High Impact Leadership & Learning Creates Sustainable Change by Christo Nel

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It is critical that organisations commit ongoing resources to executive development to ensure survival and growth in an increasingly competitive business environment. By its nature, executive education tends to be costly, making it imperative that the training has a significant impact both on the organisation and the individual.

Certain South African organisations have used approaches that vary considerably from traditional leadership development techniques in order to intensify the gains made in executive programmes. Collectively, these interventions can be called High Impact Leadership and Learning and they signify a blurring of the boundaries between education, organisational development and consulting.
Education usually focuses on the input required in a particular situation and is not necessarily concerned with the application or execution of the knowledge gained. It is up to the individual to ensure that the learning is applied to the work situation.

In the conventional consulting situation, the client pays for output and expects results within the business. The

consultant focuses on the transfer of change and the entrenchment of recommended change processes. The value of the consultant is linked to the capacity to analyse the company and provide insight into the business. The process is characterised by a customised approach.

High Impact Leadership and Learning seeks to make learning more relevant to each individual company. Each training intervention is designed to achieve a demonstrable return on investment and hence both the knowledge and the methodologies of applying the knowledge have to be significantly more customised than in the past.

The transfer of knowledge targets specific company objectives and the current status of the company needs to be evaluated during the education process. Business is moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to education towards a tailored approach that reflects the company’s strategic goals.

An organisation can only operate at the level at which its leadership operates; leadership establishes an organisation’s ceiling. Therefore the challenge facing all businesses is how to ensure that the leadership ceiling is consistently lifted, a process which should be done through leadership development interventions.

To be most effective, leadership development at general management and executive levels should be aligned to achieving sustainable long-term growth. It has to have a demonstrable impact on the organisation’s capacity to remain sustainably competitive over long periods as opposed to focusing on shorter term technical or tactical issues. High Impact Leadership and Learning is characterised by 15 key building blocks:

1. Align learning to strategic intent
The leadership development service providers need to have a thorough understanding of the client’s business needs and challenges. They cannot continue to make a selection from existing modules, but need to make the shift to being genuine investigators of unique organisational needs. The client also needs to make a shift, defining and communicating a clear set of objectives prior to the start of the learning process.

2. Build learning into business processes
High Impact Leadership and Learning builds learning into existing business practices and forums such as strategy meetings and team meetings. A knowledge specialist operating as a facilitator requires the skill and attitude to ‘work with what you know’ as opposed to ‘presenting what you know.’

3. Involve executives and management in the design of learning and leadership development processes
Line executives have to be recognised as the primary owners of the development process; they are likely to define and expect outcomes that cannot be fulfilled by traditional academic
approaches to leadership development. Service providers also need to move away from ‘pure’ academic methods and standards.

4. Consolidate a strong internal specialist support team
A dedicated internal support team is crucial to the success of a leadership development programme. A coalition of mutual intent needs to be established between internal and external specialists to drive the process.

5. Address Me-We-Work-World
Learning has to be experienced at various levels to have an impact. High Impact Leadership and Learning consciously sets out to have an impact across four dimensions of Me: the individual’s personal development; We: the interpersonal space where the learner develops the capacity to value the rich diversity of ‘the others’ in his/her work life; Work: the extended operational and strategic space in which the learner identifies his/her areas of potential influence; World: the larger competitive and socio-economic space within which the learner operates.

6. Select and execute acts that speak to the heart
Arguably one of the most undervalued elements of development is an act that speaks to the hearts of people.

7. Deliver impact via whole learning processes
For learning interventions to have the desired impact requires an appreciation of a holistic approach to learning.

8. Shift from sage-on-the-stage to guide-on-the-site
High Impact Leadership and Learning approaches require knowledge providers to adapt their ‘teaching’ style and content to encourage learners to apply learning in real time.

9. Break out of traditional delivery moulds
Organisations that have embraced the principles of High Impact Leadership and Learning have seen real benefits in bringing together a few hundred people at the same time.

10. Build application into the learning process
Use the real time work environment as a primary source of learning.

11. Leverage application to enhance learning
Encourage learners to develop practical projects that are implemented in the workplace.

12. Set up short feedback loops
The discipline of evaluation, feedback and real-time learning is essential to the process.

13. Develop a creative minority
The creative minority becomes the ‘sand in the oyster’ – those who irritate and stimulate the organisation to create the ‘pearls’ of desired impact.

14. Talk the walk
First leaders must “walk the talk” by demonstrating their behaviours. Then leaders must “talk the walk” by recognising and telling stories of behaviours and practices that reinforce behaviours and practices.

15. Leverage one-on-one learning
One-on-one learning is driven by specific learning agendas and can be tailor-made to suit an individual’s particular needs.

In a changing world, the people who are working with learning that is being applied immediately within their own organisation will be most successful in sustaining their businesses. The learning is being used to feed back into the learning loop and people start to take charge of the learning because they have seen its impact.

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