Monday, August 9, 2010

Measuring Action Learning Projects in Public Sector Leadership Development

Action learning projects in leadership development have continued as an important development tool for many organizations. It was a recent topic in the Imagining the Future of Leadership blog series hosted by Harvard Business Review in one blog post by Trina Soske and Jay A. Conger titled "Its Time to Focus Executive Development on Real Business Issues."

In the blog, Soske and Conger make the case that...

"The complexity, interconnectedness and transparency of today's organizations mean that no one individual can get much accomplished by themselves. Most challenges and opportunities are systemic. Leadership is distributed and change now requires a collective sense and a coordinated set of actions."

My team enables a key leadership development program named GEMSTONE. The intent of the program is to take the best and brightest leaders at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and create the next generation of DIA leaders. Like many other leadership development programs, GEMSTONE utilizes action learning principles through Capstone projects to enable key program goals. These include skill development, collaboration and team building, and critical and creative thinking.

Key aspects of the Capstone projects are their alignment to a specific Directorate (Business unit equivalent in private sector) with senior executive sponsorship. Through a series of conversations with Directorate senior executives, we are able to determine key challenges facing the organization that are within the control and authority of that senior executive to take action.

Our Capstone projects lead to a series of project recommendations. The senior executive sponsor has one of four options:

1. The project plan is accepted, a team is formed and funding is procured;
2. Interesting elements of a plan are evaluated further;
3. The project plan is accepted but staged for future investment; or,
4. The project is halted because the timing or investment is not right.

The intent of GEMSTONE is not unlike other private sector leadership development programs. Cisco's Executive-Action Learning Forum is a case in point. Led by Annmarie Neal, vice president of the Cisco Center for Collaborative Leadership, the program looks to accomplish the following:

"While executive leadership programs are common, the Cisco Center for Collaborative Leadership – known as "3C" – is unusual in how it implements such teachings. As part of the program, Neal's team helped design Cisco's Executive Action Learning Forum (E-ALF). In E-ALF, five to six teams of 10 promising executives work together to build the strategy and tactics for addressing crucial business issues that have $1 billion in potential revenue generation or cost-savings. In most cases, the work of the teams leads directly to major initiatives the company implements. Each program has at least one senior executive sponsor."

Key differences between measuring the impact of action learning projects between the private sector and public sector is the revenue generation measurement component. In Cisco's case, addressing crucial business issues that have $1 billion potential in revenue generation is a key metric. Since public sector doesn't engage in revenue generation, we have to focus measurement in other areas that also show impact and program effectiveness.

Key areas to measure for GEMSTONE and other public sector programs include the following:

1. The number of organizational challenges addressed - Tracking the number of challenges is really just a first step. If recommendations are accepted by the senior executive sponsor on aspects of mitigating the challenges to improve organizational efficiency and/or effectiveness, ultimately measuring these outcomes and their impact are the goal.
2. Resource optimization - In the public sector, optimizing resources to enable more efficient use of the taxpayer investment are important. Measuring these types of outcomes may enable investment in new capabilities to overcome other organizational challenges.
3. Project alignment to organizational strategy - In many organizations, just aligning projects to the strategic goals of the organization can be extremely helpful. In some organizations, leaders can't always see the alignment.
4. Social Network Analysis - Creating leaders of the future as Soske and Conger discuss is about collaborative and collective engagement. Bringing
together future leaders from across the organization should lead to measurable improvement in collaboration and communication that are critical for the future success of organizations.

The benefits of action learning projects are well established in leadership development. Now take the next steps to align the impact of this helpful tool to developing your future leaders in the public sector and the key metrics that tell the story of its impact on the organization.


Twitter: JKeithDunbar
DNA of Human Capital:


  1. Keith

    I hope you don't mind - I've posted your blog with web link to find the original - into the learning forum we're hosting for WIAL UK at:

    You've addressed issues that many are interested in.


  2. Hi Eric...Happy to help the profession. Please let me know if I can help with more context.


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