All posts by Robert Demare

Robert Demare
Robert Demare is a Director of Organizational Development and Learning for Honeywell. He is also a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Chief Learning Officer executive doctorate program.

Linking Developmental Experiences to Strategy

Biz09-HON-1217-newscomA recent post on the original key developmental events research got me thinking about how people in organizations end up with the opportunity to have capability-building experiences.

It’s true that ongoing research has brought increasing clarity to the kinds of events that build capability such as high-visibility project assignments, managing a larger scope, influencing without authority, and proving yourself. Many individuals seek out these kinds of challenges and accelerate their own development. Still, the process of connecting the right experience with the right individual is often left to chance.

I recently sat in on a development program in Honeywell that doesn’t leave the process to chance. The program, the Transportation Systems (TS) Value Drivers Academy, accelerates the development of senior leaders within Honeywell’s turbocharger business. The program connects people with developmental experiences while focusing top talent on key strategic priorities.

Prior to the program kickoff, top management within the TS business identified several key projects for advancing strategic objectives. For example, one project involved investigating how a technology from another Honeywell business could be applied to improving efficiency in a turbocharger. After participating in a face-to-face workshop to build key project skills, leadership acumen, and an innovation mindset, small teams were assigned one of the projects.

Each project has a designated top-management champion/coach, and the whole program is sponsored by the president of the TS business. The project groups have several months to work on their projects, giving regular updates to each sponsor and finally presenting results to the TS management.

There are a few things I really like about this program.

  • The central focus of the program is actual strategic work that the business needs accomplished. This means the investment is not “only” about training, it helps further key business goals.
  • These projects have clear sponsors. I’ve seen programs like this where the participants come up with their own projects they hope to sell to a sponsor. Often the project outcomes get shelved. In this case the projects have buy in and sponsorship before the program even begins.
  • The training part of the program was directly linked to skills the teams would have to immediately use in their projects. In all the discussion about 70-20-10, positioning training to support immediate application is an essential part of solidifying learning.
  • The projects—and the positioning of these projects in the business—have the ingredients of excellent developmental assignments: (1) the assignments are project-based, (2) the projects have high visibility, (3) the teams have to accomplish their objectives without formal line authority, and (4) the stakes are high—top management is watching closely.

Over the years, the program has directly led to several key innovations used by the Honeywell turbocharger business—all while playing a key role in developing critical talent. That’s a win-win if I ever saw one.

Accelerate Learning in a New Job

speedThree months ago I made a significant career decision. I left the company I had been with for almost a decade to take a global role with a new firm.

On the first day of the new job, my manager gave me an assignment: put together an “MOS” and have a draft ready in two weeks.

As it turns out, the MOS is a critical concept in my new company—and a prime example of how to accelerate learning in a new job.

What is the MOS?

MOS stands for “Management Operating System” and represents the planned systems that help a person drive forward communication, performance monitoring, and continuous improvement. It outlines the key methods a person will use to ensure that they are moving things towards the right targets while involving the right people. A completed MOS document can contain key meetings including one-on-ones, project meetings, quarterly business reviews, or project portfolio reviews. In addition, the MOS helps define the metrics that will determine if work activity is headed in the right direction.

After consulting an internal website detailing the MOS process, I put together a spreadsheet outlining the key meetings I would set up, what my key metrics would be, and how I would manage performance. During the first two weeks, I met with numerous stakeholders, learned more, and factored new knowledge into my draft MOS. I found I was continually updating the document—sometimes several times a day.

Why have new employees build an MOS within the first two weeks?

One of the challenges of a new job is to filter out the most important things from the avalanche of information that is thrown at you. Having new employees prepare an MOS helps them create a mental structure to prioritize and arrange the work, relationships, and performance expectations that accompany new responsibilities. Without delving into learning theory, there is certainly plenty that has been written about the power of sense-making structures to help people grasp complex information faster.

Most importantly, the MOS builds ownership. Nobody handed me a completed MOS. Certainly my own manager would have a very good idea how to build one for my role. The process of creating the MOS helped form a picture of the relationships, challenges, and objectives that I would face. It made the work tangible and got me engaged very quickly.

How do you create structure for learning during on-boarding? 

Starting a job in a new company can be one of the most anxiety-causing events in a person’s career. However, we also know that these transitions can be amazing opportunities for personal growth—especially if organizations take steps to structure on-the-job learning in the right way.

When starting a new role, we are hyper-sensitive to the reactions of people—always looking for subtle feedback contained in every interaction that helps us better understand how we are fitting in and what the organization values.

Organizations can build on this natural openness for learning that new employees bring to the first weeks in a role. By providing an MOS or other system to help people make sense of their new organization and new role, you quickly help new employees shift from new-job overload to focused effort and accelerated learning.

What has worked for you? What structures have fueled learning from critical experiences during on-boarding?

Getting the Most Out of 70-20-10

make things happenMany organizations claim to embrace the concept of 70-20-10 as a learning approach. The idea of 70% learning on-the-job, 20% learning through others, and 10% formal learning/training seems logical, thus the framework is pervasive in corporate learning. Unfortunately, many employees, managers, and even learning leaders misunderstand – and fail to leverage – the 70%.

Too often learning and talent professionals think, “OK – so the on-the-job learning happens anyway, let’s focus on the parts we can actually plan like coaching and formal training.” The first problem with just letting the 70% “happen” is the lack of focus on getting the right experiences, particularly those that will stretch people to gain new skills and competencies. The second problem is that the “20” and “10” parts are often disconnected from on-the-job experiences.

To address both problems, development should start from the 70%. On-the-job learning should be a very deliberate exercise in choosing experiences that help a person grow capability by planning job situations beyond his or her comfort zone. An individual development plan discussion should be focused on questions like, “What are two experiences in the next job you want to be in that you could try now?” Once the right experiences are identified, additional ingredients like other people (20%) and formal learning (10%) can be introduced as direct supports to the on-the-job elements. Support from others should be directly positioned to help the person through the experience. Similarly, formal training should be positioned to support specifically-chosen, on-the-job challenges.

DHL2What does this look like in practice? Drawing on my doctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania, my team at DHL created a special accelerator program for technology project managers. The research looked closely at the kinds of experiences that information-technology project managers claimed to help them develop. The findings described a variety of challenging on-the-job events that pushed people outside their own comfort zones, but with strong support from developmental relationships. For a pilot “learning from experience” initiative, the company tapped 13 senior project managers to identify current challenges and work closely with top project leaders, who served as coaches and facilitators. The small groups met every three weeks for six months to review projects, work though challenges, and explore ways to steer the project to success. While all project managers showed positive development, the people who made the biggest gains were the ones who had been facing significant project challenges.

In addition, DHL has built a process to help ensure that on-the-job experiences are part of the DNA of learning. We have development guides outlining a menu of experiences for different job roles. These guides are based on the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), a leading IT competency model. Managers and employees can select experiences based on current roles or next-step roles. For example, a junior IT service leader might pick “lead customer service review” as an action that, combined with support from others, might be one of the right stretches to help build capability and confidence.

Do people learn through experiences that just happen anyway? Probably—but organizations that constantly challenge people to plan the right experiences supported by other people and formal learning will build capability much faster and ultimately out-compete firms that miss this golden opportunity.