Transformative Learning, Part 5: The Value of Reflection

Posted by Rich Mesch on Apr 1, 2010 9:56:00 AM

Last night, I attended an ASTD Corporate SIG meeting where a panel of speakers shared their talent management and development best practices. As one of the speakers described his company’s first-level manager program, he said something that struck me as curious. He stated that participants in this program rolled their eyes when they were asked to spend time reflecting on the course content. Self-reflection, he said, was not initially embraced by these new leaders in training.

Why, I wondered? Why would a call for introspection prompt this reaction? Maybe participants didn’t understand the value of self reflection. Maybe they didn’t know that reflection—namely, critical reflection—has the potential to lead to transformative learning.

Taking a step back, I realized that the value proposition for self-reflection isn’t something we talk about a lot. Given that, I thought I’d identify at least two value drivers for reflection and encourage you to add to this list.

Value Driver 1: Reflection challenges limiting assumptions

All of us hold beliefs and assumptions based upon our previous life experiences and our socially-constructed norms. Critical self-reflection empowers us to challenge those assumptions. By asking the following questions…What is it that I assume? What’s the origin of that assumption? Why do I hold that assumption as truth?...we have the potential to identify our constraining beliefs, entertain alternatives, and shift our perspective. This shift in perspective followed by a resulting change in behavior is indicative of transformation. (See writings on critical reflection by Dr. Stephen D. Brookfield.) Think of the potential value in asking leaders to reflect critically on their current leadership practices. By doing so, we can prime them to grow and change.

Value Driver 2: Reflection aids in the integration of multiple perceptions

Many leadership development and coaching initiatives incorporate stakeholder feedback for the leader on his or her performance. Reflection on stakeholder assessment data is vitally important to leaders’ personal and professional development. When leaders take the time to understand the perceptions others have of their actions, why they have them, and how they empower or constrain them, they can develop significantly from the experience. Reflection is essential to integrating these multiple perspectives with one’s own. Without reflection, any leader would be hard pressed to develop an effective action plan to close gaps and capitalize on successes.

What other benefits are there to reflection? Share your thoughts. Hopefully, we’ll turn those critics of reflection into converts and eliminate their eye rolls.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Transformative Learning, Leadership

Transformative Learning, Part 4: Organizational Change

Posted by Rich Mesch on Dec 14, 2009 3:20:00 AM

by Dawn Francis, Ed.D.

One of my last blog entries prompted a reader to ask how my research on transformative learning can apply to organizational transformation. She specifically wondered how it can apply to organizational transformation that occurs through the merger and acquisition of companies. What a great question! When two organizations become one through a merger or acquisition, this creates an intense change in culture. The way you used to work…well, it’s different now. The people you used to work with…well, they’re different now. The assumptions governing your performance on the job…well, you’ll need to change them now. It’s hard to fathom a more disorienting dilemma. Suddenly, you have to unlearn old behaviors, and relearn new behaviors. That’s a recipe for transformative learning, to be sure.

How do you survive cultural change and transform your perspective on the change in the process? Here are a few key tips:

    • First Things First: Reflect – Changing the way you perform on the job is never easy. Gain strength and clarity by examining your own beliefs and assumptions about the organizational transformation. Ask yourself why you might be resisting change. Consider the opportunities inherent in the change—both for yourself and your team.
    • Dialogue with Others: Listen to others’ reasons for resistance. Share your own concerns. Collectively consider the possibilities for personal and professional growth that lie ahead throughout the change process. Create a shared vision of the future that’s in alignment with the strategy being set by leaders within the organization.
    • Gain New Skills and Knowledge: New ways of work often require different skills and knowledge. Take account of the revised business goals for your organization. Work with your manager to determine how your performance needs to align with these goals. Proactively identify gaps in your skills and knowledge that will likely inhibit your ability to perform according to these new expectations. Secure the skills and knowledge necessary to change your behavior. In turn, you’ll feel more invested in the change and more empowered to change.
    • Build Competence and Take Action: As you apply your new behaviors on the job, request the support you need to perform to expectations. This support might be in the form of performance support tools, coaching/mentoring, and process improvements. Ask for feedback and engage in continuous learning.

As these tips illustrate, your survival through personal and organizational transformation depends on your willingness to embrace new perspectives, your desire to gain new skills and knowledge, and your ability exhibit new behaviors.

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Transformative Learning, Change Management, Organizational Change, Organizational Learning

Transformative Learning, Part 3: Transformative Learning in Practice

Posted by Rich Mesch on Nov 5, 2009 2:45:00 AM

by Dawn Francis, Ed.D.

In my previous entries, I defined transformative learning and discussed how companies can apply it. This entry will focus on examples of transformative learning in practice. 

First, I’ll briefly review transformative learning in case you’ve just joined this series. 

For learning to be transformative, it must provoke a shift in mindset. Acquiring knowledge, developing skills – these pursuits serve an important function in any training curriculum. However, if an organization wants to foster a change in culture, establish new ways of working, and grow its managers into leaders, then knowledge acquisition and skill development are only two components of the overall equation. What’s missing is the third and most crucial component—critical assessment of one’s own frame of reference. 

Think about it…if our frame of reference or mindset is based upon our unexamined assumptions and expectations…and this mindset guides our behavior…we will continue to behave in the same way and come up with the same results. But if we challenge this mindset, call into question our assumptions, dialogue with others about the validity of our assumptions, shift our mindset, and act accordingly – well, we’ve just changed our behavior and came up with very different results. Real business value can be achieved through transformative learning. 

So, here are some examples taken from an article entitled “Transformative Learning in Human Resource Development” (Fisher-Yoshida, Geller, and Wasserman, 2005).

Leadership Development: An international organization wanted to create a program to prepare leaders for rapid economic, social, and political changes. A relational leadership development program was developed, which incorporated psychological surveys (e.g., Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), measures of leadership (e.g., situational leadership survey), and 360 feedback assessments to provide managers with insight into themselves. Managers who reviewed the feedback and discussed it with their peers were prompted to critically examine their existing beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors, and revise them. The experience transformed these managers into leaders who were more mindful of others, empathetic, and conscious of the impact of their actions on business results.

Managing Conflict: An organization experiencing conflict in the workplace enrolled its employees in a conflict resolution workshop. Typically, conflict had been addressed through a problem-solving approach where the focus was on the issue. The strategy failed to consider the origin of the conflict or why it came to exist. Participants in the workshop used storytelling to convey information about the conflict to a fellow participant, while that individual listened and questioned the assumptions underpinning the conflict. The result is that the storyteller was able to see the conflict in a different light and regard others as different, but not as adversaries.

Besides assessment and storytelling, other methods of fostering transformative learning include simulations, coaching, critical incidents, role plays, and group projects.

 Thank you for your interest in this series!

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Transformative Learning

Transformative Learning: Part 2, Applying Transformative Learning

Posted by Rich Mesch on Oct 22, 2009 12:29:00 AM

by Dawn Francis, Ed.D.

In my earlier post, we defined what transformative learning was. Your next question is probably, “so what is it good for?” Well, let’s think about the place transformative learning has in today’s organizations.

Transformative Learning and Change Management: Large-scale change initiatives require employees at all levels of the organization to reflect upon the change, prepare for it, and act upon it. Change can be disorienting. Inevitably, employees will ask: Why must I change? What is now expected of me? Will I be able to meet these expectations? How will I manage?

Companies can facilitate a dialogue among employees who are being confronted with a new and unexpected future. By relating to one another, these employees are more likely to become open to the possibility for success and willing to engage in the action planning process. As the change is managed, companies can create opportunities for these employees to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to assume new roles and build competence in them. These employees—now transformed—are likely to reintegrate into the organization with a new perspective on the change.

Transformative Learning and Performance Improvement: Designing performance improvement solutions requires you to address a number of factors that affect an organization’s ability to achieve its business goals. These factors include the skills and motivation of individual performers, as well as the processes, structures, reward systems, and culture that support them. For some people, even the most effective training may not impact performance outcomes by itself. So we frequently recommend various performance support activities to assist with the application of knowledge and skills back on the job. Coaching is an effective performance support activity that is synergistically tied to transformative learning.. The coaching process, when done effectively, leads to transformative learning.

Organizations with formal or informal coaching practices in place may want to reevaluate them and intertwine the coaching process steps with the transformative learning steps. Here’s why: successful coaches ask powerful questions that prompt introspection and critical self-examination. They can facilitate peer-to-peer sessions where conversations can lead to new perspectives. They can work with the person they’re coaching to explore options, create action plans, recommend learning opportunities, assist in the building of self-confidence and competence, and help apply that new understanding to workplace practices. Coaching becomes a powerful tool for personal transformation and performance improvement.

So now that we’ve looked at some of the ways organizations can apply transformative learning, please come back for Part 3: Case Studies in Transformative Learning, for some examples of how organizations are applying transformative learning in the real world!

Topics: Series, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Transformative Learning