Category Archives: Talent Management

Leader Development: Beyond the Workplace


A recent conversation with colleagues at Taproot Foundation was a welcome opportunity for me to once again explore the leader development opportunities in people’s lives outside the workplace.

taproot-logoThe Taproot Foundation’s mission is to drive social change by leading, mobilizing, and engaging professionals in pro bono service. They work to match skilled volunteers with pro bono opportunities. But here is what I was most interested in: They also work with forward-thinking organizations to design pro bono programs that go beyond employee engagement to capitalize on the leader development and team building opportunities embedded in volunteer work.

Group of children at soccer practiceAlthough many of us are prone to compartmentalize our lives into work, family, community, and leisure domains, effective leaders have long been applying leadership skills and insights developed in one setting to the challenges encountered in other settings. I worked once with an executive who was focusing on working with his direct reports in more of what he called a teaching mode rather than a telling mode. He drew from his experience as a volunteer coach for his daughter’s soccer team to articulate what teaching entailed and adapted skills developed in that setting to the workplace.

In their research on the relationship between multiple life roles and effective performance at work, Marian Ruderman and Patricia Ohlott found evidence that experiences outside of work can provide the practical skills and psychological support that enhances leadership effectiveness on the job (Academy of Management Journal, 2002). Experiences as a volunteer, parent, neighbor, traveler, or hobbyist can enhance a wide range of skills, from selling a concept and planning events to resolving conflict and handling ambiguity.

Corporate Social Responsibility and Learning & Development functions in organizations are now collaborating to more intentionally leverage the leadership development potential in employee volunteer programs. What does leveraging this potential entail?

  • Recognizing the kind of stretch experiences that a volunteer will likely encounter—and the competencies such experiences develop. For example, these employees will be in unfamiliar settings with limited knowledge of how things work. To be successful in these settings, they will have to expand their network, be an agile learner, and develop comfort with ambiguity. Volunteers will also likely be working in a more resource-constrained environment—a challenge that can spark creativity and force the re-examination of assumptions. If volunteers go into the assignment knowing not only what talents they have to offer, but also what they can gain from the experience, then efforts to learn and grow can be more deliberate.
  • Designing pro bono experiences to target specific competencies that the organization needs to realize its strategic goals. For a number of organizations, the aim is more leaders adept at working in a global environment. Global pro bono programs are a way to give more employees a global leadership experience. These programs typically deploy multi-cultural teams to emerging-market countries to help organizations or government agencies solve problems. These short-term assignment expose participants to different worldviews, require collaboration across cultural boundaries, and deliver on-the-ground lessons in adaptation to local context.
  • Making pro bono work the centerpiece of a broader learning experience. IBM’s global pro bono program (Corporate Service Corps) starts with three months of preparation, including self-reflection and personal goal-setting, an intense structured learning curriculum, and virtual teambuilding. A CSC alumnus serves as the team’s facilitator. And after the one-month in-country pro bono work, participants have two months to reflect on and harvest key insights, and then share the experience and those insights with back-home colleagues. These elements of the program serve to maximize the learning gained from the pro bono experience.

Taproot Foundation has put together a useful Program Design Roadmap to help you start imagining and planning how you can integrate pro bono work and talent development in your own organization.

Most organizations find that they don’t have enough of the right kind of stretch experiences within the boundaries of their organization to meet their growing need to develop leaders. Pro bono work is one way of getting outside the constraints of those boundaries—in ways that energize employees and fulfill organizational aspirations to make the world a better place.

This post first appeared in November 2016 on The Conference Board’s Human Capital Exchange blog.

Experience as a Retirement-Transition Enabler

man-in-mirrorBaby boomers are an enormous and historically unique population. They have wide-ranging views of and aspirations for retirement. Including whether to retire at all. Given the general wealth, health, and longer life expectancies that retirement-eligible leaders may enjoy, many have new factors and options to consider as retirement “looms” or “beckons.”

As an executive coach and retirement transition coach, and a staunch believer in experience-based leader development, I work with retirement-eligible leaders to thoughtfully engage in their transition to a next phase of life. As part of the process, we sort through their career and life archives and identify key experiences (past or future) to help plan their entree to new territory when all-consuming career work is less necessary, appealing, or even allowed.

When starting to work with retirement-transitioning leaders, it’s important to help them establish foundational self-awareness and clarity. Self-awareness includes several variables. I’ll focus on three: retirement mindset, select experience identification and transferability, and alignment with significant others.

Retirement Mindset

At its most fundamental level, retirement mindset is about whether the person is looking forward to (beckons alluringly) or dreading (looms ominously) retirement. I use these extremes to query leaders, helping them determine what they’ll miss the most and the least, and what they look forward to doing. Within their answers are experiences – past, present, and future. They want to leave some types of experiences behind, while continuing to engage in others in some form. And there are new experiences that they want to have, such as long-awaited adventures, commitments, or experiments. The teachable point is that most life-enriching engagement, at and away from work, comes via experiences that can be planned.

Select Experience Identification and Transferability

A thorough, guided walk down memory lane creates a rich list of wide-ranging experiences (both vocational and avocational). From the list the leader identifies the most important to retain or perpetuate in some fashion. Embedded within each is acknowledgment of what made the experience special. It could be people, place, and quite often, purpose. The essence or purpose of what the experience produced (e.g. helping others, being part of a high performing team, launching something cool or new, competing and winning against long odds) is the sweet spot to identify and plan to replicate to the degree possible. While this may sound like Bruce Springsteen’s “glory days,” it really is a personal treasure trove to adapt for future use, meaning, and joy.

Alignment with Significant Others

Because so many experiences have a social element to them, including with a spouse or partner, engaging significant others in envisioning a future, replete with potential experiences that each might value, is important. In most conversations with transitioning retirees, they mention that life at home will require an adjustment as time with a partner will potentially be much more constant. Experiences, together and apart, are rich fodder for discussion. Because both lives will likely change significantly, the chance to test assumptions, share expectations, plan dreams, and talk about the routines that most days will likely include can create new goals and rules of engagement.

The transition to retirement is a unique experience itself. As I work with more people who are making this transition, I want to be intentional about harvesting the lessons they are learning and use their wisdom to help other retirees navigate their own course. I look forward to sharing future lessons learned from retirees with whom I’m privileged to work.

How to Lead Change with Experience-Driven Development

(This post was originally published in September 2016 on LinkedIn.)

time-for-changeA new Center for Creative Leadership white paper Putting Experience at the Center of Talent Management revisits the 70-20-10 framework for development that stems from CCL’s Lessons of Experience longitudinal research initiated over 40 years ago. The authors of this new report make the case for experience driven-development (the 70%) as a requirement for attracting and retaining talent and for accelerating the development of leaders at all levels.

They sum up the current status of talent management as follows: “But most organizations have one thing in common: They are not maximizing on-the-job opportunities that prepare leaders, develop employees and advance business goals. Learning from experience is the number one way development happens. People gain or fine-tune their abilities and perspectives through their day-to-day work. They learn by doing, by trying, by figuring out.” 

According to these experts, “In spite of the importance of experience-driven development, organizations struggle to tap into this powerful source of learning.” They recommend a comprehensive talent management approach with experience at the center and suggest that organizations get started by asking “How can we incorporate experience-driven development practices with small changes or big steps?” 

With many corporations revising their performance management processes and some eliminating the annual performance review altogether, Individual Development Plans (IDP’s) take on even greater importance. An Individual Development Planning process (or pilot) would be a good starting point for an organization that wants to maximize on-the-job development opportunities. Here are four critical success factors for organizations to consider if they wish to accelerate development through experience-driven individual development planning. These recommendations are gleaned from my experience facilitating development planning with over 300 leaders in four global corporations over a 15 year period at sites in the US, England and France.

1.  Link development planning to change management efforts and strategic goals.

In their recent article Change Management and Leadership Development Have to Mesh authors Ryan W. Quinn and Robert E. Quinn state: “One major reason organizations struggle is because they treat both leadership development and change management as separate rather than interrelated challenges. Cultural changes cannot happen without leadership, and efforts to change culture are the crucible in which leadership is developed.” 

Individual development planning processes that support the 70-20-10 model put the correct emphasis on the 70% of development that comes from challenging work experiences as opposed to traditional development plans that emphasize mentors (accountable for 20% of development) or participation in training programs (accountable for only 10% of development). A “stretch” project that supports organizational strategy and change management needs to become the focal point (the 70%) of the individual development plan.

To integrate development into the “real work” of leaders at all levels, have participants collaborate with their managers on the selection of one challenging project or stretch assignment or stretch goal that supports the organizational change or strategy and make that project the centerpiece of their development plan.

For example, in one pharmaceutical R&D organization that was undergoing globalization and simultaneously forging earlier and more collaborative relationships with their drug discovery counterparts, development planning participants selected projects related to new roles on drug discovery teams, the development of new technologies (e.g. in the realm of biomarkers, animal models and informatics) and leadership roles on Global Practice Networks. These stretch projects and new leadership roles, aligned with change management challenges and priorities, accelerated the growth and confidence of these scientific leaders and provided opportunities for the organizational recognition that is an essential element of leadership development.

Integrating individual development planning with change management also creates buy-in from executive leaders who see the alignment of these individual projects with their visions for change. One global pharmaceutical leader commented on the benefits: “It is very much an applied, practical approach that aligns individual development with the “real work” (projects, portfolio) of R&D effectiveness. The program has enabled me to successfully implement my vision (for change)…”  

2.  Design and use a process that involves assessment, development planning, and implementation of a challenging project over a 9-12 month period. 

Provide participants and their managers with a process, development plan template, discussion guides and timeframes and/or a facilitator to keep the process on track. Here is one example below.


3.  Have participants incorporate an action plan for the challenging project as well as a plan for addressing “soft skills” in the context of the project.

Development plans should include an action plan for the challenging project indicating progress goals and benchmarks–“what” needs to be accomplished “by when.”

The focus on the development of soft skills or interpersonal leadership skills in the context of the challenging project is likewise critical to accelerating development.  Lominger’s Leadership Architect sort cards have proven useful in identifying the soft skills that are needed to address strategic challenges. Participants can zero in on two mission critical soft skills to work on as they execute their development plan over the course of 9-12 months.

For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching is a useful guidebook in helping participants define their interpersonal needs and goals. With respect to a specific skill, the participant and his or her manager can identify in behavioral terms, where the participant is unskilled or overusing a skill to the point that it represents a barrier to the implementation of their stretch project or new leadership role.

In the world of scientific leaders, some commonly worked on competencies from the Leadership Architect include Conflict Management, Dealing with Ambiguity, Negotiating, Motivating Others and Political Savvy, to name a few. The FYI book (as it is called) is a source of self-directed learning in that it provides ten remedies for each of the 67 competencies and 19 career stallers included in the book. Participants can select two or three remedies for each of the skills they are working on, apply these remedies in the context of their challenging project or stretch assignment and then reflect on their success and the changes they are making in a follow-up discussion with their manager.  One participant who developed a new technology and then executed its transfer to other global sites states:

“During this process I had to utilize both science and project management, forming teams across the organization. I have learned to recognize the complexity of the organization. Since I had the opportunity to work with colleagues from different sites and lines, I exercised my skills of motivating others. The program increases learning via communication and dialogue with managers and mentors.”  

4.  Hold participants and their managers accountable. 

Accountability is critical to the success of an experienced-driven development process. A workshop to launch the process, attended by both participants and their managers and also guest executives, can be useful in stimulating discussions about organizational strategy or culture change and how these translate into individual stretch projects and assignments. Participants and their managers can be introduced to expert tools like the Leadership Architect and FYI guidebook and to their roles in executing a successful experience-driven development process.

Managers can expect to invest a minimum of five hours per direct report in the meetings needed to create, execute and follow-up on an experience-driven development plan. If participants are requested to send their development plans “up the line” to their executive managers, this increases accountability and opens up dialogue on the challenging projects that are aligned with strategy and cultural change. One organization held an annual celebration to recognize participants and their accomplishments on their stretch projects and another selected participants to give formal presentations to executive management on the challenges and outcomes of their projects.

As Morgan McCall stated in his book High Flyers: Most of the (development) cost is sunk.  Challenging assignments, bosses, hardships, mistakes, etc. already exist.  The key is providing a systematic approach to maximize the development from the challenging assignment and from other people.

In conclusion, these comments from participants in experience-driven development processes sum up their value in driving change, both organizational and personal:

“I learned a lot about how the organization works and how to successfully navigate within it, particularly in forming collaborations and negotiating with Discovery colleagues. It has helped me to develop a good understanding of the specific issues pertinent to the drug development process, how to align my work with the goals and initiatives of multiple groups, and how to develop new technologies and approaches to preclinical work. These things were largely motivated by my goal-setting in this program… “

“Program has required me to think about the context in which organizational decisions are made and resourced. This, in turn, has allowed me to begin to understand how to work more efficiently within the system to attain goals and provide deliverables. It has also motivated me to reach beyond my comfort zone in dealing with problems and issues and to try to develop novel solutions to overcome obstacles.”

“Project provided additional vehicle for feedback on leadership behavior.”

“This program greatly enhanced my organizational agility. Dealing first hand with serious issues of ambiguity and taking on the challenge necessary to make a change enabled me to meet critical business needs.”

Choosing a Developmental Assignment

sign-post-hard-choices-280x156What are all the factors that you should consider in matching one of your direct reports with a developmental assignment?

That’s the question I want leaders to ponder as they work in small groups to review the case of a manager who needs to decide which of three assignments would be best for developing a particular employee. The case describes the employee’s current job and responsibilities as well as her strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

Two of the potential assignments are temporary assignments (a task force assignment and a special project); the other assignment is a job move. The group has to decide which assignment they would recommend the manager choose for the employee.

Over the years I’ve used this case numerous time and have found that all three assignments are about equally likely to be recommended by a group. None of the assignments are clearly “better” than the others.  An argument can be made for choosing each one.

As groups describe how they arrived at their decision, they almost always consider three important factors:

  • In what ways would the assignment provide the opportunity to practice and improve a skill that the employee needs to develop?
  • How much of a risk would the organization be taking by putting the employee in what is clearly a stretch assignment? Risk is typically assessed in terms of how much the overall success of the endeavor (i.e., the task force, the special project, or the work responsibilities in the new job) would depend on the performance of the employee.
  • Would the assignment take advantage of some of the employee’s strengths? Individuals can be more effective in a stretch assignment if they have strengths to readily apply to the work. In fact, this can mitigate some of the risk.

And many of the groups point out two other factors that they wanted to consider in their deliberations, but about which the case provided no information:

  • How much coaching and support would the employee likely receive from the people she would be working with in the assignment?
  • Which assignment would be most motivating to the employee?

CVDL_feat_img_sub_extraLast week I discussed the case with folks who dug even deeper and offered more insights about the complexities of matching individuals and assignments for development. Students in Benedictine University’s Values-Driven Leadership doctoral program surfaced additional questions that the manager should consider:

  • If the employee takes on one of the temporary assignments or the new job, what would be the impact on others in my workgroup?
  • How much personal risk would I be taking on by giving the employee each of these assignments (or recommending her to others)?
  • How could the risk inherent in the assignment be mitigated? A number of the students were attracted to the potential pay-off of the riskiest assignment (the job move), which sparked ideas for creative ways to mitigate the downsides of this assignment, including redesigning the job and strengthening support from others during the transition.

Working with these talented students brought the case alive and reminded me that using challenging assignment for development is complicated. It also reminded me of the power of conversations with colleagues for surfacing our assumptions, getting a broader view, and finding new ways forward. Many thanks to you Cohort 3!

For the Sake of What?

As we climb the ladder of success, let’s make sure it is leaning against the right building.

ladderMy reflection on the pursuit of success began in a hallway when a colleague grumbled, “I-O psychologists and HR professionals have done nothing to make organizations better!” After much discussion, we agreed, I-O psychologists haven’t changed the direction of leaders or organizations, but they have helped them get wherever they are going a lot faster.

I’m afraid this is often true of our role in leadership and professional development. We debate how to speed up development most efficiently and how to figure out when acceleration rates are too fast, but we fail to help leaders discern the contribution they want to make.

In his book Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity (2001), the poet David Whyte says, “Speed has become our core competency, our core identity. We do not know what powers we would be left with if we stopped doing what we were doing in the busy way we were doing it. Besides, there is a deeper, older human intuition at play that knows any real step forward comes through our pains and vulnerabilities, which is the reason we began to busy ourselves in the first place, so that we could stay well away from them” (p. 128).

Likewise in his classic The Career is Dead—Long Live the Career (1996), Tim Hall noted that the dynamic, ever-changing careers that employees face today require two overarching competencies: adaptability and identity. Organizations love highly adaptive employees because they can be pointed in the desired direction and will figure out how to get there as they go. Yet, the second dimension is equally important. Without a strong sense of identity—an internal compass—employees can get used up, never going anywhere of significance but getting there very quickly and efficiently.

What if instead of accelerating adaptability, I-O and HR professionals found ways to accelerate a person’s purpose? What would that look like? What questions could someone ask to ensure they are heading in the right direction? Here’s a start to prime the pump:

  • What are you doing today that will be the thing you remember 20 years from now?
  • What purposes are trying to find you today?
  • What is so important in your life that it is worth doing, even if done poorly?

What are the questions that you use?

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.

Talent to Win

Scoring the winning points at a basketball gameA big story-line in men’s college basketball this year is the outstanding crop of seniors who are leading top-ranked teams.

If you don’t follow college basketball, you might be thinking, “of course a team with experienced players at the helm should have the edge.” But that hasn’t been the case in recent years. The accolades have gone to the so-called “one-and-done” freshmen—those players who are talented enough to begin playing at the professional level right out of high school but instead play one year at the college level until they meet the minimum requirements for the NBA draft. Last year’s national championship team had three such freshmen in their starting line-up. In contrast, the four teams remaining in this year’s tournament are senior-dominated.

To those who make a living analyzing college sports, this “year of the senior” is an anomaly—a talented incoming freshman class is expected to once again make a big impact. But I’ve enjoyed this season of four-year players coming into their own. An article by sports writer Nicole Auerbach helped me articulate why it feels so satisfying:

  • Fans love seeing the players on their teams grow and develop. I admit that I have yelled at some of these seniors early in their careers (well, yelled at their image on my TV) for missing critical free throws or making careless passes that led to turnovers. Seeing them put in the hard work that enhanced their performance over time makes these seniors, in my mind, especially deserving of the success they are achieving.
  • We admire the level of maturity displayed by seasoned players. Sometimes I can’t believe these are young men in their early twenties. They are not only developing their craft, but developing as people. As Villanova coach Jay Wright said, “You watch them start thinking about their teammates, the program, and not just themselves. It’s my favorite part of coaching.” Maturation is a slow process and adversity plays a role in it. Kansas senior Perry Ellis explained it this way, “I benefitted so much from the ups and downs because I learned so much about myself as a person and as a player. When you are not playing well, there’s still things you can do and learn how to fight through that and get through it.”
  • We enjoy watching players who are having fun. Emotions are contagious. Winning games certainly contributes to fun, but there’s something about the confidence and broader perspective that these seniors have gained that allow them to more fully enjoy the sport itself, their teammates, and this time in their lives.

Are there insights here for growing leadership talent? I’ll share some of my own (and encourage you to do the same):

  • Some people have the raw talent to move quickly to the next level of accomplishment in their career track. It’s pretty easy to identify this caliber of professional talent. But organizations can benefit from investing in motivated people who—with more practice, experience, and coaching—can also perform at the highest levels. Do we do enough to identify these seeds of potential in people?
  • A lot of what makes leaders effective requires maturation—the development of more complex and less egocentric ways of making sense of oneself and the world. To support maturation, organizations need to keep individuals in challenging jobs long enough for them to experience the ups and downs, to hone skills and see the bigger picture, to master the challenges and confidently lead others through them. Do we move our talented people too fast?
  • There’s satisfaction in seeing people learn and grow. Certainly bosses, coaches, and mentors who are directly working to develop others experience that satisfaction. But don’t people feel more committed to an organization when they look around and see continuous learning everywhere? We are quick to point out high performance, but do we do enough to make employee development visible in the organization?

Sure, the world of high-profile college sports might have little in common with our own organizations. But at the end of the day, we all face the human resource challenge of attracting the occasional ready-made star and growing the rest.

Leader Development: Can We Make It Go Faster?

speed2A question that I regularly hear from those responsible for leader development in organization is this: How can we accelerate the development of leaders?

When I dig underneath that question, I often hear an assumption that there is something yet to discover about development—a new element that, if added to the mix, will speed up the process.

No one needs to wait for new discoveries to achieve faster results. There’s a great deal already known about human learning and development, for example, the importance of stretch assignments, learning goals, developmental relationships, and regular feedback.

However, as we’ve examined best practices in experience-driven leader development, three key principles stand out about effective strategies to accelerate development:

  1. Customize learning experiences. Instead of sending everyone through the same courses, job rotations, or coaching initiatives, tailor learning experiences to target each leader’s development needs. Customization streamlines development for the individual, removing unnecessary elements and thus speeding it up. For example, at GE, a long-time user of job rotation programs to develop employees, they are experimenting with individualized rotations in the Corporate Leadership Staff program. Cross-functional assignments are selected according to the development needs of the individual. Length of assignments are also customized.
  2. Integrate work and learning. Don’t think of learning as being apart from work, but rather a natural part of work. More intentionally weaving the two together creates synergies and speeds up each one. To accelerate the development of leaders for their fastest-growing markets, Microsoft implemented a program that immerses participants in temporary assignments at corporate headquarters. The projects are real work that benefits from the knowledge participants bring from the field while broadening their perspective and network of relationships.
  3. Create concentrated periods of learning. Although learning is an ongoing, daily process, development can speed up when there are periods of focused learning. Concentrated learning is characterized by clear development intentions and multiple tactics to realize those intentions. IBM’s Corporate Service Corps is an intense six-month experience to develop socially responsible global leaders. It combines virtual training and team-building, 30 days in a developing country delivering consulting services with the team, and sharing lessons learned with colleagues back home.

Here’s the caveat: Although these strategies can accelerate development, let’s be realistic and perhaps even cautious. Becoming an expert at complex leadership tasks takes practice over time and across many situations. And there are downsides to pushing the gas pedal too hard, like moving people from assignment to assignment without enough time to experience the consequences of their actions or burning them out. Perhaps the growing edge of practice is a deeper understanding of how to best pace interventions that aspire to speed up the natural leader development that is happening all the time.

This post first appeared on The Conference Board’s Human Capital Exchange.


Taking a Page from the LMS Playbook

Cursor and handNot long ago, I was looking for statistics to make the case for an increased focus on experience-driven development.

First, I found these useful citations for the business case:

  1. Professionals increasingly expect to drive their own development. 79% of professionals now expect their development to come from non-L&D sources (Corporate Executive Board, Building a Productive Learning Culture, 2014).
  2. Professionals understand that experience-driven development is critical to their career success. Access to better professional development opportunities is ranked as one of the three most important factors by nearly half of those considering a job change (LinkedIn Global Talent Trends, 2015).
  3. Individuals and their organizations need help doing it more effectively. Approximately 55% of people do not regularly extract lessons from their work. In fact, poorly conceived stretch assignments are one of the biggest sources of waste in the field of learning and development (Corporate Executive Board, Building a Productive Learning Culture, 2014).

With these figures in hand, I was feeling pretty confident about the opportunities for those of us who are practitioners focused on experience-driven development.

Then, I came across this statistic: The $2.5 billion Learning Management Systems (LMS) industry is expected to grow to nearly $8 billion over the next three years (Capterra website, 2015).


People are seeking more experience-driven development, yet there is an increasing focus on the “10” from 70-20-10?

What’s going on? I think it has something to do with this: Structured activity drives out unstructured activity.

The Power of Structure

An increase in LMS investment isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. Recent advances in technology have made e-learning much better than it was in the past. The internet has made it easier to distribute rich content. It’s a great way of doing more with less.

But for the most part, the typical LMS just makes it more efficient to structure, manage, and track formal learning. All of the learning content in an LMS has been neatly mapped so that individuals can quickly access what they need. Want to learn about strategy? Take the strategy modules. Want to develop certain critical competencies? All the learning content has been conveniently packaged and indexed for you by competencies as well. And, now it’s mobile, too!

And, because it’s easier to structure and track formal learning activity, it continues to get more attention than the relatively unstructured activity of learning from experiences.

To develop talent through experience, maybe we need to acknowledge the power of structure and find a way to use it.

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em.”

If we take 70-20-10 at all seriously, it means job experiences contain a lot more of the critical learning people need than all of the great content in even the best LMS.

But learning from experience isn’t structured. It’s uncharted. It’s completely customized. Learning from experience is hard to corral, map, and track for one person – much less an entire organization.

People need to figure out which experiences can teach what they need without a convenient set of learning objectives. Then, once they start on a particular development experience, they have to extract the learning. The lessons may not be obvious, learning won’t be guaranteed and insight will never be packaged.

While learning from experience will always be less structured than formal learning, I think we can make it easier. What if we take a page from the LMS playbook and do a better job of communicating experience needed, lessons to learn, and a path forward?

What if we got to the point where we could provide personalized guidance that helps people see their work challenges as a learning context analogous to courses in an LMS? Our systems would enable a manager to say, “As you work on this performance goal for the coming year, here are some lessons you should seek for your development as a leader.” Of course, different goals would offer different potential contexts for learning, and the lessons leaders could (or should) learn would depend on their past experiences.

Is it useful to apply more structure to experience-based learning in your organization? Does it help to think of each job as a personalized LMS? What would it take to get there?

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?