What do UK businesses need? What can action learning contribute?

A study commissioned by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) on the challenge UK businesses face in recruiting and developing skilled leaders and managers found that:

  • between 2007 and 2017 an additional 2.2 million new managers will be needed  in the UK. I.3 million to replace those retiring and 0.8 to manage increasing numbers
  • 93% of survey respondents said that low levels of management skills are having a direct impact on their business
  • only 18% of employers expect candidates to have received management training prior to being appointed to a management position so the majority are expected to learn on the job, often with little or no support
  • there is a dire shortage of softer leadership and management skills.  Organisations consistently struggle to find managers at every level who are emotionally intelligent, inspirational and creative – attributes which are considered critical for 21st Century management as businesses adapt to diversity, complexity and change.

The link between high productivity and best management practices is well established.  A global study in 2012 showed that the top six countries in the world for business performance also had the best practice in leadership and management (UK is number 6 behind US, Japan, Germany, Sweden and Canada).

So what can action learning contribute?

The value of action learning is to provide a structure for leaders and managers to learn from experience.  If most managers learn on the job then it is vital that they have the opportunity to reflect on their experience.  In action learning they gain a group of peers who will ask questions to aid that reflection and challenge their thinking.  They can also gain support in making behavioural changes and learn from each other’s experience.  Along the way they develop and extend their skills in asking open questions, offering honest feedback, understanding how groups work, observing directly what interaction enables individuals to shift understanding and behaviour.

The action learning cycle is often related to Kolb’s learning cycle

Kolbs cycle

I’m grateful to Chrissie Ruckley who in her Reflective Learning log took a model for education to compare experiential learning to a spiral.  In adapting that model further to relate it to action learning we can see the value of action learning over time.  Action learning enables questions to become deeper, reflection to become more insightful, understanding to become clearer and actions to become more effective.


As Einstein said “It is not that I’m so smart.  But I stay with the questions much longer”.

Action learning has a vital role to play in leadership and management development programmes that will enable organisation and businesses to respond to the challenges of the 21st Century.

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