Bringing action learning to salespeople

One of the things I most enjoy about action learning is training other facilitators.  Working with participants for three full days offers a rich and immersive experience.  As each person takes their turn to facilitate, it’s exciting to see them build their understanding of action learning and increase their confidence.  And there’s a further depth of learning when participants opt for accreditation, which involves keeping a reflective log, and meeting again after a few months for a review.

I recently accredited a team of Learning and Development (L&D) Partners at a large financial institution. Their internal customers are salespeople, and the approach to L&D has traditionally focused on delivering information and solutions, rather than encouraging questions and reflection. However, the team leader (herself a coach) could see the potential for using an action learning approach, and invited us in.

As a team member later reflected:

In a sales organisation where there is a huge variety of experience, we have the opportunity to harness the existing knowledge and use the inherent creativity within the salesforce to enable continued and supported problem solving.” (extract from participant learning log)

The three days resulted in some powerful insights for the team.  They became clear about the underlying principles of action learning, learned to use the process, and gained rich feedback from each other on areas of strength and development.  As an added bonus, working on each person’s real-life challenges had a powerful team-building effect.

At the accreditation day, we reviewed everyone’s action learning logs.  It was clear that the training had raised awareness of some challenges in ‘business as usual’:

During a meeting the issue owner will raise and explain their issue, but the group can often take on the role of temporarily ‘owning’ the issue. Within an environment of temporary ownership, (the responsibility for the issue and its solution will ultimately be handed back to the individual who raised it), decisions can be made quickly, and concerns can be conceded, in favour of not holding the group up and getting to a solution.” (extract from participant learning log)

Participants had also reflected on their own behaviours, and had considered how an ‘action learning mode’ could be helpful in other environments – actively listening during meetings rather than waiting impatiently to speak, or by using open rather than closed questions to elicit rich information.

An important part of our day was considering how to use action learning in a highly commercial and time-pressured culture. Ideas included: building mini-action learning sessions into existing courses; offering taster events; and inviting volunteers to pilot sets.  We sampled some alternative approaches to action learning including peer consultancy, and identified several that would work well.  By the time we finished, there was a renewed energy for taking action learning forward.  I’ll be contacting the team again in a few months as part of our evaluation process, and am looking forward to hearing how action learning is working for them and their customers.

Find out more about our in-house programmes for action learning facilitator training here

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