Action Learning: Making Time to Manage Improvements

Wayne Gretzky - The Great One

My life is just so interesting at the moment. I keep getting letters from successful Nigerian businessmen who want to partner with me in business (sending wads of cash in exchange for a few personal details) and Russian women who want to partner with me in general. The women, in particular, seem disappointed with the fact that I have not written to them, ‘despite the love they have given me in the past’. The most recent note from Nadia is typical:

‘Hey Paul – why do I stop writing? I very much waited your letter – every day, I now have a website, come to my page and write to me at last, I’m waiting for you, and I want to meet with you, kisses’ – Nadia from Russia.

Perhaps we should meet just to help her with English. Possibly re-establish the barter system, now that the Euro is under threat! It’s a neat idea but real work keeps getting in the way. Like figuring out the best way to design & deliver executive development programmes.

Action Learning: Throughout the year, we have been involved in a number of executive development programmes all of which have had a strong emphasis on action learning. The short version = adults learn by doing. While presentations by key speakers are good for creating awareness, eventually the participant has to be given an opportunity to practice the new skill. Why? Because that’s how people learn. You’ve seen this captured in the Chinese saying: ‘I hear and forget. I see and remember. I do and understand’. Think back to when you learned how to cycle. Did your dad show you a video on bikes, explaining the key safety rules and how forward motion enhances balance? Or did someone take you out on a real bike and you eventually ‘got going’? Point made.

I’m Too Busy: At a recent management seminar, we got a lot of pushback on this. A couple of the participants had so many day-to-day pressures, they were hard-pressed even to find time to come to the workshop. Later on, I posed the following question: “What would you do if the CEO of the company personally invited you, on a voluntary basis only, to work on a special project? It would take about a day a week, and you should only accept if you feel you can keep your regular job going during the three or four months of the project”.

When I asked who would accept the assignment, every single hand went up (it helps that in this particular company they all like the CEO). After earlier complaining that they could barely find time to come to the workshop, they were volunteering to take a day out of every week and still get their jobs done. That provoked a good laugh in the group (when the inconsistency was gently highlighted!).

“If I had to do it, I’d find a way”, explained one person. “I couldn’t pass up an opportunity for that exposure”. Someone else suggested that she’d delegate less critical work. “I’d train my people to take over some tasks, and find shortcuts for others”. The comments illustrate that in a crisis or emergency, having to do something provides the energising force to make things happen in ways we don’t ordinarily think about. So, could you introduce your own mini-crisis – disrupting the way you currently work? Identify stupid tasks that currently take time but don’t add value – by taking the ‘Crap Detector’ test.

Crap Detector: If you had to choose ways to gain time, could you find something in one of these categories…

• A task you complete that could be completely eliminated
• One thing that you can do in less time
• Something that you can delegate to someone else

The changes can be quite simple. Always read your email every day? Get your PA to sort out what you don’t need to see (does anyone in the universe still have a PA?). Still checking every report generated by your department? Tell people they are responsible for their own reports and stop using you as a ‘sweeper’ for picking up silly mistakes. And so on.

Extra Time: And what will you face into tomorrow morning, now that you have freed up all that extra time? Two Bacardi and Cokes to kick start the day? Hardly. But you can spend less time fire fighting today issues and put effort into the tomorrow agenda. Get on a plane and talk to customers about their needs. Interrogate suppliers about emerging technology. Investigate competitors and how they’re bundling offers. Look over the wall at other industries – to spark ideas and steal shamelessly. The Ice Hockey player, Wayne Gretzky (nicknamed The Great One), explained his success as “skating towards where the puck is going to be”. Making the time to do this is the challenge for all of us who lead over-busy lives.

Paul Mooney

PS If you freed up enough time, perhaps you could even jump on a plane to Russia and meet Nadia in person. Please give her my best regards. I just hope, for your sake, that Nadia and that Nigerian businessman are not one and the same person, a baldy little fat guy from Huddersfield who is really good with computers. Thanks for reading the blogs. I get a kick out of the amount of people who tune in, sometimes sending suggestions, sometimes disagreeing with the points made. 350-400 people read the blog each week, and that number has been steadily growing. It’s probably down to the fact that you get access to brilliant jokes like: “If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you”.

Know someone who’d benefit from reading this blog? Forward it on or ask them to contact and we’ll add them to the mailing list.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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