Action learning and strategy execution

Action learning and strategy execution – Reg Revans principles

Action learning has proved to be the most powerful and effective way to help a leader to achieve results, accelerate learning, understand the customer eco system and build a peer network of comrades in adversity.

Learning must be greater than or equal to the rate of change

The father of action learning Reginald Revans said that learning must be equal to or greater than the rate of change. This simple idea, in the world of constant change, has the powerful effect of elevating learning to a new level in the minds of executives. Executives have experienced great success when they have enable their organisations to learn to disrupt rapidly. There are many examples from Branson’s, Ellison, Jobs, Musk and now Kalanick and Camp of the new disruptive age.

Learning equals programmed knowledge plus insightful questioning

Revans also created the formula learning is equal to programmed knowledge plus insightful questions. An insightful question is a strategic one, which when asked by a group of diverse executives, can easily result in a disruptive creating type of answer. Creating disruptive questions is an art.

Comrades in adversity

This elegant formula and the Reg Revans story has led people all over the world to use action learning to design and deliver action learning executive learning programmes which bring real people in real teams in real time to do real work with real results.  He calls these groups of people “comrades-in-adversity”. Systems theory tells us that in order to cope with complexity, we need diversity. The power of a diverse group of comrades all focused on a shared purpose is a sight to behold. You will easily recall those experiences when you have had such insight and created disruption. This is often after an executive team has been in the panic zone or unknown zone.

Action and reflection, an iterative process

The challenge we now face as executives and consultants is to bring this powerful method to bear on strategy execution results, shareholder value creation and building the C-Suite succession pipeline.  The only way to achieve these three desired outcomes simultaneously is for the executive team to willingly enter into a process of action and reflection, which will require time and energy and willingness to confront their business challenges and each other. In the way the will both develop and execute their chosen strategy. The process can be demanding and thought provoking and often requires expert action learning coaches and facilitators to smooth the path and support the team.  

Action learning application at the strategic level – helping C-Suite leaders to deliver shareholder value by executing strategy and developing leaders.

The Strategy execution action learning model below shows how action learning works at three different levels of impact (operational, tactical, strategic) to enable three desired outcomes (capability, result and learning) simultaneously.  This article will explore the action learning application at the strategic level.
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The vertical axis shows the level of impact in terms of managerial levels of the organisation.

The terms efficient, effective have been added so that we can clearly see the role of strategic inventiveness required to create disruption. If we are thinking in the limited effective efficient model then we often fail to see the innovation creative work required at a strategic level.

The horizontal axis shows the desired outcomes which are required in order to deal with the burning platform mentioned in the introduction.

A capability is defined here as an organisation competence (skill and knowledge set) which is located in its environment in such a way that it can be accessed in order to service customers. These capabilities are known and can be trained and developed.

The last column labelled learning is derived from Revans insightful questions, building on the heads and shoulders of those who stood before us (capabilities) and drive for results, without which nothing new will be invented. Action learning focuses and accelerates the cycle of ask, aim, act, reflect, review, learn, repeat.

Types of action learning applications

The next section shows how the model can be used with three types of intervention when executing strategy. All of these will bring all three desired outcomes.   

Strategy alignment

The Executive team shapes the strategy and defines the vision and business case for change. The work is based on a strategic analysis of the customer ecosystem and a deep understanding of shareholder requirements. The executive team reflects on the appropriate set of questions to reflect on. These questions have the power to create or deny disruption.  The process is linked to building a pipeline of future leaders who can lead the business to meet the new customer ecosystem and other stakeholder requirements.

Strategic alignment takes place when the CEO and team meet in a series of well-spaced workshops where they align on their shared purpose, identify key strategy priorities, develop a battle board of actions, modify leadership behaviour and monitor the actions and results. On a deeper level the team is asked to consider five strategic levers and how leadership, strategy, structure, measurement and capability influence the execution of their strategy. At a third level, the team consider and agree on changing behaviours which create the desired culture for execution.

Strategy cascade

Strategy cascade is the process of rolling down the strategy in a consultative and flexible way so that it can be moulded by the expertise and experience of the levels below the CEO and team. The regional/ functional executive teams are mandated to cascade and translate the given strategy to match their country or functional requirements. They ask insightful questions related to their local customer ecosystem. The local executive team identify a set of three to five key strategic priorities and these are often spun off into trans functional teams which own the challenges. A series of continuity iteration workshops ensure execution. These teams also operate at a deeper level using the five levers and self-reflection. These teams also consider their talent pipeline, drive the execution of the strategy and embed the culture.

Mission critical teams

Mission critical teams have one hundred days to solve the most complex never been done before challenges that are faced when a disruptive strategy is executed. They come up with disruptive solutions that make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. We call this one plus equal three solutioning.  These teams are carefully selected and given executive sponsors heavily invested in the outcome of their given mega challenge. These teams have access to resources and leader networks and subject matter experts. These are the formula one teams of action learning. They are expected to produce a return on investment of around ten to thirty to one on the cost of their action learning process. They are also expected to reflect and learn and formally capture their learning so that other may benefit.

Success stories

Jeff Lomey has been facilitating and coaching executive teams for more than thirty years. Here a are few examples of what can be achieved.  

One – Success stories include a power utility used a trans-functional team of senior leaders to develop a process and set of measures to radically disrupt and halve the yearly outage time on a nuclear plant. It was so successful, saving millions and radically increasing availability, that it was then adopted across the twenty seven strong power station fleet. The reliability, availability and maintainability indicator then was 90/7/3. Today it is 80/10/10 showing the decline in performance, largely attributed to a loss of business and technical leadership bench.

Two – In early 2000’s a large telecommunication company and equally large bank developed and launched the first disruptive co-branded air time top up for parents to send airtime to children. The trans-functional action learning team created a successful new revenue stream, paying for the cost of the programme many times over.

Three – An international trans-functional action learning executive team made up of delegates from six countries in Africa and the Middle East developed and implemented a customer retention programmes which was rolled out to 21 operating companies across the Africa and Middle East reactivating thousands of dormant customers.

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