Action Learning: The Win-Win Approach to Talent Development

Once you’ve identified an employee as having the potential for bigger and better things, what then? In my experience, companies are better at recognizing talented individuals than in helping those individuals develop the skills to ascend to next-level roles. As a result, high-value employees often feel they are treading water, while the organization suffers by not having its “best and brightest” fully engaged in driving the business forward.


Given the costs and time involved in high-potential development, it’s reassuring to know that there is an approach that will deliver the desired return on investment for your organization and for your valued employees.  We’ve conducted research with the Conference Board around methods of accelerating the development of high-potential employees, particularly in Asia. What’s emerging is the value of action learning – a methodology that has much to offer any company.


Action learning brings together multiple dimensions – challenging situations, real-world business issues, personal accountability – that lead to higher levels of retention, making experiential learning one of the most impactful forms of development.


An action learning assignment typically lasts six to nine months, during which the individual has the opportunity to take on new challenges, meet and work with co-workers across the business, and get exposure to senior leadership. The experience helps participants develop the problem-solving skills and working relationships required for a next-level role – in a more meaningful and accelerated way than job rotation. At the same time, the business derives value from having its most talented individuals work on critical business issues. The experience also provides a window into leadership skills – demonstrating how well the person performs under pressure, makes decisions, defines recommendations, and delivers solutions.


We’ve had good success with action learning in Asia, and more organizations in this part of the world are adapting the methodology as key part of their talent development approaches. For instance, for Associated British Foods (ABF), Right Management consultants acted as process coaches for a series of action learning teams, involving very senior business leaders from ABF’s headquarters in London to ensure that the teams were fully engaged and involved. Action learning was an integral part of a larger development program we designed and developed for ABF, to help them identify and develop their high potential, next generation leaders, and proved a great success.


When it comes to talent development, the business leaders I work with typically ask: “How do we do it fast and cost-effectively while also ensuring the impact?”   Action learning is the best answer to that question.  It’s really an accelerated process, and it’s going to bring value from and for both sides, for your high potential individuals and for your business.



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