the Classroom 2
Putting Learning into Action
When Clorox developed a program as part of its Diamond Leadership Institute (DLI) for its high-potential executives, it wanted to stretch their thinking beyond the borders of the company. But it didn't want to leave them out there. To bring the learning directly back to current business challenges, teams of participants engaged in "action learning projects."
"We wanted to give participants some external business and leadership knowledge, which is why we worked with Wharton," said Juliandra Rittmann, Manager of Human Resource Development at the $4.1 billion global company that sells laundry additives, insecticides, and home cleaning products in more than 80 countries. "But we wanted to take the learning out of the classroom and apply it immediately with real impact for the company — in a safe environment where executives could try new approaches."
The Clorox DLI Masters Program had three components that were integrated throughout the program. It began with a 360-degree assessment and coaching. Then, there were a series of multiday program sessions on topics such as strategic thinking, creating shareholder value, and negotiations at the Wharton West campus in San Francisco, across the bay from the company's headquarters in Oakland, California. The third component was a set of action learning projects, launched at the start of the program and continuing for nearly 3 months.
Designed for Action
Teams of five executives wrestled with specific challenges developed by the company's executive committee. These topics included rethinking customer segmentation for more effective go-to-market strategies, redesigning company performance measures, and providing global customer support. The challenges were significant to the company and required multifunctional approaches. They were specific, but open-ended, without an easily identifiable solution. For example, the team considering performance measures was presented with the questions:
Each topic had a sponsor from the executive committee that the team could confer with along the way. At the end of the period, the teams presented their recommendations to the executive committee itself. The company's top leaders offered direct feedback and immediate next steps, from commissioning further study to beginning implementation.
While the goal of the projects was learning, the presentations in March have already led to the implementation of a new Balanced Scorecard for measuring performance and a new project for global customer support, among other initiatives.
Strategies for Action Learning
What has the company learned about designing and implementing successful action learning projects? Among the insights:
Overall, the projects increased learning from the program. "Participants found it challenging and really liked getting to work with people they hadn't had an opportunity to work with," Rittmann said. "They liked the presentations to the executive committee because it gave some conclusion to the work and ensured the learning had relevance."
This month's articles: