Create Learning Councils to Bridge the Gap
Coupled with the changed roles of the learning and development staff, we created learning councils to oversee the training needs of units and functional groups. Learning councils were based on an informal model we found working very well within the engineering department and supported by a learning and development trainer. A member of the learning and development team was hosting ad hoc meetings with engineering- group leaders who were frustrated by the ineffective training opportunities at Rockwell Collins. There were no formal goals for the meetings, and much time was spent complaining about the existing situation instead of brainstorming alternatives, but the idea behind these meetings was sound. As a group they were trying to identify the needs of their members and develop solutions for meeting those needs. This is a great example of identifying in the current environment those things that support the new strategy. It also points out the importance of completing a comprehensive assessment of the current state; invariably many things in the old environment are sound, work well, and should be retained.
We took that model and formalized it, requiring elected teams to identify the core competencies that would drive business relevance into the training needs of their groups. This objective would weed out training that didn't achieve specific targeted goals and allow us to customize those courses that met critical business purposes. It would reduce the bloat of one-time course offerings, eliminate isolated training offerings, and address relevant enterprise-wide training issues. It would allow the learning and development team to focus on core competencies, improve quality, and identify learning opportunities that would create competitive advantage.
Every business unit and each major discipline ”engineering, finance, human resources, sales and marketing, and customer service ”would have its own learning council. They would each be expected to meet on a regular basis to address the learning needs of their particular constituencies and to define the core competencies of their members' roles.
Overseeing all of these councils would be the enterprise-wide learning council, which would evaluate all of the learning and development requests that came to it from the functional and business-unit learning councils. Its role would be to ensure that training was tied to the business goals and vision of the company and assure consistency across the Rockwell Collins enterprise. It would be co-chaired by Cliff Purington and a different Rockwell Collins vice president every six months. The decision to have the vice presidents rotate was based on our desire to maintain high visibility of the enterprise-wide learning council and regularly inject a fresh perspective.
The learning councils would be made up of employees , selected from each unit, who demonstrated a desire to develop themselves , their peers, and their subordinates . Getting members to volunteer would be a challenge. First we asked the vice president of every division to nominate a mid-level manager in the business units. The vice presidents identified six to eight candidates for the councils to sit on the board. We interviewed candidates to determine their suitability for the job. This was a delicate political process because managers at Rockwell Collins were already extremely busy with multiple enterprise initiatives. We went into this process knowing that Rockwell Collins was already "over initiated." Because so many initiatives were going on, getting these mid-level managers to come on board was going to be a real challenge. Most of them were already on task forces that were not directly related to their jobs, and some clearly resented the nominations. In the interviews we wanted to convey a sense of selectivity. We wanted to choose people who showed a genuine interest in learning, but at the same time we didn't want to give them a chance to intentionally botch their answers so they wouldn't be chosen for the job.
To find the right people, Butler created the following set of interview questions to get a sense of the person's experiences and attitudes relating to learning:
Why would you like to be a member of this learning council?
What special skills or attributes do you bring to the council?
Tell us about your personal and career development since you came to Rockwell Collins.
What about before coming here?
What do you think the biggest challenge for Rockwell Collins employees is, in terms of their professional development?
How would your employees describe your support for their ongoing development?
What are your major strengths as a manager?
What are your major weaknesses as a manager?
What has been your greatest achievement in life?
What has been your most significant failure?
If I were to ask your employees to describe you using five adjectives or short phrases, what would they say?
What do you hope to get personally from this experience?
How much time will you commit to the learning council each month?
It was important, in order to find the right person for the job, to listen not just to what the candidates' answers were but also how they delivered them. For example, it's not terribly important what educational opportunities a manager has had since coming to Rockwell Collins. What's important is how the manager talks about the experience. Someone who goes into detail about what was learned or how the experience could have been enhanced is a better choice than someone who says," My boss made me take a finance course last year."
From these interviews we chose six members for each council with the intention of rotating those positions every eighteen months on a staggered schedule. That limited the amount of time any one manager had to commit to the process but would give each one enough time to affect the results.
Also, the answers to questions 7 through 10, regarding their strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures, can be very revealing . The first two give you an idea of the individual's ability to self-assess . Question 9 helps you understand the applicant's values. Does the applicant talk about work-related success or personal success? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, just information that can be very useful as you work with this person.
Question 10 in some ways can be the most critical of the thirteen questions. If a respondent says that he or she has never really had a failure, be careful. We've all had failures, and a person's unwillingness to admit to failures is usually an indicator that that individual will not take correction or criticism.
A learning consultant who would act as the liaison between the group and the learning and development department chaired each learning council. They guided council members toward appropriate solutions to training needs and open lines of communication between the units or functions and the learning and development department. They also acted as public relations reps for the new learning-organization initiative, keeping council members informed of what was happening and selling the initiative within the units.
The first two meetings of each of the individual learning councils covered a total of eight hours. Butler and another of the learning consultants designed these first meetings around the model for developing high-performing work teams. The councils established their own rules or working guidelines ”the manner in which they would deal with conflict and differing opinions and get the basic work of the councils done.
To help learning consultants establish themselves as leaders of these groups, Butler attended the first three or four charter meetings of each council, calming their fears and building an atmosphere of camaraderie.