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Delusions of Employee Development

Delusions of Employee Development

Marc Effron wrote a wonderful piece on employee development. Great in its realism, pragmatism and simple truth. What a great contribution!


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How great companies develop their staff – General Electric

Under Jack Welch, GE has become known for its organizational excellence and leadership development depth. At the outset was one organizational value – pragmatism. With a hate for bureaucracy, Jack Welch formulated a vision of the boundaryless organization: “business behavior that tramples or demolishes all barriers of rank, function, geography and beaucracy in an endless pursuit of the best idea in the cause of engaging and involving every mind in the company”. The outcome was a program called “Work-Out” – a 2-3 day program involving large groups with an effort of achieving boundaryless behavior through a combination of culture change, leadership development and action learning projects.

Another organizational value – speed – followed the same path. Welch understood that speed is the key to competitive advantage. So, he abolished most central planning and involved people in the Change Acceleration Program (CAP) with the idea of making people open to change, hungry to learn and anxious to move quickly on new ideas. Participants come to CAP in teams of 8-12 with real problems. Each team worked with a coach who was constantly present and the contents altered between the CAP framework (guidelines and steps for change) and the solution of the problem.

Noel Tichy was responsible for setting up the now-legendary training center for GE at Crotonville. In his book “Leadership Engine” he describes the internal workings of Crotonville:

  1. Leaders with a proven track record take responsibility for the development of other leaders
  1. Leaders who develop others teach through their point of view with living stories in the areas of:
    1. Values – What behaviors are required to put our business ideas into practice?
    2. Ideas – How will we make money and win in the marketplace?
    3. Energy – How do we keep people motivated and working with high energy?
    4. Edge – Which difficult decisions must I make?
  1. Because leaders are involved in developing others, they have well-defined methodologies and coaching and teaching methods.

According to Tichy, this approach succeeded because it involved the leadership of the company. This led to high expectations in the participants, cultural definition in the company, and strong tests and clarification in the leaders. All this resulted in a cultural dimension in learning which requires clear values and a stated vision that provides strength to development activities. Most learning happened on real projects (action-learning, 80-20 approach) and was geared to the right timing (career transitions) for max impact.

Overall, GE uses a number of well known tools to support their development. This distinguishing factor is the focused implementation and tie to organizational values. It is mostly about doing the best practices consistently and with excellence every time.  

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