Archive for September 2012



Significant Learning

Faithful readers have probably noticed that the soap box I shout from most often is the one about how real capability change requires a process. Traditional training events simply don’t/can’t produce learning transfer.

Brian Yost (a long time friend and colleague from my past life as an organization transformation consultant) has a pretty impressive track record in stewarding some of the more successful step-function organization capability improvement efforts from his role as both an internal and external change agent. Today I’d like to share some of his thoughts on the attributes of learning processes that produce what Brian calls Significant Learning.

A few of Brian’s definitions may be helpful.

Significant Learning: a fundamental, lasting change in thinking, behavior and capability; personal transformation.

Action Learning: learning by applying new ways of working to current business issues and opportunities; developing capability while doing work.

The following is a partial list of the types of capability arenas where Significant Learning is required in order to produce the kinds of results organizations say they want and need:

– Leadership                    – Strategic Planning          – Organization Design

– Systems Thinking         – Breakthrough Thinking    – Organization Change

– Communication            – Reconciling Differences   – Self Management

– Role Clarification          – Learning                           – Relationship Development

– Problem-Solving           -Task Planning                   – Effective Meetings


Brian goes on to say that, “For significant learning, organization change and performance improvement to occur, extensive research and experience has shown that the learning process needs to have optimal levels of 1) intensity,  2) frequency, 3) duration, 4) application to real work, 5) coaching support and 6) leadership support. It also needs to address performer motivation and mental state, as well as ability, which require 7) Socratic, self-discovery versus traditional teacher-student methods.”

I’ll give a shot at elaborating a little on these seven attributes of Significant Learning processes to help you get a better picture of what a Significant Learning process might look like: (e.g. a Leadership Series, Strategy Series, Organization Change Series, Project Management Series, etc.)

  1. Intensity – Typical processes use intensive, highly interactive Socratic 1-2 day events to introduce new concepts and skills to the learners. (ideally two days)
  2. Frequency – Ideally the frequency of the do-learn cycle for each new concept/skill piece is every 4-6 weeks
  3. Duration – the number of learn-do-learn cycles in a series is 4-8 (ideally, ongoing)
  4. Application on the job – A critical part of every cycle is/are action learning events and ongoing application to the job – these cannot be left out or short-cutted.
  5. Coaching support – Each learning group and/or individual receives coaching from a trained coach/resource.
  6. Leadership support – The learners boss/bosses steward the process through active involve reinforcement and support.
  7. Learning methodology – A truly blended process involving Socratic, self-discovery and action learning

Note: In the olden days of the 80’s & 90’s it was critical that these sessions were conducted F2F.  Today with synchronous web-conferencing tools and social learning systems like Q2’s eCampus, with some creativity, this highly interactive Socratic method can replicated online.

Brian has put together a whole host of assessments and scales to help organization get a read on how they are doing in the “high performance” arena.  I’ve found the following scale effective in producing a different nature of discussion about the organizations investment in capability development.

Capability Investment Scale

The highest performing organizations invest about 10% of people’s time in action learning processes. In addition, everyone is expected to continuously learn and innovate while doing their work. Where would you place your organization on the scale below?

1             2            3            4            5              6              7              8              9             10

Ideal for High Perf Org
0% time investment 

in action learning

at all levels of org

5% time investment 

1 day/month

10% time investment 

2 days/month

Doing the same things 

Expecting different results

Periodic learning on job Continous learning on job
Periodic Coaching 

Some significant change in methods and results

Continuous Coaching 

New paradigm thinking,

Out-of-the-box methods

Breakthrough Results.


Please comment to this post.  All thoughts are welcome.  However, don’t hesitate to contact me directly if with any questions or comments.


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Coaching for Professionals

Atul Gawande did an excellent reflection on the value of coaching last year for The New Yorker.  While we normally think about coaching as something we do for people who are new to the tasks at hand, Gawande’s focus was on what happens when experienced professionals take on a coach.  He offered this fascinating case study:

California researchers in the early nineteen-eighties conducted a five-year study of teacher-skill development in eighty schools, and noticed something interesting. Workshops led teachers to use new skills in the classroom only ten per cent of the time. Even when a practice session with demonstrations and personal feedback was added, fewer than twenty per cent made the change. But when coaching was introduced—when a colleague watched them try the new skills in their own classroom and provided suggestions—adoption rates passed ninety per cent. A spate of small randomized trials confirmed the effect. Coached teachers were more effective, and their students did better on tests.

It seems to be about accountability.  When somebody is paying attention to what we’re doing, we pay more attention to what we’re doing as well. But even then, there are things we need “outside eyes” to see – aspects of our performance which are transparent to us, but apparent to individuals we team with to improve what we do.

Gawande argues:

With a diploma, a few will achieve sustained mastery; with a good coach, many could. We treat guidance for professionals as a luxury—you can guess what gets cut first when school-district budgets are slashed. But coaching may prove essential to the success of modern society.

We think he has a point, which is why we make it easy to incorporate coached activities into eCampus courses.  Are you ready to enhance the coaching culture in your organization?




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