action learning

5 Tragic Mistakes that Will Derail Your Action Learning Projects

Done well, action learning projects, where groups work together to address real business problems, can provide an immediate ROI that more than pays for your training investment.

But let’s face it. Sometimes they can also be a colossal, frustrating waste of time.

What makes the difference?

Done well, action learning projects are great because:

  • You hear 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.
  • It’s a terrific opportunity to showcase talent to the executive team.
  • They provide a safe testing ground for high-potential talent.

And, yet, poorly executed, action learning projects waste time and frustrate everyone involved.

So how do you ensure your action learning projects are worth the time?

Avoid these five common mistakes.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing Action Learning Projects

1. Floundering: “Crap, how were we supposed to know that?” 

Participants get REALLY excited about their project and pour their heart, soul, and many long hours into making it happen. But they’re oblivious to the political dynamics or bigger strategic picture.

They don’t have access to the right people or all the information, and when they go to present their findings, they’re met with a scowl, “Didn’t you consider…?” “Why didn’t you talk to…” “Don’t you know so and so has already been working on this for three years?”

You’ve now had your high-potential employees spinning their wheels, killing themselves on top of their day job, and all this time they’ve been climbing rocky terrain in an unfamiliar land.

Sure, learning to stakeholder is all part of the learning but if the mountain is gnarly, a knowledgeable sherpa is only fair.

2. Fuzzy Guidelines: “What are we supposed to be doing anyway?”

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

You want the best ROI on these projects and most strategic thinking. The companies we work with who do this best, spend solid time up front defining the projects and thinking through what’s in scope and communicating any resource constraints.

If you want your team to think more strategically, giving them as much context as possible to think strategically.

3. The Wrong Players: “We thought this guy was high-potential?”

Action learning projects give participants exposure to executives.

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. We’ve seen people’s careers seriously damaged from being pushed into such programs before they’re ready.

4. Lack of Boss Support: “Yeah, no… I need you focused here.”

Sure, one sign of a high-potential leader is that they can do THIS and THAT, meaning they pull off the work on this project while doing their day job.

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 their action learning team.

5. Failure to Execute: “Well, it seemed like such a good idea…”

Typically action learning programs result in recommendations with an assumed handoff to the appropriate team or department for implementation.

Be sure to secure the appropriate commitments. Nothing’s worse than the “Whatever happened to that project?” feeling. A few false starts, and your action learning program will lose all credibility.

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

Your Turn

We would love to hear your experiences. Leave us a comment and share: what leads to a breakthrough (or even successful) action learning project, and what gets in the way?

See Also:

Critical Thinking: 5 Ways to Increase Your Team’s Capacity to Think

5 Powerful Ways to Ensure Your Leadership Training Sticks


Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

5 Questions to Ask Before Launching a Leadership Development Program

How To Build a Better Leadership Development Program

Don’t launch a leadership development program until you ask yourself these important questions.

If you’ve been a manager for more than a minute, chances are you’ve gone to a lousy leadership development program.

We’ll pause here to let you vent your frustrations. It was terrible because___________ .

We get it. Been there ourselves. Got the certificate.

And, if you’re a manager of managers, we imagine you’ve experienced the challenge of sacrificing “productive time” to send your managers to a leadership development program, only to find yourself scratching your head about what they learned and how they will apply it.

As soon as people find out we’re in the leadership development game, the stories fly. And if we get our friends into their second beer, the stories can be tragically comical.

Of course, it’s not always that way.

We truly hope you’ve had the opposite experience. That you’ve attended a game-changing leadership training that gave you useful skills to achieve breakthrough results and gain more influence. That kind of program is priceless.

What Makes the Difference Between Game Changing and Frustrating?

When we talk to managers who’ve attended a great leadership development program, this is what we hear.

  • A great leadership program is a process, not an event.
  • A great leadership program is closely aligned with strategic business initiatives.
  • A great leadership program inspires managers with new ideas and tangible ways to improve the business.
  • A great leadership program creates long-term change in individual behavior and business results.

So how do ensure that’s what you’re getting?

Ask These 5 Questions Before Launching a Leadership Development Program

  1. What do I want to be different as a result of this program?
    Don’t start training until you have a strong vision of what will be different as a result. What behaviors are you looking to change? How will that impact your MIT (Most Important Thing– strategic goals)? Don’t stop at “We need stronger team leaders.” Go deeper. Get specific. Work with a training partner who understands your business and who can build a program to achieve exactly what you need.
  2. How will we include the participant’s managers?
    Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Be sure you have real buy-in from the level above. You don’t just want conceptual support. Managers need insights and specifics about what is being trained and how they can best support it. Ask for an executive briefing session before the program begins so leaders understand the ROI, are prepared with strategic questions and have a clear path to support their teams’ learning and application. Be sure you have the commitment from participant’s managers to provide them the time needed to fully participate in the program.
  3. How will managers apply what they’ve learned with their teams?
    It’s scary for people to have their managers go off to training and then come back and feel like an experiment as the manager implements four new ideas without any explanation. You’ve probably lived through a manager who brought back a new idea, used it for a week, then forgot about it. That’s frustrating for the team and the manager loses credibility. Does this program include a process for re-entry? Will you managers be equipped to communicate what they’ve learned and to transfer their knowledge? (e.g. if they come back fired up about accountability, how do they do they begin holding people accountable if they never have before?)
  4. How will we build sustained learning over time?
    You can’t learn to lead in one half-day workshop. Even if you have a limited budget, find creative ways to build programs that combine learning with practice, reflection, and feedback. How will this program provide daily and weekly reinforcement of key behaviors? How will we know what’s working and where managers are struggling?
  5. How will this program stir up new ideas and critical thinking to improve the business?
    Great leadership training is bound to get your managers fired up with new ideas. Will the program leave them feeling empowered and excited to execute, or frustrated about great ideas that “will never happen around here”? Work with a leadership development partner who understands your culture and how things get done. The best leadership programs don’t just teach skills, they provide opportunities for application to improve the business.

Your turn.

We would love to hear from you. What additional questions would you add for leaders considering building a new leadership development program?

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

Leadership Training ROI Karin Hurt and David Dye

5 Powerful Ways to Ensure Leadership Training Sticks

You’ve invested in leadership training. Now how do you ensure the ROI?

“Don’t bother me with this crap. I don’t believe in leadership training. It’s a complete waste of time. It’s nothing against you as the new Training Director. I get that I have to work with you in some way. If you MUST talk training, please work through Joe (one of my directors), he’s the most touchy-feely of my direct reports, I’m sure he’ll be nice to you.”

Yikes. Those were the words I heard from Beth, one of the Presidents I was asked to support, in my new role as training director at Verizon.

The truth is, I appreciated her candor. She’s not alone. A lot of senior leaders are skeptical of training ROI.

“You want me to take my people out of the field, where they could be serving customers and bringing in new business for theory and games? No thank you.”

And I get it. No one wants that kind of training. I’ve certainly been to my fair share of flavor-of-the-month training, and have my own bookshelf of binders full of good ideas, not implemented.

I’ve also attended great training that helped me change the game.

I imagine you have too. What makes the difference?

5 Ways to Make Leadership Training Stick and Increase ROI

Training is only valuable when it leads to sustained behavior change and improved business results.

Great leadership training is a process, not an event.

Great leadership training is closely aligned with strategic business initiatives.

Great leadership training inspires managers with new ideas and tangible ways to improve the business.

Great leadership training creates long-term change in individual behavior and business results.

I’m grateful for Beth’s challenge in the first few weeks of a job that what was to become a formative role, both in my Verizon career and now, running my own leadership development company.

I was sure that Beth couldn’t hate training that truly made her people and results stronger. She just hated bad training. Who doesn’t? (P.S. Beth later promoted me into my most significant operations role at Verizon where I reported directly to her).

Here are 5 ways to ensure a stronger ROI and to make training stick:

  1. Design the training on business outcomes.
    Don’t start training until you have a strong vision of what will be different as a result. What behaviors are you looking to change? How will that impact your MIT (Most Important Thing– strategic goals)? Don’t stop at “We need stronger team leaders.” Go deeper. Get specific. Work with a training partner who understands your business and who can build a program to achieve exactly what you need.
  2. Build programs that include the participant’s manager.
    Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Be sure you have real buy-in from the level above. You don’t just want conceptual support. Managers need insights and specifics about what is being trained and how they can best support it. We love to do an executive briefing session before our programs so leaders understand the ROI, are prepared with strategic questions and have a clear path to support their teams’ learning and application.
  3. Include teams in implementation.
    It’s scary for people to have their managers go off to training and then come back and feel like an experiment as the manager implements four new ideas without any explanation. You’ve probably lived through a manager who brought back a new idea, used it for a week, then forgot about it. That’s frustrating for the team and the manager loses credibility. Be sure your managers know how to talk with their teams about what they are doing differently and why. The best leadership training has an ROI that cascades beyond the manager being trained.
  4. Deliver training in digestible learning over time.
    You can’t learn to lead in one half-day workshop. Even if you have a limited budget, find creative ways to build programs that combine learning with practice, reflection, and feedback. We love to leverage new technology that incorporates simple micro-learning push-technology to learners’ phones via text message between sessions to inspire and reinforce real-world application.
  5. Welcome new ideas, insights, and help them take the next step
    Great leadership training is bound to get your managers fired up with new ideas. Listen to their insights and find ways say “Yes” to what might happen next. When they come back with ideas to improve the business, listen. If it’s something you’ve tried before, invite them to the next step. Rather than “We tried that, it doesn’t work” you might try: “In the past when we’ve tried that, we ran into an issue with X. I’d love for you to think about how we might overcome that and implement your idea.”

Your Turn

How do you ensure your leadership training create real behavior change and lasting results?leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye