Business Issues  

From Action To Accelerated Learning For Ultimate Performance

by Dr KC Chan and Priscilla Tanjung


Actions speak louder than words. Thus, managers spend more time “doing than thinking”. On the other hand, academics spend more time “thinking than doing”. There is a widening gap between the theory and practice of management. Action learning holds the key to bridging the “knowing and doing” gap, i.e. the cycle of See-Think-Plan-Do. However, in the 21st century this action learning cycle is inadequate. The objective of action learning is reinvented to achieve faster, better, and smarter learning outcome through accelerated learning. What’s new?

Reinventing Action Learning

Action Learning (AL) was pioneered by Reginald Revans in the 1950s and later evangelist by Michael Marquardt, and others in 1980s onwards. Until recently, there is a growing interests in AL among managers operating in the international and global business arena because it aid most busy managers to solve real problems in their own workplace and learn from that experience. Hence, AL helps managers to improve their managerial performance through solving problems in real time in the real world which class room teaching using management case studies cannot reciprocate. Figure 1 reveals the effectiveness of AL. Further, the objective of AL must be measurable, i.e. increase revenue growth, productivity of 5Ms (manpower, machine, method/minute, material, money), improve cash flow by better utilization of assets. This is real business value-add instead of talk only.

AL= Rote Learning + Questioning Insight + Implementation + Reflection (What?) (Why?) (How? Who? When?) (Where?) HOW MUCH?

AL starts with What we need to learn? (Knowledge/ tools), Why must we learn? (Purpose), How to implement? (Process), Who to implement? (People), When to implement? (Schedule), and during implementation Where it goes right? and Where it goes wrong? (Lessons learnt). Finally, How much to get it done? (Costs).

Figure 1. The effectiveness of AL from execution of strategy through projects

Figure 2. The 13 forces of globalization

Knowledge is not power ($) unless it becomes an organizational asset (lessons learnt, intellectual properties, patents) whereby stakeholders (customers, in particular) are willing to pay for their pain point, i.e. a price for the lessons learnt from your organization. Knowledge Advantage must be transformed into Action Advantage for speed (faster), quality (better), and smarter (uniqueness). Hence, Accelerated Learning is the real competitive advantage if the managerial competence of a manager (better) can be developed into the synergistic capacity of a team of competent managers (faster). Ultimately, into sustainable supreme execution capability of an organization propel by a high performance culture (uniqueness). All these AL will be in vain unless the managers are developed into whole brain managers with T-Skills for agility to adapt to the constant changing international and global business environment impacted by globalization and its 13 forces. The impact of globalization and its 13 forces pounding on the 2020 economy is published in an early article of “Furniture & Furnishings”. See Figure 2.

In summary, the future of work is project work because technology will replace many kinds of routine work. The ioT (Internet of Things) will change the whole landscape of how work will be managed, organized, and the pursuit of work life balance for Generation Y and e stakeholders (workforce). Both manufacturing and service industry will face profound and unprecedented challenges. We are already living in the “Age of Unreason” to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution/wave.

The House of Accelerated Learning

Figure 3 depicts the house of accelerated learning. The foundation of accelerated learning is lateral thinking for effective analysis. The tool is the “six thinking hats” invented by Edward de Bono. White hat represents facts and information; red hat represents feelings and emotions; black hat represents critical judgement; yellow hat represents positive judgement; green hat represents alternatives and learning; blue hat represents helicopter view/big picture/vision. The columns comprise of holistic thinking for effective planning; systems thinking for effective control; critical thinking for effective decision-making. All these thinking skills emphasize the necessity of identifying a strategy supported by the relevant processes and tools, and implemented by the right people to achieve the target using key performance indicators for monitoring and control, and the overall performance is benchmarked against cost, quality, flexibility, dependability, and speed of competition. The final and most important measurement of accelerated learning is to develop good habits and is reflected from a change in the behavior.

Figure 3. The House of Accelerated Learning

Learning is to transform from an “old behavior” to a “new positive behavior”. It will enhance the desirable attitude of every employee to a coherent behavior to support the company’s values and ultimately becomes the organizational culture. Competitors can buy talented staff from your company but they can never buy the culture. Organizational culture takes many years to nurture. For example, in GE it took the former CEO and Chairman, Jack Welch, over 20 years to transform the organizational culture from being a dinosaur to become a six sigma leadership culture. Figure 4 gives the various transition phases to reach the maturity level of a high performance organizational culture. It is not the work of a leader. But, the result of concerted leadership. It enables the rate of change in total coherent positive behavior for supreme performance, resulting from accelerated team project learning. The old adage of “action learning is to attain the rate of learning to become equal or greater than the rate of change” needs to be adapted to cope with the new learning paradigm for sustainable competitive execution advantage.

Figure 4. Example of five transition phases to reach organizational maturity

The Future Competence after 2020

The future competence is to have the ability to utilize the whole brain to integrate things (concept, ideas, theories, systems), execute strategy by converting into projects for ease of implementation, innovate (faster, better, smarter) or perish, and continuously improving through AL to stay relevant and competitive. The essence of all these demands distill to one salient driver. The ability to Think, Wholistically (whole brain thinking)!

Professor KC Chan is a practice professor and strategic project management and international business consultant

Priscilla Tanjung is a final year honours degree student at Petra Christian University (Surabaya, Indonesia) specialising in International Business Management