ACCOUNTS OF PRACTICE
Using action learning to consolidate coaching skills
Clare Norman1,Ã and Anne Powell2
Accenture, UK, and 2Independent Consultant
This article aims to answer the questions:
. . . .
How can action learning aid in strategic change? What are the beneﬁts of using action learning as part of abroader learning intervention? What are the issues to consider when introducing action learning into a corporate environment? How can you engage people in reﬂection as a part of their development?
The purpose of this article is to provide the readers with an account of how to introduce learning sets in a corporate environment. We start by describing the business need that drove Accenture to selectthe action learning set as the forum for developing skills in coaching in the organisation and the strategy that we used to sell the intervention to the sponsors. Then we share our deﬁnition of action learning sets and how it ﬁts within the context of this learning intervention. We describe the structure of the sets, issues for us as facilitators of the sets, and conclude with our evaluation ofthe intervention, including the outcomes. In short, it will give you the beneﬁt of our experiences, as you decide when and how to use action learning.
Introduction Action through learning, and learning through action—this was the premise behind a programme aimed at developing the coaching skills of the Human Resources function of Accenture, a company that specialises in Consulting, Technologyand Outsourcing. Within Accenture coaching is seen as a core leadership skill. The UK and Ireland Human Resources function was able to lead the way in organisational change, by developing their coaching skills to use with their teams and with their internal clients. We are Clare Norman, learning and development manager within Accenture, and Anne Powell, independent consultant.
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ISSN 1476-7333 (print)/ISSN 1476-7341 (online)/04/010091–09 # 2004 Clare Norman and Anne Powell DOI: 10.1080/1476733042000187646
92 C. Norman & A. Powell The business need This programme was designed for the UK and Ireland Human Resources function in Accenture, and stemmed from the business strategy of making human resources specialists morefacilitative. As the HR Lead said:
We wanted to get human resources to adopt more of a coaching style rather than using the directive behaviour that was landing managers in trouble when they adhered to the HR standard advice to the letter in situations needing a different approach. It is imperative for the business that more people management should be done by the line. A line manager should be thinking,if there is a people problem, I need to ﬁx it, with the help and support of the experts.
When it came to presenting the programme recommendations to the sponsors, the data that persuaded them to use learning sets following a workshop was the research (Olivero et al., 1997) that showed the level of behaviour change of conducting a course alone (22 per cent), compared to the change whenconducting a course followed by some kind of coaching intervention (88 per cent). Despite the time commitment and the additional cost of learning sets, the sponsors—senior members of the human resources function—felt that achieving the business strategy was so key, that they would need to invest time and money in order to get the return they desired.
Our working deﬁnition of action learning sets Theauthor Krystyna Weinstein (1999) said that:
One of the beliefs of action learning is that we learn best when we are committed to undertaking some action; another is that without action, there is no real evidence of learning. Thus, the emphasis in action learning is as much on achieving action as on gaining learning. (p. 159)
We took this as our guiding principle, and tailored our approach to ﬁt...