HR’s Role in learning in the flow of work – Capitalize on successes and particularly failures

HR’s Role in learning in the flow of work – Capitalize on successes and particularly failures

One of the most impactful Leadership Development interventions I ever facilitated was prompted by a failure. It was a failure to deliver a major system to an important strategic client. The failure cost the organization reputational damage with the strategic account and lost revenues for many years into the future.


This failure had the attention of the CEO and everyone on his direct team. There was a fair amount of under the table finger pointing going on as blame was trying to be placed. Fortunately for this group of executives, the CEO was not a blamer but a learner – so nothing like an epic fail to provide a good learning opportunity. A great chance to bring learning into the context of real work! I was asked to help to turn this situation into a learning opportunity so we could prevent it from happening again in the future. What a great opportunity to also tie learning to the business and directly to P/L.

The executive team agreed to commit the time for me to facilitate an “after action review,” which would include individual interviews with all of them and then a group “discovery session.” The group discovery session was very powerful – we focused on the facts, people’s perspectives, and no finger pointing. The team made some real breakthroughs that day, both in terms of their ability to work together and how to lead peers, and understanding how the business process needed to change.

That experience has stuck with me over the years, particularly how powerful it was for all involved. It really brought home how much people can learn “in the flow of work” when you are intentional about the learning process.

These past few years have given leaders lots of opportunities to succeed and fail, which means lots of opportunities to learn. Have you been able to help them learn and develop from these successes and failures? If so, congratulations. If not, there’s still time to use your skills to ask the right questions, provide guidance, map a process, analyze the root cause, facilitate a team discussion, etc.

As you do any of these things, be purposeful about the insights and learnings – point out what skills or behaviors were involved and how they may have helped a success or contributed to a failure. If behaviors contributed to a failure, dig into what behaviors are necessary to turn the failure into a success. If the leader needs help developing those behaviors, coach them yourself or bring in a professional coach. The leader’s motivation for learning is likely at an all-time high.

Ask yourself, what are the opportunities around you to bring learning into the flow of work for your employees and executives?

Remember, don’t let a good success, or particularly a failure, go to waste!


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