How Action Learning Can Build Strategic Capability

Without a doubt the top strategy consulting firms can provide valuable assistance to organizations in need of strategy support. McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and others have flourished because they make a difference and have helped CEOs in various organizations chart a successful course. I don't want to discredit the good work that these firms provide, however they are expensive and usually don't impact an organization's ability to drive strategy on their own.

While completing my Masters of Science in Organizational Development at American University I learned the big difference between expert consultants and process consultants. Much like the Chinese Proverb "Give a man to fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Most strategy consulting firms are the experts. They do their research and bring the solution to their clients. That can be valuable, but their model does not build sustainability for the client organization.

A much more effective and powerful approach is employed by process consultants. Rather than providing the answers to their clients, they provide a framework and facilitate the client to arrive at their own answers. This creates learning agility in an organization and builds strategic competency rather than outsourcing it.

Having led leadership development programs in several Fortune 500 companies, I have found the most powerful programs to be the ones that leveraged Action Learning.

"Action learning is the process of working on real business problems or opportunities, in diverse teams, to both improve business results and to develop the participants."

Who better to address the needs of the business than a cross functional team of high potential employees who already work in the business?

The key to a successful action learning program is to create a clear balance between the desired outcomes. When setting up these programs for clients, Groove Management is very explicit in stating that driving business results is the primary motivation for the program. The employee development and organizational learnings are valuable by-products, but not the driving force.

Launching an action learning initiative requires C-suite commitment. Much like hiring a top tier strategy firm requires financial and time investment, so does implementing an action learning program. Action learning programs are not cheap when you consider the time commitments, the travel costs, facilitator costs and other costs, but the results can be incredibly empowering for an organization.

"Action learning programs exercise the strategic muscles of an organization, build leadership capability, drive employee engagement and improve business results."

Next time your organization considers hiring an external strategy firm, consider the option of building an internal project team made up of high potential employees instead. The experts in your industry already work for you, they just haven't had the opportunity to tap into their strategic capabilities. Give them a shot.