Growing People… 3 types of learning

Recently I explored ways in which leaders can influence people to take responsibility for their own development.  Today I’m going to continue the theme of organizational learning and focus on the most important ways we can deliberately and purposefully grow the capabilities of people at work.

The first thing to keep in mind is there is no one size fits approach that can be applied for all people in all circumstances.  To support the development of each person we are working with we must start by identify the capability gaps we want to bridge.  Once we understand what we want someone to be able to do then we are ready to determine the most effective ways of going about it.

Typically the best development plans include a blend of strategies that collectively are able to influence the person’s growth.  These approaches include activities that can be categorized as facilitated, experiential and self-learning.   Some will play a more important role than others, but more often than not the development plan needed will incorporate an element of each.

Facilitated Learning

Training courses, seminars and workshops are all valuable solutions if the right ones are chosen for the right reasons.  Sending someone on a training course is most likely to be the best solution if your goal is to raise awareness and provide the participant with insight into tools and approaches unknown or relatively new to him or her.  Some of the most important drivers of an effective training program include:

  • Skill and hands on experience of the facilitator
  • Opportunity to put theory in to practice – both during and following the workshop.  Unless training is supported by application, knowledge transfer is likely to be limited
  • Rich and practical content that is easily applied to real workplace scenarios

Working with a skilled coach or mentor can have a significant impact on development of capabilities and behavior.  Some of the most important measures of a successful coaching relationship include:

  • Trust and rapport between coach and candidate
  • Coaches ability to guide learning – they aren’t there to lecture, their main role is to guide self learning by asking questions
  • Clear and measurable learning objectives are agreed, monitored and measured

Sometimes undertaking further formal education is a necessary and valuable development solution.  It’s not however the answer for everything.  For example undertaking an MBA no doubt has the potential to improve the depth and breadth of General Management knowledge, it is not however necessarily the best option if the goal is to improve the leaders ability to effectively manage their team.

Experiential Learning

Put simply, this learning strategy is all about providing the opportunity for people to learn by doing.  There are lots of ways we can enable people to get hands on experience to grow their capabilities.  Some of the ways in which we can do this include:

  • Seconding people to perform roles in other areas of the business
  • Cross training and allowing people to take on some or all aspects of a colleagues job when they are away or on leave
  • Creating opportunities for people to learn through participation: projects and special assignments
  • Giving people a ‘step up’ promotional opportunity for which they are ready.  It’s important not to over promote people i.e. put them in roles that demand a lift in capability beyond what is reasonable or possible.  However it is equally important to look for ‘stretch’ opportunities that inspire people to lift and grow.  Allowing someone to ‘step up’ into a role with greater complexity and accountability can be a highly effective development strategy when they are not only ready but also well supported by experienced people.


Leading people to observe themselves and reflect encourages both personal awareness and accountability.  In my recent blog ‘Growing up through work’ I offered the ten most important things a leader can teach someone to enable them to positively influence their own development.  If you missed it click on the link above.


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