The world’s most effective business school (and how to make the most out of it)

4 minutes read

Management Kits - Organizational Learning

Yes, the world’s most effective business school is your own organization (in case you’ve been guessing). This is not to suggest that Harvard Business School, IMD, and Booth School of Business are not the world leaders in management education the global management community believes them to be. It is only to emphasize once more the key importance of real, first-hand practical experience that deeply shapes individual learning. And the best place for this learning is the business or the organization the individual is a part of.

The relevance of on-the-job learning for practitioner development has long been recognized of course. It has been captured by widely received models such as 70-20-10, purporting that (roughly) 70% of learning happens through practical experience, 20% through feedback from co-workers or bosses, and only 10% from formal training. This is not the place to summarize the methodological criticism of this model, which over the last few years has been picked up by many learning agencies and consultants. Suffice it to say that this rather intuitive and catchy proposition comes at the expense of some expedient differentiation.

One benefit of the 70-20-10 talk is that it stresses the context (the “20” and the “10”, e.g. opportunities for reflection and conceptual training) that is required for the practical experience (the “70”) to be really useful for learning. But what does this context need to look like to make the organizational experience the most effective business school?

There is nothing more practical than a good theory – which can be applied to a specific business challenge

For a start, just because you learn most on the job doesn’t mean there isn’t an important role for a teacher, materials, and a curriculum
Take for example a change project in a post-merger-integration (PMI) setting. Impactful change management is a key success factor of successful integration efforts. Best practices and proven change designs include a dedicated integration strategy and an integration and change infrastructure. These serve as a basis for a clear process and timeline management, embedding change in the organization and its layers (e.g. organizational entity, team and individual level). It has been shown that systematic and timely communication, including concrete goals and role understandings for each stakeholder, are crucial factors for success, and that reflective feedback loops in the process support learning as the project unfolds. Measurement systems allow tracking of the post-merger integration progress, for example relating synergies, cultural integration or stakeholder acceptance.

For anyone responsible for driving a PMI project it will certainly be of value to have a systematic introduction to what we know about PMI settings, and how to systematically drive change in such settings. You´ll want to have a framework that goes beyond generic change models, to learn about typical issues and risks, etc., so you can ‘study’ the challenge at hand before taking action.

However, when faced with an immediate challenge, formal training will not be practical because the timing of the case will not line up with a company’s training curriculum. Vice versa, it would be a mistake to engage in M&A activity just because PMI challenges were on the schedule of the last executive MBA course.

Nonetheless, pure and unsupported action learning alone often means learning it the hard way
This is because the practice itself hardly offers opportunities for reflection and the proverbial ‘step back’ that a more formalized learning context can offer. A certain conceptual distance from the specifics of the case – and a repertoire of typical issues, patterns, and dynamics that occur in PMI settings – helps to make better judgments, just as a purely classroom-based course remains abstract without a context that resembles the actual heat of the battle (and case-based teaching can only provide this context to a certain extent). Simply hiring consultants to do the conceptual thinking and drive the project work once the challenge arises will give away most of the learnings to external third parties, and risks overlooking key internal knowledge – not to mention cost.

At Management Kits we have come up with an approach that is able to support learning when it is both most needed and most useful

The Kits are based on the idea that the gaps described above are best closed when it is possible to provide essential knowledge, practical experience, and usable tools to managers who need to apply them to unique challenges, while leveraging their best internal understanding of what needs to happen.

Our first Kit, the Organizational Structure Kit, is an application of this idea. It combines a framework for organizational design with process guides and tools to enable immediate collaborative action on the ground, all intended to encourage the world’s most effective business school – your organization – to live up to its full potential.

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