With the many challenges that face organizations and their leaders today, ensuring that learning events, seminars, and conferences provide a true value to the employee and overall organization is even more important than ever before. The reason this is so important is the need to create an environment built for change and innovation, partnered with the need to attract and keep talent and the associated intellectual property. People need more than the every day grind, and need to understand that the organization they work with believes they are important enough to invest in. All of this together makes this a game with very high stakes. So the question is how to accomplish this intricate intertwining?
In the past, the expectation was that if you were going to some type of learning or communication event, whether internal or external, you would gain whatever knowledge and information you could and hope to find ways to apply it in some way in your daily work once you returned. That model is simply not effective and with the need for every dollar and minute spent to account for some type of return on investment, we need to find a better way.
Enter the action plan. For most of us, the action plan may seem familiar. In reality, most of us use it completely incorrectly and even fewer understand what it really is. First, let’s talk about what it is not. An action plan is not a directive from a manager or supervisor of what to do. It is not a task list, nor is it a checklist. An action plan is also not simply the “next steps”. It is much more complex than these things, while encompassing many of the same components.
The best way that I have heard an action plan described is not just as the plan, but also as a living process. It cannot be a static dumping ground, but must instead be a dynamic process leading up to an initial static document. To accomplish this managers and supervisors need to schedule time with an employee before an event, and during this time discuss the program or event content, define the expected or desired takeaways are, and identify the expectations of the supervisor or manager after the event. For the person attending the event, there needs to be a structured way of attending the event to obtain a solid comprehension of the learning. Participants do this either with a printed form or through simply taking notes, but there are certain components needing identification throughout the program. These include, for each lesson learned:
- What did I learn? (This could be per day, week, month, module, book, speaker, etc.)
- How can this help me do my job better?
- What action steps, if any, can I take?
- Start Date
- Evaluation Date (Should be agreed upon either before the event, or in the post-conversation)
- What resources will I need?
- What barriers might I encounter? Who can help me with these?
By using this process, the participant should have a clear picture of knowledge gains and the best use of those gains after the event. Further, having this information available will be of great use when debriefing with the leadership afterwards, which is the next piece of the process.
Within the week immediately after the event, the participant and their leadership need to have time scheduled to discuss the event and the answers to the questions posed above. At this point, the action plan in the sense of what we know it today begins to form, which will offer specific goals and timelines for check in and accomplishment as well as helping the leadership to find what learners need from them in terms of support and resources. By following this method, the leader and employee share commitment to the action plan as both developed and designed it and both have stakes in it. For the leadership, this is also an excellent addition to performance plans as a part of the performance management process.
Cowan, C.A., Goldman, E.F., & Hook, M. (2010). Flexible and inexpensive: Improving learning transfer and program evaluation through participant action plans. Performance Improvement, 49(5), 18-25. doi: 10.1002/pfi.20147
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