Culture & Mergers & Acquisitions Strategy

A sophisticated discipline or a “roll of the dice”?

By Bryan Adkins Ed.D., CEO, Denison Consulting

Perhaps there is no business situation that epitomizes the saying that “culture eats strategy” more than mergers and acquisitions. By now, most everyone knows the statistics – somewhere between 60 and 70% of mergers and acquisitions fall short of expectations. And yet we still roll the dice and hope that ours will be among the precious few that defy the odds. Acquisitions remain at the core of many growth strategies.

The appeal is quite clear – immediate access to new technologies, talent, intellectual property and geographies. So too are the risks – voluntary turnover of key talent, underestimation of the time and resources needed to integrate, power struggles, stressed employees, job losses, strategy shifts and an overall infusion of uncertainty and ambiguity. A classic high-risk, high-reward scenario.

In the culture work that we do, we often talk about high-performing organizations and the notably higher levels of clarity and alignment they have created regarding what they do, why they do it, and how they do it. The enemy of clarity and alignment is uncertainty and confusion. Among the internal changes that have the greatest potential to create uncertainty in organizations are leadership changes, shifts in strategy, restructuring and significant systems (IT, financial, HR) implementations. Almost every M&A deal will result in several, if not all, of these changes occurring, either simultaneously or in fast succession.

Given the high complexity of the challenge and the low odds of success, one might conclude that it is better to just get up and walk away from M&A as a strategy. The trillions of dollars spent on M&A’s across the globe in recent years, however, suggest that no one is heading to the exits.

Even though the risks are well known, many leaders still cross their fingers and hope for the best when combining companies. The deal looks good on paper and they have convinced themselves that it is meant to be. Carl Sagan once said, “The more badly we want to believe it, the more skeptical we need to be. It involves a kind of courageous self-discipline.” Yet skepticism and discipline often seem to be in short supply when leaders start talking about their next deal – especially when it comes to culture integration.

We believe that culture integration work is meant for those who are ready to roll up their sleeves, not cross their fingers. It is possible to more quickly and fully realize the desired synergies a merger or acquisition can offer. But to do so means that culture due diligence and integration cannot be an afterthought. Failure to get it right means that the promises made to the marketplace can come crumbling down into a smoldering heap of unmet expectations.

Culture awareness, understanding and management can be done with the same discipline that is often applied to the legal, financial, technological and operational integration efforts.

Your culture integration strategy should include
the following key components:

Be clear about your culture: The key here is “know thyself.” A client recently reached out to us and said that they are looking at a series of acquisitions as part of their growth strategy, but before they get underway they’d like to better understand their own culture. This is critical when preparing for the integration of other organizations. What is the culture an acquisition is coming into? A medical product manufacturer working with Denison is doing just that – starting with understanding their culture in an effort to effectively manage their culture as they plan for the integration of acquisitions into their company.

The acquisition should support the vision and strategy: The Board and Senior Executives must be able to articulate the value proposition expected from a merger or acquisition. We push our clients hard to understand the types of acquisitions they are thinking about and the level of integration expected. This allows leaders to better articulate how a deal supports their growth strategy and the level of culture integration work that will be needed.

Initiate Target Identification and Culture Due Diligence: Clients often ask, “Can you help us in the target identification and due diligence phases, where a full-blown culture assessment is not feasible?” The answer is, “Yes!” There is a wide range of data about organizations that is available in the public domain today. Social media and company websites can be analyzed to help in the identification of possible targets and throughout the due diligence phase.

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When a global furniture manufacturer identified a potential acquisition that supported their strategic growth plan, we provided the Board and leaders with an in-depth analysis of the culture so they could make an informed decision to proceed, anticipate the synergies, and effectively address the risks for culture clashes.

Manage Transition Planning and Team Alignment: Knowledge is power. Imagine standing at the edge of a minefield – needing to get to the other side. Now imagine someone handing you a map that shows where the mines are located. Knowing the cultural landscape of the respective organizations allows the transition and integration teams to proceed with the confidence that they are focusing on issues relevant to business performance and an understanding of where the cultural landmines are located. The Denison culture assessment provides such a map.

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The culture profiles generated provide a clear picture of where potential gaps exist and where best practices are evident. This data collection allows for input from employees in the respective organizations and involves them in the culture integration process. Everyone can quickly and easily become aware of the potential areas of clash and turn that awareness into specific plans for closing the gaps.

Define and Execute Day 1 Integration: The deal has been signed and the real work of bringing the organizations together begins. The Denison Model and cultural insights developed will provide a roadmap for the culture integration process. What is the common Vision for the future? What Values will guide behavior? How do we balance internal integration with the external needs of the marketplace? The roadmap keeps you focused on the activities that create unity, foster alignment and impact business performance. A certain consumer products company not only used the culture assessment, they used the Denison Model to create a one-year M&A integration plan that prioritized their Mission, Vision and Values while identifying other integration activities that would help build effective teams, foster coordination across the newly forming entity, and focus the workforce on the creation of a single, high-performing organization.

Commit to ongoing culture development: Integration of one or more organizations is important work. However, culture is a living, dynamic asset (or liability) that needs constant attention and management. There may be more acquisitions to make. The competitive landscape will change. Leaders and technologies will come and go. Being intentional about culture and culture management is a sophisticated competence that offers a sustainable competitive advantage. Organizations that first reach out to engage in culture work due to an acquisition learn quickly that the insights provided offer critical insights about the company that bring them back on a regular basis. Culture understanding and management becomes a core business competence.

When it comes to culture in the integration process, some still choose to “roll the dice.” Seasoned acquirers develop a discipline that reduces the risk of culture clashes undermining their acquisition strategy. What is your approach?

If you would like support in this process, please be in contact with us. We can help you achieve transformation right to the bottom line.

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Private Equity
As a CEO of a private equity firm, you know that firms with a strong, vibrant culture perform better in a highly competitive marketplace. Denison can work with you to build an effective culture in all of your portfolio firms. Our assessment tools enable you to capture a clear picture of the current cultural state of your organization. Our consulting expertise supports you in making the changes necessary to achieve superior financial performance. It is about how you work as a team, how your policies meet practice within the culture of the organization, and even how performance aligns with your investment criteria.
  • Deliver a consistent assessment of your portfolio companies
  • Give you an unambiguous picture of the culture of your organization
  • Provides a disciplined process and measureable action plan for
  • Offers hands-on strategic consulting to address gaps and affirm best
practices currently being employed by your portfolio companies
improvement
Our approach:
Financial Services
In the financial sector, you are active in a wide variety of client environments that need to support both accountability and the highest ethical standards. The trust that your customers place in your organization is dependent upon the culture that your employees exhibit every day.

You need to have a clear understanding of how your culture and the people in your organization function amidst the complexities of the current financial institutional marketplace. The Denison Model can provide you with that clarity. From brokerage firms to retail banking to institutional banking to insurance, Denison has specific, measurable benchmarks that identify both the strengths and weaknesses of your organization. With this baseline diagnostic, our consulting team can support you to put into place action plans that help sustain your high standards and see improvement in your financial performance.
Manufacturing
The manufacturing environment is constantly being tasked with improvements in both quality and delivery while also having to maintain the highest levels of safety. The Denison Model equips you with the tools to reach anyone, from the senior leadership team to the shop floor, in a globally networked manufacturing environment to build a culture oriented towards continuous improvement in these critical mission areas.

Through our consultancy services, we work with a broad cross-section of your technical and operational staff to align them around the goal of producing the highest quality products in the world—both on time and on budget.
Healthcare
Within the healthcare market, high performance is measured primarily in patient outcomes. The marriage of the institution with doctors, support staff, and operational teams is key to achieving the best patient outcomes. Denison works with you to achieve these outcomes by building a culture that is attuned to the unique ecosystem of support that patients require.

Our organizational culture assessment based on the Denison Model is a proven approach that has supported healthcare providers with actionable feedback for decades. The assessment identifies successes and clarifies challenges that you may be facing by comparing your data against the four core drivers of cultural high performance. Then, our consulting team is able to support you in addressing these challenges with action plans tailored to your inclusive and diverse environment.
Case Study
The management of culture in an organization whose members are always on the move.
Education
At Denison, we understand that student success is the goal of every educational organization. Our consulting expertise and diagnostic tools will allow your team to better understand, articulate, and implement your mission.

You will gain a collective understanding of your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, and challenges benchmarked against other peer institutions, all targeted toward providing students with the best learning environment. Then, through Action Planning, we will work with you to improve your academic and operational excellence to support the diverse student learning environment of higher education, K-12 schools, and related associations.
Retail
As a retailer, you know that culture drives the customer experience of your organization. The hospitality, support, and the follow-up lived out by your staff help make the difference in each consumer interaction. It is that experience that really drives what your organizational behavior should be.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization can support each customer's experiences. We provide you with data that helps you understand your organization right from each customer’s entry all the way to checkout. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Restaurants
Smart restaurant owners know that their patrons’ experiences are driven by the culture of their organizations. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by their culinary and wait staff help make the difference in each dish that is served. They know that it is each patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what what a team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Government
To achieve high performance in a government initiative, one requires a different understanding of the metrics of success. Therefore, the advancement of the mission is measured instead of the typical KPIs or financial results of a business, such as sales growth or ROI.

For example, Denison supports both military men and women in action through our work with the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). We provide a core culture assessment and an improvement program that helps this department maintain a strong culture to fulfill their mission, addressing everything needed to support men and women in combat through readiness preparation.
Case Study
A transformation that didn’t require thousands of dollars, but a new way of interacting.
Technology
Because of the ever-changing pace of the introduction of new technologies and the shortening of the technology life-cycle, exhibiting adaptability in your organization’s culture is critical. These factors drive both the need to recoup costs and the need to show profit more quickly. Therefore, being able to seamlessly change business models to drive market expansion, product acceptance, and superior performance is absolutely critical in this high-potential return but volatile market. Talent is also at a premium.

Based on diagnostics structured through the Denison Model, our consultancy team can help you build a culture in which all stakeholders understand who the organization is and who will fit the organization the best. With this alignment, you can gain a competitive edge in both attracting and retaining the engineers, researchers, and innovators needed to lead any market-changing innovation.
Transportation
Whether you deal with business travelers, tourists, or products in the supply chain, safety and schedule reliability are two of the key deliverables in this industry. For decades, Denison has worked with leaders from the transportation industry, helping to transform organizations in the face of changing markets and technologies to ensure consumer safety, satisfaction, and bottom-line business success.

When you bring Denison on board, our experienced consultants help you make decisions and plans based on data benchmarked against the global industry. As a result, we put your organization on the path to high performance, with measurable benefits right to your bottom line.
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Builds Team Orientation
Self-Directed Learning:
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The individual manager places value on employees working cooperatively toward common goals and often relies on team effort to get work done. S/he helps establish a sense of mutual accountability for the accomplishment of goals.

Learning On-The-Job:
Social Learning:
Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint.j;jwoeifjwoe woifj woefij wpoiefj woepfij wpoeifjw epofi opwiejf wopei wpoiejf wopeifj pwoiejf woefij woefij wopeifj nfoifwjpoefijwpoefihpofewh poweif wpoefih epofiwh efwpoihwfe wpoefih weofihwe fpoweifh wpofih
Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint.
Walking the Walk: 3 Ways to Ensure a Team-Oriented Business Culture Test Link: Google Test Link: Google
Defines Strategic Direction & Intent
Smart restaurant owners know that their patrons’ experiences are driven by the culture of their organizations. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by their culinary and wait staff help make the difference in each dish that is served. They know that it is each patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what what a team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Defines Goals & Objectives
Smart restaurant owners know that their patrons’ experiences are driven by the culture of their organizations. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by their culinary and wait staff help make the difference in each dish that is served. They know that it is each patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what what a team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Defines Core Values
Smart restaurant owners know that their patrons’ experiences are driven by the culture of their organizations. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by their culinary and wait staff help make the difference in each dish that is served. They know that it is each patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what what a team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Works to Reach Agreement
Smart restaurant owners know that their patrons’ experiences are driven by the culture of their organizations. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by their culinary and wait staff help make the difference in each dish that is served. They know that it is each patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what what a team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Manages Coordination & Integration
Smart restaurant owners know that their patrons’ experiences are driven by the culture of their organizations. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by their culinary and wait staff help make the difference in each dish that is served. They know that it is each patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what what a team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Develops Organizational Capability
Smart restaurant owners know that their patrons’ experiences are driven by the culture of their organizations. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by their culinary and wait staff help make the difference in each dish that is served. They know that it is each patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what what a team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Creates Change
Smart restaurant owners know that their patrons’ experiences are driven by the culture of their organizations. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by their culinary and wait staff help make the difference in each dish that is served. They know that it is each patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what what a team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Emphasizes Customer Focus
Smart restaurant owners know that their patrons’ experiences are driven by the culture of their organizations. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by their culinary and wait staff help make the difference in each dish that is served. They know that it is each patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what what a team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Promotes Organizational Learning
Smart restaurant owners know that their patrons’ experiences are driven by the culture of their organizations. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by their culinary and wait staff help make the difference in each dish that is served. They know that it is each patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what what a team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Creates Shared Vision
Smart restaurant owners know that their patrons’ experiences are driven by the culture of their organizations. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by their culinary and wait staff help make the difference in each dish that is served. They know that it is each patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what what a team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support each patron’s experience. We provide you with benchmarked data from across the food industry to help you understand your organization right from each patron’s entry to the final after-dinner mint. We also provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address your challenges, allowing you to attract new customers, retain loyal brand customers, and ensure superior financial performance.
Empowers People
The individual helps to create an environment where individuals have authority, initiative, and ability to manage their own work. The individual has a sense of ownership and responsibility for the organization.

Self-Directed Learning (Books | Articles | Blogs):
Learning On-The-Job:
Social Learning:
Practice this competency on-the-job. Ideas for what other leaders are doing to develop this competency for themselves and their teams.
Identify a suitable form of learning from others through mentoring and/or coaching.
1:1 Mentoring
Identify or ask your manager to match you with an executive mentor or a peer mentor based on your action plan focus area.
Group Mentoring
Join or create a group of 4-6 peer leaders who engage a senior mentor and meet as a group once or twice a month to discuss various topics and do structured group activities. Group mentoring combines senior and peer mentoring, as mentees learn from both the mentor and each other.
Training-Based Mentoring
Join a training program that matches you (or take the initiative to identify a mentor) with a mentor based on the specific skills taught in the training program.
Community of Learning: In-Person
Community or learning (often called “learning circles” is a great way to network and learn from peers and leaders for a common area of interest (management excellence). Join or start a group of employees who are interested in strengthening a particular competency. Identify specific topics, format (talk, panel, discussion, etc.) and meet periodically.
Community of Learning: Virtual
Similar in concept to “In Person” community of learning, except that where in person interaction is impractical or impossible due to different geographic locations. Instead, members use electronic methods such as email, instant messaging, and video conferencing. Join or start a community of learning that is virtual and build your global network and expertise.
Coaching
Identify a professional coach to help you improve, grow, and develop skills to overcome obstacles strengthen your competencies.
Create an employee group and provide the sponsorship and resources needed as they focus on solving a customer need.
Have leaders engage their employees in discussion to clarify what decisions they can make, those they can influence, and those who are beyond the scope of that employee’s responsibility.
Create a manager “learning community” that allows managers to learn from each other about best “people management” practices, including delegation and empowerment.
Have employees form a “disappearing task force” with a clear charge to understand and resolve a specific business challenge.
Recognize and reward individuals and teams that take the initiative to solve a business issue or customer problem.
Hold weekly “current affairs” meetings to provide regular updates and information to employees so that they can make more informed decisions.
Give staff the opportunity to tailor their training curriculum to fit their interests and needs.
Empower employees by giving them the ability to “stop the line” if they see a quality or safety risk.
Ask employees to provide their leader with a list of responsibilities and decisions that they believe they should own.