.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing an Action Learning Program

1. Lack of Project Sponsorship

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 lurking beneath the surface. They didn’t have access to the right people or all the information. They spin their wheels, and these high-potential employees feel frustrated that they wasted their time, and become resentful of the experience. Sure, learning to stakeholder is all part of the game, but if the mountain is gnarly, a knowledgeable sherpa is only fair.

2. Unclear Parameters

Be clear on big rules, resources, and other parameters. If the real deal is they must solve the problem with no funding or other limitations up front, say so.

3. The Wrong Players

Action learning projects give participants exposure to executives. Not all exposure is good exposure. 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. I’ve seen people’s careers seriously damaged from being pushed into such programs before they’re ready.

4. Lack of Supervisor Commitment

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. But it’s 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 the ALP team.

5. Lack of Implementation Resources

Typically such programs result in recommendations with an assumed handoff to the appropriate team or department for implementation. Be sure to secure the appropriate commitment. Nothing’s worse than the “Whatever happened to that project?” feeling. A few false starts, and your ALP will lose all credibility.

Done well, it’s hard to top action learning for leadership development. Be sure your design is well-thought through.

If you’re interested in creating or improving your leadership development program, or running an Action Learning Program for your company, please give me a call for a free consultation.

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