Business Driven Action Learning Catches on All Over the World

May 21, 2002

But this is changing as more companies worldwide – including the likes of General Electric, Siemens, Boeing, Baxter Healthcare, DuPont, Fujitsu, Johnson & Johnson, and Volvo Car Corporation – embrace business driven action learning as a way to explore new business opportunities and develop their best people.

Dr. Boshyk, who is Chairman of the Global Executive Learning Network, will be addressing the 7th Annual Global Forum on Business Driven Action Learning & Executive Development from 22nd May to 24th May 2002 at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). The prestigious Forum, being held in Africa for the first time, is being sponsored by Standard Bank.

“As a philosophy, business driven action learning is based on the belief and practice that learning should be tied to business realities, and that some of the best business solutions can and should come from fellow executives and employees.

“Many of the companies that utilise business driven action learning are those who also have a high respect for their people and who appreciate that learning often comes from the sharing of experiences in an open exchange, which in turn encourages reflection and practical application,” says Dr. Boshyk.

The business world, and especially multinational companies, now share a common view that is quite different from views held in the past. The numbers of companies using business driven action learning is clearly on the increase.

A survey undertaken by Dr. Boshyk’s Global Executive Learning Network and Victoria Marsick, Co-Director of the J.M Huber Institute for Learning in Organisations at the Columbia University, New York, USA, revealed that between 60% and 65% of 45 top multinational companies were using action learning.

One reason for this new acceptance was the changing nature of the competitive landscape.

“Product life cycles, globalisation, and indeed, the entire pace of business life and decision-making took on a new meaning in the 1990s.

“The new business mantra included the key words: speed, flexibility, shareholder value and customer focus, and therefore, the need for change. Many senior executives realised the need to align their organisations to these new objectives,” he explains.

During this time, many surveys revealed that executives saw their companies’ cultural ‘baggage’ and old ways of thinking as the greatest obstacles to success. Almost all agreed that one of the top priorities was to change their corporate culture.

In the course of this corporate re-assessment the role of education and hence the learning organisation was ‘discovered’ by chief executives. At the same time, they realised the importance of learning quickly, and certainly faster than competitors.

One of the founders of action learning, Reg Revans, used to say that for competitive reasons, “learning must be equal to or greater than the rate of change.” However, in the 1990s it became clear that both individuals and organisations that learnt faster than the rate of change would gain competitive advantage.

When traditional executive education provided to companies was not being translated into business results, chief executives began looking to action learning as a more relevant approach to their new emerging educational needs.

“Companies began to realise that knowledge, with an emphasis on ‘actionable knowledge’, was a corporate asset and therefore had to be developed for competitive advantage. The past emphasis on individual development and learning was replaced with a view that individual learning should be tied more directly and clearly to organisational objectives as well,” he explains.

Business driven action learning as practiced in some of the best companies worldwide involves five key elements:

  • The active involvement and support of senior executives;

  • Participants working in teams on real business issues and exploring new strategic business opportunities;

  • Action research and learning focused on internal and external company experiences and thinking that can help resolve business issues;

  • Leadership development through teamwork and coaching; and

  • Follow up on the business issues and leadership development, thus enhancing positive business results and ensuring that learning is greater than the rate of change.

According to Professor Peter Pribilla, Head of Corporate Human Resources at Siemens AG: “The speed at which a corporation can learn and employ new knowledge is a decisive factor in competition. It is not enough to learn and work. Learning and working must be integrated. Only then can a corporation be a learning organisation. Action Learning addresses this challenge very efficiently.”

Gerard van Schaik, President of the European Foundation for Management Development and former Chairman of the Executive Board of Heineken, says: “Real progress in business is only achieved by corporations and individuals trying out creative ideas and making them work, running into problems and solving them, by pooling talent and scoring with it, and most of all…by having fun and learning while doing. Business driven action learning is a superb vehicle for achieving this.”

Although presently utilised by organisations mainly in executive leadership development programmes, business driven action learning can be adopted for ‘just-in-time’ learning and for virtually any process or context where learning is tied to producing results and behavioural change.

It can involve various levels within an organisation, from chairman and CEO to supervisor and shop floor personnel, and can also include those formally outside of the company – suppliers, customers and stakeholders such as government regulators.

It is not exclusively for multinationals or large companies; it can be used very effectively by small and medium sized businesses and in the public and not-for-profit sectors.


Issued By: Alison Gregg-Logan Alison Gregg Public Relations Telephone: (011) 646-0571 Fax: (011) 486-3493 Cellular: (082) 652-1510 Email: