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Action Learning: The Linklaters Way

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Des Woods, Global Head of Learning and Organisation Development at Linklaters talked to Annie Hayes about putting the action into learning.



HR Zone Q1: Why should delegates attend the seminar on Putting the Action into Learning at the CIPD’s HRD 2006 conference?
Woods: If you ask successful people, in whatever roles or jobs they do, where and when they have learnt most, 90% of them will tell you that it is when they were in a challenging or engaging real life situation and/or when they had someone to help or coach them through it. Memorable learning happens when real life causes you to adjust your behaviour and do or know new things. Very few would mention a course they attended.

What we are trying to do in the seminar is give people some practical ways to bring real life into structured learning and training. We will bring a bit of real life action learning into the seminar as well. So we hope they will value that.

HR Zone Q2: What can HR professionals and trainers take from the talk? What is the transfer of learning?
Woods: Our aim is to use a number of real examples of action learning programmes that succeeded and failed – and draw out the principles involved so that people can use them as a practical guide back in their work. We will also look at the relationship between action learning, coaching and facilitation, again generating some practical guidelines.

HR Zone Q3: What is action learning?
Woods: It’s simply doing things that the business/organisation really needs to get done … and learning something useful on the way.

HR Zone Q4: What’s its application in the workplace?
Woods: When done well, doing the work and learning become the same thing. I think that’s pretty useful!

HR Zone Q5: How does Linklaters use action learning to get ahead?
Woods: We use it in different ways, sometimes without even thinking about it as ‘action learning’. It’s at the heart of how our people learn to be lawyers in practice, as opposed to just knowing the law – guided learning by doing real work. We use it to cross geographical and functional boundaries, to try and create and apply solutions that would normally be hard to achieve.

HR Zone Q6: How does action learning fit into the wider learning and development strategy at Linklaters?
Woods: It is just one of a number of methods and techniques we use, the tricky bit is in making the right choices. In part, our firm works because we are very well networked to each other and action learning can have very strong social networking effects so even that can determine our choices.

HR Zone Q7: What are the particular learning and development challenges at Linklaters?
Woods: We are a global business and getting more so as each day passes. Our clients rightly demand the same speed and quality of service wherever they are in the world and our people need learning support that is globally accessible to be able to provide that service. In addition we are split up into dozens of small, highly specialist and expert groupings.

So we have very few offices where you could say we have ‘critical mass’ to run training. Our main challenges are increasingly about training and learning that crosses cultures, keeping learning accessible 24 hours a day and keeping on top of a firm that works at the leading edge of legal service, where ‘what you need to know’ changes day by day.

HR Zone Q8: Is a one-size fits all approach relevant for action-learning?
Woods: Absolutely not – just never go there!

HR Zone Q9: What are your final thoughts on the action learning issue?
Woods: What issue? If you know how to use it well, it can make a great difference. But it can also fail and you just can’t figure out why.

Des Woods will be speaking at the CIPD’s HRD conference on Tuesday, 4 April 2006, 13.45 – 15.00 together with Mary Hartog, Senior Lecturer, Human Resource Management and Development, Middlesex University Business School and Shaun Lincoln, Director, Coaching and Mentoring, Centre for Excellence in Leadership.

About Des Woods:
Des is Global Head of Learning and Organisation Development at Linklaters, a leading global law firm and has been with the firm for three years.

His current focus is on the globalisation of legal and management training using online media and blended learning and on the integration of learning and knowledge into a single accessible form. In addition, Des is developing an approach to client and alumni learning and training and the use of training within the firm’s marketing activities. Des is also involved in the development of the partnership and in particular, how their leadership and business development skills support the market strategy of the firm.

Prior to joining Linklaters, Des was an HR Director with Telewest PLC and had spent eight years with Ernst & Young, variously as an HR Director and Head of Learning for the firm. Des has also held senior roles with a number of UK retail businesses, including Adams Childrenswear, Horne Brothers and Foster Menswear.

He has a background in organisational psychology and has for many years specialised in the development of assessment techniques and the design and use of change management methods.

One Response

  1. I’d like to learn more…
    I’d like to learn more about how Des is using technology to deliver his learning globally. This is something which is becoming a major factor in our Learning & Development Strategy in the years ahead in line with business goals.

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