How Heineken achieved coherent leadership in a global organisation

Cultural differences, language barriers, operational disparities and educational variances all come together to present leaders of large and international organisations with a real challenge to establish team cohesion and consistency across international boundaries.

This was the challenge faced by HEINEKEN, with operations in every continent and more than 200 local brands to manage.

The way that action learning has been applied at HEINEKEN to bring about better management performance and improved delegation skills is documented in our case study entitled The business impact of action learning at HEINEKEN.

In this piece, we take a look at how large organisations like HEINEKEN benefit from action learning, not just at the time that it is delivered, but continue to do so long after the process.

New leadership skills develop during action learning sets through a process of self-learning, and become an integral part of a more proactive management style.

How does it work?

During the action learning sets leaders take the time to air their issues in a trusting environment. They can talk, question and reflect on their challenges, until they reach a solution, often an action that they can put into practice straight away to improve a situation.

In the case of HEINEKEN, we worked with them to create a management development programme for their first line managers, delivered by HR and OD professionals on a regional level. This was supplemented with a series of action learning sets conducted by HEINEKEN’s own in-house action learning facilitators once they had received their initial training.

HEINEKEN soon realised that the skills of action learning should be embedded as core competencies within their HR and OD professionals, so that training and development at this level could continue to be an integral part of their organisational development. Importantly, this could be achieved at virtually no additional cost.

Action learning is unique in the sense that it cannot be unlearned. As participants learn the skills of problem solving for themselves, they can continue to apply those techniques throughout their career.

An organisation with leaders in possession of these talents has the internal capability to manage challenges more effectively.

Accepting and adapting to cultural differences, coping with personality clashes or changes to working practices, understanding and appreciating others’ roles and contributions in an organisation – they are all challenges that can be better managed by leaders with the additional emotional intelligence that action learning brings.

As one participant put it:

the effect that the first line managers had on their departments is huge. Almost all of them are coaching their teams on information that they are receiving from the program”.

HEINEKEN is right to invest in its people in this way. Success so often rides on the talent, loyalty and engagement of the people within an organisation. Embedding skills that last is a sound investment that will keep on delivering returns.



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