Productivity in the UK has been a challenge for many years. Prior to the financial crisis in 2007-2008, labour productivity was 13% lower in the UK, when compared to the rest of the G7 countries. This gap widened after the financial crisis and has clearly been put under further stress through ‘Brexit’ and during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Problem solving is a basic skill we all possess. While action learning has been around for many years, its use as a way to solve business problems is still rare, and yet those that have experienced it are often evangelists for its use.Action Learning is based on the principle that the most effective learning takes place in the context in which people are working; their situation. The concept was developed by Reg Revans in the 1940s. He stated that Learning (L) is the result of combining what he called ‘Programmed knowledge (P)’ with ‘Questioning insight (Q)’. He expressed this as an equation:
“There can be no learning without action and no action without learning." Reg Revans
Programmed knowledge might sound complicated, but it is simply the things we already know that are relevant to the current situation. Questioning is used to reflect, critically, on the situation. The use of questioning, critical reflection and programmed knowledge leads to actions. These actions lead to learning. The action learning methodology encourages three levels of learning:
1 The specific issue being discussed
2 What is being learned about oneself
3 The process of learning itself ie learning to learn. “Discussing any challenges with a fantastic group of like-minded business owners assisted in some key decisions for my business.” Dean Corney, COO, The Pull AgencyIt might sound somewhat ‘academic’ but in reality, it is a very simple process. People meet in small groups and briefly share a problem (or opportunity) they wish to progress. Others in the group ask questions which lead to an exploration of possible ways forward. Everyone commits to implement an action from the meeting, and at the next session shares what happened as a result of that action.Through the process, learning takes place; root causes are identified; the way ahead becomes clearer. The process enhances personal effectiveness and productivity, improves leadership skills, and develops confidence. Participants are often surprised that businesses of different sizes and from different industry sectors are often struggling with similar issues. Participants’ assumptions, values, beliefs and attitudes towards their problem or situation are challenged, leading to fundamental shifts in mindsets and the generation of innovative solutions.
“I was impressed by how much I learned from businesses experiencing similar issues but in completely different sectors to mine." Lisa French, Truth PR
Some people have said it sounds like therapy. It is not therapy, but at times it can feel therapeutic. More importantly, business leaders learn a new approach to problem solving that has lasting benefits for their business. Evidence indicates that this approach can result in 2.5% higher labour productivity. Additionally, along the way, leaders develop a new network of like-minded people they trust, with many groups continuing to meet for years.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is currently supporting a fully-funded programme, Peer Networks, using Action Learning, for SME businesses* in the UK. Groups of up to 11 SME business owners and leaders meet for 18 hours of action learning across a five to six-month period.
* Eligibility criteria:
There is no cost to eligible SME businesses.
The group sessions take place virtually, using a tool such as Zoom, minimising time out of the business. The fact that participants join these sessions from a psychologically safe environment (often their home) encourages them to share challenges that are very important to them and their business, leading to high-quality discussions and practical solutions.
Asesoria Group is a local delivery partner for the Peer Networks Programme working with the Business Growth Hub in Thames Valley Berkshire, the Solent LEP and the Growth Hub in Greater Manchester.