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Accelerated, self-driven, digital and collaborative learning at scale – Fact or fiction in SA?

Can we reinvent the leadership development experience in a world changing at warp speed?


By Debbie Craig, Founder, Catalyst Consulting


Accelerated, self-driven, digital, collaborative learning at scale – fact or fiction in SA?


Can we reinvent the leadership development experience in a world changing at warp speed? This was the big questionwe faced just over a year ago with a large retailer client of ours – Massmart. We were at the tail end of a large-scale talent project to review all managers (over 3500 of them) for potential successors and key talent and to understand leadership development needs. A realisation with the data that emerged was that the leadership development needs were so much vaster and more urgent than the existing leadership academy could address in its current form. Only a small percentage of leaders were privileged enough to be invited to participate in comprehensive programs over a 2-year period, offering up to 30 days of their time in classroom sessions. The programs were popular and prestigious and a significant investment.


The challenge: how to significantly increase the scope, scale and speed of leadership development to rapidly prepare leaders at all levels for the retail world shifting at warp speed under their feet.

It was no longer effective to design a program that was still strategically and contextually relevant after 2 years, for a select few potential successors and take so many days away from the real work. Leadership today requires everyone in the organisation to become self-driven, digital, collaborative, curious learners that are learning every day from their colleagues, clients, consultants and leadership experts both locally and internationally. This sounds fantastic and necessary, however requires a massive change effort to engage leaders and learning professionals who have been operating in a particular way and with only traditional learning exposure and mind-sets. Learning managers need to transition to collating learning resources, setting up strategic learning projects, partnering actively with providers, involving managers, letting go control, trusting people as adults and then influencing, encouraging and tracking the data. Leaders need to see their own learning and creating an active learning and sharing culture for others as a daily part of their leadership role. Organisations and IT leaders need to provide the digital platforms to enable self-driven, collaborative learning, with an optimal blend of on-line and face time – to facilitate accelerated learning at scale.


Our journey


After a period of investigation, exploration and design, our joint core team called Leadovate (a play on leadership and innovation) came up with 5 streams of work including strategy, capability, digital platform, learning design AND change & project management (see visual below) which was planned as a one year journey with key milestones.



Each of these strategic themes had their own sub-team who focussed on the key deliverables as outlined in a project charter and agreed by our Steering Committee consisting of the Group HR Executive, Divisional HR Heads and key leaders invited to key meetings for input.


1. Strategic work included a learning and leadership mandate, framework, principles, learning culture philosophy, a strategy document, a measurement approach and an operating model to enable the new strategy. It also included work on leadership DNA or brand to focus development on the most important leadership behaviours and skills required to lead this particular organisation at this time.




2. Capability work included an L&D competency profile at different levels, a learning needs analysis process, awareness of learning priorities through a Licence to Learn process with assessments, and continuous capacity building through ongoing exposure, role-modelling and coaching with project lead and Leadovate team members.



3. Digital Platform work included a review and evaluation of over 15 local and international providers, demo sessions, business cases, collaboration with the strategic IT forum and HR forum re greater HR systems integration, pilots to test different platforms and finally a strategic investment decision was taken.




4. Learning design work included figuring out how to design for larger scale and scope, and cater for three different audiences and needs. We needed strategic and accelerated talent development journeys for potential successors against the leadership DNA. We needed competency development pathways for all leaders to build current and future leadership competencies as per their IDPs against 18 leadership capabilities without being constrained by space and budget. We also needed just-in-time skills for those needing immediate assistance with leadership or job-related requirements i.e. how to have a performance or difficult conversation or how to set up pivot tables on excel. We co-designed a 3-tier approach with these key audiences and needs in mind (see visual).



Significant engagement with leaders, talent managers and learning providers was undertaken to ensure an integrated learning experience throughout the learning journeys for potential successors at each level (first line, middle and senior) and across specialist operations functions and more general retail and support functions. The intent was to find the optimum blend of customisation, digital content, facilitated sessions, collaborative teamwork on strategic projects, exposure to other parts of the business, individual and group coaching and impact measurement. It was also to source the right-fit providers that could customise their approach to fit the learning principles, competencies and retail expertise required. Competency building learning pathways were built and piloted in which the learning experience was shifted from 3-4 days classroom training to a 6-week blended learning path with digital content, virtual classrooms, pre- and post-assessment, discussion, reflection and application. This included decisions around out-sourcing vs developing and digitisation unique company specific content and examples. Three digital content providers for just-in-time learning are currently being piloted to test adoption, relevance and learning experience.

5. Change and project management work included a master project and change management plan which was tracked and reported back to the Steercom monthly. Key change management activities included a communication plan for key stakeholder groups, change readiness interviews, presentations and surveys, change skills building for the Leadovate team, an engagement process for the pilot groups, pilot impact surveys and an engagement process for potential successors selected for journeys. A Prospectus and detailed Playbooks for all the elements of the learning journeys and communication required were developed to enable a full-handover to the teams and providers taking the design forward. Additional activities successfully piloted and tweaked were a License to Learn and License to Lead a Learner process to build change readiness, mind-sets and skills for a different way of learning and a Virtual Coaching Hackathon to engage leaders into being supportive coaches for their learners. The reimagined leadership academy – rebranded as the Talent Development Zone was launched as part of a leadership academy graduation ceremony.

The risks and challenges


The project was not without significant challenges and risks which needed to be carefully and persistently navigated. The usual suspects of innovative change projects were faced including availability and influence of senior project sponsors and business leaders, capability, time and speed of change of project resources, digital platform decision dependencies and delays, integration with and delays in receiving talent data and the leadership DNA to guide design and many meeting delays or postponements for key meetings due to other business priorities. As always there was also a fair amount of “noise” around the project from people and groups with different expectations, needs and preferences which required much stakeholder engagement and influencing.


We now await further validation, feedback and continuous improvement of the intended design to deliver on the Talent Development Zone mandate:


To accelerate learning and future readiness of identified leaders through customised, agile, digital and blended learning options and journeys so that individuals, teams and businesses can succeed in a rapidly changing world that requires innovation, transformation, digitisation and sustainability.

A huge shout out to all the Leadovate team members, Steercom members, leadership academy sponsors, leaders, pilot groups and supporters that enabled the Talent Development Zone to be launched recently and who will take the journey forward and share new insights and learnings as the journey evolves.


Debbie Craig and the Massmart team will be sharing these experiences and learnings on reinventing the Massmart Corporate University at the KR L&D Community networking breakfast session on 16 May in Johannesburg (07:30-10:30am). Join us and pose your questions directly to the team.

Want to attend or find out more? RSVP here




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