Making Learning Stick: The STAR Model
After years of teaching in executive education and consulting with some of the world’s most successful companies, Mario Moussa noticed an all-too-common pattern: many of the insights that come during academic sessions don’t get translated into the work environment once the program is over.
“It’s something that became evident, especially in the Executive Development Program,” he says. “After two weeks of continuous learning, the challenge is to apply, for example, a marketing framework or a financial insight in a practical way. Application requires change, and our ways of thinking and our behaviors have become ingrained. They’re much harder to change than you might think.”
Moussa found that real change — powerful application of new knowledge, tools, and frameworks — happens most effectively when it’s scaled down. “To move from abstract ideas to better work habits, don’t try to do it all. Leaving an academic setting with the vague goal of using everything you learned is self-defeating. You’re going to get discouraged, and then nothing will change. That insight was the genesis of the STAR model.”
The four-step process begins by narrowing the focus to just a few behaviors. “One of the most challenging things about bringing lessons back from an executive education program is that you are exposed to dozens of ideas, and it is impossible to implement all of them. In Advancing Business Acumen, you are in class about seven hours a day for six days,” says Moussa, who serves as learning director for the program. “You are exposed to many interesting ideas, the most recent research, and stories from faculty about work they do in companies. It’s exciting, and participants might feel passionate about a lot of them. But the reality is if you go back to work and think about 50 things you won’t do any of them. You can’t be expected to apply it all, all at once.”
Moussa recently followed up with a group of executives he worked with weeks before. He found that while 95 percent of them felt they had set realistic goals for themselves, 60 percent were experiencing a challenge in implementing them. Once they got back to work, he explains, other projects took priority.
“Those who were successful followed the model. They added a standing item at staff meetings or scheduled time for themselves to think about how to use the tool and how to work differently. They actively reached out to stakeholders and had conversations about their insights. They put in place an action plan with milestones and checked their progress against them.”
In Advancing Business Acumen and Executive Development Program the model is introduced at the beginning, and during daily integration sessions, participants create an inventory of behaviors that they want to start, stop, or continue. When the program ends, they create an action plan using the STAR model. Weeks after the program ends, participants come together with Moussa in a virtual classroom to discuss ideas learned in the program and how they are applying them. He says the session keeps ideas fresh, and provides a forum for sharing ideas. “It’s too easy to get caught up in your day-to-day activities and lose sight of your goals. The STAR model is a tool for helping you make real change.”