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Mpower: An action-learning approach to leadership development in SMB companies

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Leadership development, unlike management development, is preparing the next line to embrace complex tasks and decision making and build process that enshrine the team to work and deliver higher …

Leadership development, unlike management development, is preparing the next line to embrace complex tasks and decision making and build process that enshrine the team to work and deliver higher productivity. In this article, Browne & Mohan consultants share Mpower progragm, an action learning leadership development program that can be effectively deployed in learning by doing and resource considerate SMB environments.


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  • 1. Browne & Mohan Board & CEO Advisors, Management Consultants Mpower: An action-learning approach to leadership development in SMB companiesWith significant inputs from V Sheethal, Junior consultant and Usha Murthy, Asst Consultant (Strategy & Marketing).
  • 2. Browne & Mohan Board & CEO Advisors, Management ConsultantsIntroduction have formal authority, and initiate and sustain leadership process that allow group of people toSmall and medium businesses are backbone of work effectively. In that essence the focus here ismany economies. In India, SMB companies, about not on management development, but leadership30 Million in number contribute to 45% of the development of people make them own and takeindustrial output, and 40% of India’s exports. responsibilities for actions, decisions and direct aThese companies employ 1.2 million jobs each sense of urgency and directions. The expectedyear and employ about 60 Million people (MSME, outcome is to create leaders who take up the task2012). Access to limited resources including of bringing together a group of people to achievecapital, elementary investments into training and a common goal.development and lack of managerial bandwidthlimit many of the SMB in realizing their growth Many leadership development programs exist,potential. With increasing global competition, traditional classroom training based or othereconomic slow-down and low consumer intervention based (Day, 2001). Some areconfidence, many owner managers of these intended to improve performance management,companies are realizing a need to quickly develop some networking, facilitate corporate bondingcompetent leaders to increase ownership, and knowledge transfer (internal coaching andresponsibility and sense of urgency amongst their mentoring) or enhance learning by doing. SMBemployees. One of the major organizational organizations realize that class room basedchallenge SMB face is on leadership development training is at best partially effective at buildingand succession management. Many companies leaders for the emerging business environment.are single-owner driven and have major While class room teaching is useful to learn newerchallenges in attracting and retaining high quality approaches or knowledge, sustained changes ortalent. Many of the employees grow with the development may not be guaranteed. Manyorganization from ranks and may lack participants may forget the learning and fall backcomprehensive understanding of the business like to older practices. Executive coaching is anotherthe owner manager. While there are several approach some SMB try to foster one-on-oneleadership training and development programs learning and bring out sustainable changes (Hall,available in market, they may be hard pressed to et al, 1999). Organizations also try out formalspare their resources because of limited mentoring programs to transfer the businessmanpower availability. Some SMB may not also knowledge, networks and other skills from theafford the cost of training and development senior managers to juniors (Kram and Isabella,programs offered by academic and private 1985). While both executive coaching andorganizations. Hence, they seek to invest in mentoring have their advantages over the classcontext relevant leadership development room training, prohibitive cost (executive coachesprograms that facilitate expansion of collective may cost $500/hour or $100,000 per year) andcapacity of organization members to engage time dissuade many SMB organizations to tryeffectively in leadership roles and process these approaches. SMB owners realize people(McCauley et al., 1998). What the owner learn effectively when working on real-lifemanagers want is to ensure all people embrace business challenges. Action learning approachleadership roles even if they may nor may not enriches job experiences, responsibilities, tasks
  • 3. Browne & Mohan Board & CEO Advisors, Management Consultantsand team management (McCauley and Brutus, transfer leader’s activities to the juniors so that a1998). Action learning through job assignments is platform to learn is created. It will also allow alluseful to embarking team building skills, hone second level leaders to learn on job all thestrategic thinking, persuasion and negotiation administration, management, policy controlskills (McCall, et al., 1988). Action learning has where they could relate themselves and apply thebeen adopted by many MNC to develop their learning. Leadership development program is toleadership teams and prepare them for growth. create second line of managers where inCoca-Cola runs a program where more than 300 organization will have the teams who are enabled,professionals spend about a year in new markets self- driven, self - managed. The Mpower programand learn cultural, organizational and marketing is designed in such a way that it is action oriented,challenges and solutions that work. Gillette sends practical and executable. It involves participationits U.S managers to overseas markets to benefit by the junior, senior and the HR of thefrom broader experience and exposure to organization. Each has their own role to play. Thedecision making in different countries and junior is in the learning and imbibing stage. Theoperational contexts. (Laabs, 1991). Citibank has senior imparts his knowledge, mentors hisa unique program where it places high potential behavior and empowers the junior to learn on job.managers into new assignments for which they The HR acts as a facilitator, external reviewer andare no more than 60% prepared. The managers process managers to ensure consistency of thelearn and hone the skills required for the new program.assignments under the tutelage of seniorprofessional (Clark and Lyness, 1991). GE runs an Mpower program has six steps as shown inaction learning initiative called “Work-out” to Fig1:develop leadership across their managerial andtechnical staff (Vicere and Fulmer, 1998). Theunderlying tenet of all these programs is thataction learning programs allow people to try outnew things, trust themselves and others as theylearn to master the skills and helps to make themthink in uncertain dynamic environments. In thispaper, Browne & Mohan consultants share theirexperience of designing and implementing anaction learning oriented leadership developmentprogram specifically aimed at SMB’s.Mpower ProgramMpower program is designed keeping in mindthat leadership is relational and domain specific.Followers learn from their leaders, manage the Step 1: Identification, Alignment of personalnext level of complex business activities and mission statement: Identification of the juniorextend themselves to emerge in newer roles and employees and aligning them with senior levelprocess. Mpower has been designed to formally
  • 4. Browne & Mohan Board & CEO Advisors, Management Consultants employees. The junior employee is asked to come working as a team and reduction in errors and re- up with the personal mission statement which work. comprises of personal goals, professional goals and organizational goals for the quarter. Junior Personal Goals: Personal goals for the junior discusses the personal mission statement with the would be to identify the current weak senior and the HR where they understand the areas/obstacles as an individual or in his goals, capabilities and challenges (improvement profession that are hindering his ability to put areas or focus areas) of the junior. Identification forth his best in his work and team and methods to overcome the same by bringing in of employees for the program based on willingness to learn, work and their skill sets to improvements within the process and self. carry on. Step 2:Superior Delegation Statement and Plan B The employees have to be chosen who are: It is a list of tasks identified by the seniors who1. Willing and capable: An employee who is both have to come up with Superior delegation statement where he discusses with the junior on willing to learn and capable to carry out the work is chosen. the tasks that he could delegate and the tasks the junior could own. Senior identifies the task/2. Willing but not capable: those who are willing to activities to be delegated. The tasks are identified learn and ready to work but are not equipped based on complexities, uncertainties, skill and with the required knowledge or training can be capabilities of the teams and individuals involved chosen in the process. This meeting is a mutual agreement between the Superior and his junior3. Personal Mission Statement: it is a document where the senior agrees to delegate certain tasks prepared by the juniors selected for the program and the junior agrees to take up those tasks. The in the organization where they list out the goals Senior has to also come up with a “Plan B” in the that they would want to achieve within that case the junior fails to complete the task assigned quarter .This helps the Junior, senior and the HR where in the Senior would have an alternate to come up with a plan to achieve the set goals. It solution (he might be required to complete the provides clarity and a sense of purpose. task himself or assign it to other employees) Professional Goals: The juniors have to prepare a Step 3: Training and Development list of activities which are related to their career which can be trainings or learning programs, and The superior provides process, technical and explore opportunities to network in their industry technological knowledge to junior. The Superior which can be seminars, conferences, writing provides adequate information on process articles for journals and giving talks/ standards, process adherence, and time frame to presentations pertaining to their domain. the juniors. It is an organizational activity aimed at bettering the performance of the individual and Organizational Goals: - The Juniors are asked to groups. The junior is hand held by the senior prepare a list of activities to be carried out which during this process where the senior owns the would lead to quality work to the clients, meeting outputs of the junior. client needs, optimal utilization of resources,
  • 5. Browne & Mohan Board & CEO Advisors, Management ConsultantsThe knowledge transfer is continuous till the junior junior has gained a thorough knowledge aboutis confident of carrying out the task himself. the task, he/she is assigned the next task or new task. If the junior is unable to perform, theStep 4: Identification of Gaps program gets extended till the junior improves.During the training period, the junior and senior Step 6: Quarterly review and plan for the nextunderstand the gaps/challenges that arises while quarter:the task is being carried out, analysing which theycome up with corrective measures to overcome the At the end of the quarter, HR would have asame. The reasons for the gaps are identified and feedback meeting with the senior and the juniorrelevant steps are taken to fill the gaps. Below are on the status of the task delegated,corrective steps that could be taken. improvements and the challenges in the tasks, if any. HR acts as the facilitator to reduce the Functional training: The senior has to identify friction between the senior and the junior andif the junior needs any specific functional training or motivate the junior to perform better. Theprocess training. The junior has to come up with objective behind the feedback meeting is toareas where he/she needs guidance on to better increase the trust and performance bythe performance. independently discussing with the senior and the On the job training/Assistance: This junior. During the feedback meeting, the seniorrequirement is identified when the juniors need to and the junior along the HR discuss the nextsee, do and learn which helps them grasp better quarter plan.rather than polish them on theoretical aspects. This Conclusion: Mpower program helps to create thecan be identified once the learning styles of the next level leadership in the organisation. Tojunior are clear. create a culture where junior are less dependent Generic training: which are generic in nature on their superior, who can learn to manage thingsand which can be applicable to all the departments on their own and to create their own thoughtsuch as how to improve communication skills, process of simplified way of working styles andenhancing inter-personal relationship, working in a coming up with their innovative thoughts andteam etc. This need is communicated to the HR ideas on process . It is a formal transfer of non-who can facilitate to satisfy the requirement. critical and non-value added activities of the leader to the next level so that he empowers the One-one with junior and senior: The Senior will team to take care of these activities. He giveshave one-one discussion with the junior to identify them a platform to learn and emerge in variousthe previously agreed goals, challenges, and fields.provide them suggestions for improvement and re- The advantage of the Mpower program is that itlook at the goals. This is an on-going process and will help the leaders to concentrate of morecan be done informally too. critical strategic activities while the non-critical part can be hived off to the juniors. It relieves the Step 5: Program extension/Assign a new task stress on the superiors and paves way a sense ofIf the junior is able to perform the task assigned opportunity to the juniors.successfully and if the senior is convinced that the
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