It is commonly known that when it comes to effective development of people, training courses (either in-house or outside) are only a small part of a much bigger picture. Generally speaking, corporations nowadays spend only about 10% of their staff development time and resources on classroom training. Another 20% goes to coaching and mentoring, while action-based learning accounts for 70% of skill development.
When running a leadership development programme, I prefer to provide participants with an assignment that will help them to really take action in order to move them out of their comfort zone and enable them to be more capable managers. To demonstrate this in a practical way, let me share with you the case of an organisation for which I am currently conducting a programme. It is a major Thai firm that has several operational bases abroad. Besides Thai executives from both local and international offices, the participants in the leadership programme include executives from Asean and China.
Practical methodology: Because we want the major part of the assignment to be an action-based programme, the learning methodology consists of four activities.
First, a leadership workshop, psychometric assessment and report interpretation workshop are conducted. Second, over the eight-month duration of the entire programme, I hold three one-on-one coaching sessions with each participant in which he or she learns how to be a coach for their own team member. Third, upon completion of the first two days of the workshop, I ask participants to initiate their own Development Action Plans (DAP). Based on these plans, their direct bosses will coach them first. Using this approach, the participant will learn how coaching works, at least from their bosses' perspective.
The actual practice starts afterward. Each participant will discuss with their direct subordinates and mutually draft DAPs for their direct reports. From that point on, the participant will perform like a coach and the direct subordinate becomes a coaching client. This is the beginning of the process that allows the executive to practise coaching. It is action-based learning, 70% of the skill development as mentioned earlier.
The case of the IT executive: One of the people I have been coaching is Daniel, who heads the IT function and has three direct reports: Wally, Roger and Amnart. His department is responsible for all IT functions of the Thai company based in another Asean country. Living up to the typical stereotype of IT personnel, Daniel and his three executives are not very good at cooperation. They tend to support internal customers according to the book, which means they are not concerned very much with "diplomacy".
The psychometric assessment reveals that Daniel's internal "cooperation" personality is low compared with others. His DAP, therefore, focuses on cooperation by addressing the following:
- Listen attentively. Do not argue every point that is different from yours. Honestly evaluate other people's suggestions.
- Get involved and share information, knowledge and experience with team members and peers to increase effectiveness as a team member.
- Ask for clarifications to eliminate misunderstanding. Recognise that one cannot possibly like and agree with everyone.
- Get involved in interdepartmental projects.
Over the course of eight months, Daniel has significantly changed his behaviour to be more cooperative with other departments by proactively applying the four suggestions above. This represents action-based learning, because a person practises improving through a series of activities that will correct their shortcomings.
Under the leadership development programme, each participant has to take one of his people to be coached. Daniel chooses Wally, who is responsible for basic infrastructure and has limited interaction with customers. His DAP clearly sets out his wish to improve knowledge about business management of the IT operation, especially how to practise "diplomacy" with stakeholders in the infrastructure and security field, so they can jointly improve security. Over the three months in which Daniel has been coaching him once a month, Wally is clearly showing signs of behavioural change. He now gives better explanations when he's asked questions by internal customers and is more focused on detail, especially the benefits, risk and return on investment to both the company and users.
However, the breakthrough in terms of changing Daniel's behaviour truly occurred when he began his own coaching programme for another direct report, Roger.
Roger's DAP aims for him to build effective working synergy among members of the IT operations team by periodically meeting with IT service teams, both at headquarters and branch operations, in addition to creating standard operating procedure for handling IT service requests.
The plan for developing Roger is evidence that supports Daniel's leadership role as someone who takes initiative and cares for the development of his own people.
Role of superior: Developing people in the organisation is not an easy task, but neither is it that difficult. A corporation needs to let direct supervisors be accountable for the development results of their team members. Dialogue between bosses and direct reports for better performance, especially on changing behaviour, is extremely important. Too many times, managers use the excuse of heavy workloads for not taking time for face-to-face conversations with subordinates.
Combining coaching with an action-based learning project can help move a manager to the next level, but without strong support from his or her direct boss the effort can be useless. Most CEOs usually say people are their most important resource. Developing people, especially talent and successors, should not be only the job of the HR department. It should be on the top of the agenda for the CEO and management committee as well.
Sorayuth Vathanavisuth, a former chief executive of the Thailand Management Association, teaches at Mahidol University's College of Management. His areas of interest are leadership development, talent management and executive coaching. He can be reached at email@example.com
About the author
- Writer: Sorayuth Vathanavisuth