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Business driven action learning

May 27 2002 - Business, in the past, was not particularly interested in fostering learning and the self-development of its people, says Dr. Yury Boshyk, author and international expert on business driven action learning.

But, he argues, the situation is changing with more companies worldwide - such as General Electric, Siemens, Boeing, Baxter Healthcare, DuPont, Fujitsu, Johnson & Johnson, and Volvo Car Corporation - adopting business driven action learning as a way to explore new business opportunities and develop their best people.

Dr. Boshyk, Chairman of the Global Executive Learning Network, addressed the 7th Annual Global Forum on Business Driven Action Learning & Executive Development held last week at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in South Africa. The Forum was sponsored by Standard Bank.

"As a philosophy, business driven action learning is based on the belief and practice that learning should be tied to business realities, and that some of the best business solutions can and should come from fellow executives and employees.

"Many of the companies that utilise business driven action learning are those who also have a high respect for their people and who appreciate that learning often comes from the sharing of experiences in an open exchange, which in turn encourages reflection and practical application," says Dr. Boshyk.

Boshyk's Global Executive Learning Network and Victoria Marsick, Co-Director of the J.M Huber Institute for Learning in Organizations at the Columbia University, New York, USA, claim from survey results that between 60% and 65% of 45 top multinational companies were using action learning.

Acccording to Boshyk: "Product life cycles, globalization, and indeed, the entire pace of business life and decision-making took on a new meaning in the 1990s.

"The new business mantra included the key words: speed, flexibility, shareholder value and customer focus, and therefore, the need for change. Many senior executives realised the need to align their organizations to these new objectives," he explains.

Changing corporate culture was perceived as a top priority with companies' cultural 'baggage' and old ways of thinking as the greatest obstacles to success. Education and hence the learning organization were 'discovered' by chief executives and it became important in their eyes to learn quickly, and faster than competitors. Reg Revans, one of the founders of action learning, Reg Revans, used to say that for competitive reasons, "learning must be equal to or greater than the rate of change." But, at the turn of the 21st century it seems clear that individuals and organisations who learn faster than the rate of change gain competitive advantage.

Boshyk argues that as traditional executive education provided to companies was seen not to be translated into business results, chief executives began looking to action learning as a more relevant approach to their new emerging educational needs.

"Companies began to realise that knowledge, with an emphasis on 'actionable knowledge', was a corporate asset and therefore had to be developed for competitive advantage. The past emphasis on individual development and learning was replaced with a view that individual learning should be tied more directly and clearly to organisational objectives as well," he explains.

Business driven action learning (as practiced in some of the world's best companies) involves five key elements:

* The active involvement and support of senior executives;
* Participants working in teams on real business issues and exploring new strategic business opportunities;
* Action research and learning focused on internal and external company experiences and thinking that can help resolve business issues;
* Leadership development through teamwork and coaching; and
* Follow up on the business issues and leadership development, thus enhancing positive business results and ensuring that learning is greater than the rate of change.

According to Professor Peter Pribilla, Head of Corporate Human Resources at Siemens AG: "The speed at which a corporation can learn and employ new knowledge is a decisive factor in competition. It is not enough to learn and work. Learning and working must be integrated. Only then can a corporation be a learning organisation. Action Learning addresses this challenge very efficiently."

Gerard van Schaik, President of the European Foundation for Management Development and former Chairman of the Executive Board of Heineken, says: "Real progress in business is only achieved by corporations and individuals trying out creative ideas and making them work, running into problems and solving them, by pooling talent and scoring with it, and most of having fun and learning while doing. Business driven action learning is a superb vehicle for achieving this."

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