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action learning roiIn times of monetary constraint, it is critical to ensure that your organisation achieves a real return on investment (ROI) from training and development activities.  Much has been written about the visible ROI of action learning in terms of improved productivity, increased sales or services, reduced costs and innovation.  However, very little is written about the hidden ROI of action learning which occurs at the individual level.

Over my past 35 years of conducting action learning programs, participants and their managers have reported personal changes that have occurred as a result of participation in an action learning program or project.  These “hidden” changes at an individual level can produce sustainable, systemic and long-term organisational improvement as they involve enhanced self-belief and increased personal capacity to create real change.

The hidden ROI of action learning can be summarised in the following seven (7) personal, reported outcomes from participation in action learning:

 1. Confidence to use pre-existing competencies

Participants in action learning programs bring a whole set of competencies to their action learning activity.  However, they often express the view at the outset of a program that they do not feel confident to use a particular competence in their job because of the culture or other features of the organisation.  Action learning builds the confidence to use these underutilised competencies within the organisational context.

 2. An expanded view of what they are capable of

Action learning usually involves “stretch” – participants undertaking some activity they have not engaged in previously.  This inherent challenge, together with the focus on achieving outcomes, enables participants to realise that they are capable of more than they originally thought possible.  A contributor to this realisation is the increased visibility and influence that participants gain through involvement in an organisation-sponsored action learning activity.

 3. Removal of erroneous assumptions

One of the core processes of action learning is providing supportive challenge through questioning of fundamental assumptions.  This challenge to assumptions from the facilitator and/or other participants can lead to personal insight into erroneous assumptions and the negative impacts of such assumptions.

 4. Increased congruence between words and action

Nothing thwarts attempted cultural change like a lack of congruence – inconsistency between words and actions. Through the process of mutual exploration incorporated in action learning activities, a lack of congruence can be surfaced and brought forward for examination and rectification.

 5. Improved understanding of the organisational context

As action learning activities are directed to some form of improvement within the organisational context, a consequential outcome is that action learning participants gain a better understanding of the organisation and their role within it. When you attempt to create organisational change, you automatically come up against the “forces” that keep the status quo in place and gain a real understanding of organisational dynamics and inter-relationships amongst organisational units.

 6. Capacity for reflection-in-action

Typically action learning activities involve reflection-on-action. If the emphasis on this reflection is sustained and reinforced over the course of an action learning program, then participants can develop the unconscious competence of reflection-in-action, the ability to reflect on what they are doing in the course of taking action within the organisational context.

 7. Deep relationships that fuel positive, systemic outcomes

The real, sustainable changes in an organisation occur through the relationships and social fabric that is built up over time.  Action learning activities are designed to build relationships which are lasting and deep.  This outcome is often realised because of the level of personal sharing involved and the collaborative ethos underpinning the action learning approach.

Obviously, the achievement of these outcomes and the resultant hidden ROI of action learning is impacted by the design of the action learning activity.  Strategic design will target these individual outcomes as well the more visible ROI of action learning.

If you want assistance with the design or conduct of an action learning activity, feel free to contact Ron Passfield through the Merit Solutions office.


Ron Passfield, together with Julie Cork, will be presenting a workshop on “The Hidden ROI of Action Learning” at the ALARA Australasian Conference in Brisbane, 23-24 September.

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