The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results
Calhoun W. Wick, Roy V. H. Pollock, Andy Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan
Pfeiffer/A Wiley Imprint (2003)
An organization’s chief learning officer or equivalent must be prepared to answer questions such as these:
What is the ROI of our learning and development programs?
How do you determine that?
If the ROI is unacceptable, what is being done to increase it?
My guess (only a guess) is that similar questions are also asked of those who lead innovation initiatives. The fact remains that in most organizations, board members and CEOs not only expect but indeed demand that every hour and every dollar be committed to helping achieve and then sustain profitable growth and that is especially true of training programs and innovation initiatives. There seems to be little (if any patience) with any costs that cannot be justified in business terms. In this context, I am reminded of a brainstorming session at Southwest Airlines years ago during which someone suggested that a chicken salad treat be given (not sold) to passengers as an expression of appreciation. Then CEO Herb Kelleher is reported to have responded, “Does it help us to continue to be the low-cost airline? If not, then chicken salad is chicken shit.” End of discussion.
What Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan (hereinafter referred to as co-authors) offer in this volume is a rigorous and eloquent analysis of what they characterize as “the six disciplines of breakthrough learning.” They devote a separate chapter to each discipline, concluding each chapter with one checklist of reminders and action points for learning leaders and another for line leaders. In this context, it may be of interest to at least some of those who read this review to know that two other authors also recommend comparable disciplines. In Think BIG Act Small, Jason Jennings suggests that all high-performing companies are led by people who are down to earth, keep their hands dirty, make short-term goals with long-term horizons, let go (“when it’s DOA, bury it”), have everyone think and act like an owner, invent new businesses, create win-win situations for everyone involved, choose their competitors, build communities, and grow future leaders. In Six Disciplines for Excellence, Gary Harpst recommends these: Decide What’s Important, Set Goals That Lead, Align Systems, Work the Plan, Innovate Purposefully, and Align Systems.
Because learning and development programs are investments by a company in its workforce, the authors acknowledge that management “has a fiduciary and ethical responsibility to ensure that those investments produce a return: results that increase enterprise value.” None of what the co-authors call “the 6Ds(tm)” is a head-snapping revelation, nor do they make any such claim. However, in my opinion, they should guide and inform all performance at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise and rigorous measurement and review of performance should be based on them. Exhibit 1.1, the “6Ds(tm) Learning Transfer and Applications Scorecard,” provides a diagnostic that enables the reader to evaluate the readiness of a learning program to deliver results. There are other diagnostic exercises inserted throughout the book’s narrative.
I appreciate the fact that the authors also include a number of mini-case studies based on real-world initiatives by prominent organizations that include Sony Electronics, British Broadcasting Company, Home Depot, and Pfizer. And I also appreciate the series of brief but insightful statements by a CLO or equivalent, called “From the Top,” that provide an eyewitness account of specific learning initiatives. The exemplar organizations include the Center for Creative Leadership, General Mills, University of Notre Dame, Honeywell, and AstraZaneca.
Knowing what not to do is often at least as important as knowing what to do. Kevin Wilde offers a case in point in the Foreword: “A talented and hard-working team designed an air-tight course: activities planned to the minute, world-class external faculty and cutting-edge simulations…all grounded in specific learning objectives. But the team fell short by failing to first clearly identify how the company would benefit from having leaders attend the program. I’ve been there – so caught up in crafting the excellence of the learning event that we failed to ground everything in the real business case. When that happens, the results leave you heartbroken, far short of the learning breakthrough intended.”
The authors are exemplars of pragmatism, of “nailing the fundamentals,” when formulating and then launching learning initiatives. They also have bold and compelling visions of breakthroughs in training and development while agreeing with Thomas Edison’s observation, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” The advice with which Marshall Goldsmith concludes the book will also conclude my review of it:
“The designs for learning and development programs should be considered incomplete if they do not include plans to encourage participants to follow through, practice what they have learned, and reach out to colleagues for feed forward ideas and coaching. When those elements are in place to support well-designed and well-delivered learning, then we have all the ingredients for a true transformation. Life is good.”
Given the current unemployment rate, additional lay-offs that are imminent, and competition is ferocious for the few positions that are being filled, the careers of individuals need the same “building blocks.”
I know of no one else who possesses more and better business wisdom than does Jason Jennings. Be sure to read his various books, especially Think Big Act Small: How America’s Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-up Spirit Alive and Hit the Ground Running: A Manual for New Leaders, both published by Portfolio/The Penguin Group.
1. Down to Earth: Modesty and humility in word and manner are most appropriate. Outstanding performance attracts attention (not self-promotion) and speaks volumes, silently but effectively. Those with the
healthiest egos have emotional intelligence (e.g. they consider it a privilege to serve others).
2. Keep Your Hands Dirty: Volunteer for the most unpleasant tasks, offer assistance to colleagues in need of it, share credit with others. Occupy the “trenches” and you control the “battlefield.”
3. Make Short-Term Goals and Long-Term Horizons: Often, progress consists of a series of “baby steps” to achieve an especially ambitious goal. The same is true of barrier removal during change initiatives. Generate momentum with incremental success.
4. Let Go: As Jennings suggests, “If it’s DOA, bury it.” Learn from the past but don’t let your mind dwell there. Grow, reach, stretch, stumble, get up, but keep moving in the right direction.
5. Think and Act Like an Owner: Take a proprietary interest in your organization. Eliminate waste (especially wasting time), focus on what’s most important rather than on what’s urgent, and be a builder rather than a spectator.
6. Invent New Businesses: Be constantly alert to what can be improved, what can be used in new ways, what can succeed in new markets with different customers. The #1 competitor? Who you are today and what your organization is today? Constantly improve or deteriorate and eventually….
7. Create Win-Win Situations: This strategy is especially important during negotiations and also applies to relations with competitors as well as with customers. Respect others’ rights; indeed, when necessary, protect and defend them.
8. Choose Your Competitors: Both organizations and individuals should know who they are…and who they aren’t. Leverage strengths. Know “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” And also know when to be bold, to be aggressive. Keep in mind that competitors are not enemies and these days, some competitors may soon become strategic allies.
9. Build Communities: Establish and nourish relationships with others by earning their respect for your expertise, then their respect for your character, and finally their appreciation of being associated with you.
10. Grow Future Leaders: Be unconditionally generous with the information, knowledge, and wisdom you possess as well as skills and techniques that will help others to success. Measure your own success in terms of the nature and extent of how well you collaborate with others on their success.
In addition to Think Big Act Small and Hit the Ground Running: A Manual for New Leaders, I also highly recommend Arlene Johnson’s Success Mapping: Achieve What You Want…Right Now!
Be sure to check out the following resources:
Jennings is a staunch and eloquent advocate of this principle: Do much more and do it much better, faster, and do it with less. OK, but how? The answer to that question was revealed by rigorous and extensive research that he and two associates (Brian Solon and Greg Powell) conducted. They began with 70,000 companies as candidates for designation as the best performing companies in the U.S. Among all of them, which have increased their revenue and profits by at least 10% for ten years or longer? Only nine qualified: Cabela’s, Dot Foods, Koch Industries, Medline Industries, O’Reilly Automotive, PETCO Animal Supplies, SAS Institute, Sonic Drive-in, and Strayer Education.
Back to “How?” Jennings identifies ten “Building Blocks” which, in combination, explain why each of those in an obviously mixed bag of companies has been and continues to be a best performer (i.e. among the top one-hundredth of 1% of all U.S. companies). It would be a disservice to both Jennings and to those who read this brief commentary to list them and then comment on each out of the context within which Jennings so skillfully presents them. Suffice to say that all organizations (regardless of their size or nature) need to have all ten Building Blocks as a core foundation on which to increase their revenue and profits by at least 10% and then continue to do so year after year after year.
How revealing that the CEOs whom Jennings and his research associates interviewed indicate little (if any) interest in any of Sun Tzu’s deception strategies…nor in what their competitors are up to, for that matter. They seem wholly preoccupied with sticking to their own “knitting,” focusing on what their companies can do best, how to do it even better, and thereby deliver even greater value to their customers. Also, each seems determined to nourish and enhance the quality of life as well as standard of living of everyone involved in the enterprise. This is precisely what Jennings means when referring to building communities, Building Block #9. Employees, customers, and allies should be viewed as “partners” and treated as such.
Ultimately, one of the most formidable challenges for those in any organization is to achieve and then maintain an appropriate balance of “thinking BIG” while “ACTING small.” Hence the importance of Section Three, “The Quad: A Self-Evaluation and Ranking,” in which Jennings “breaks down the title of the book into four scenarios, each represented by a quadrant”:
TSAS Think Small, Act Small
TSAB Think Small, Act Big
TBAB Think Big, Act Big
TBAS Think Big, Act Small
He applies this template to each of the ten Building Blocks. It remains for each reader to complete the self-evaluation, one that helps to measure her or his own organization’s current situation. The details of this exercise are best revealed within the text, pages 189-201. I highly recommend this book for reasons previously indicated but also because I cannot recall a prior time since the Great Depression when it was more difficult for companies to increase their revenue and profits by at least 10% for ten years or longer.