Craig Magill says his training was a career breakthrough.
Photo: Luis Ascui
Craig Magill was three-quarters through a degree when he received his first promotion. For the next 20 years, he rose through the ranks to become the general manager of operations for a large privately-owned automotive company. Then he faced a problem – he lacked the qualifications to gain further promotion, but his day job was keeping him too busy to study.
Flexibility was the key factor that sold him on doing a postgraduate course with the Australian Institute of Management (AIM). Magill says: “I wanted flexible study from a credible institution and the way they ran their courses meant I could duck out of work for a day-long intensive training session, and do the study and research after hours.”
It was almost a surprise to Magill to find that the studies he chose – a graduate diploma of management – were so practical; he’d signed up initially just to tick the “qualifications” box. “The facilitators and lecturers are either working in industry, or just have been. The knowledge I gained is just gold – I am able to bring a line of thinking to the businesses I am working in that I wouldn’t have been able to with just industry experience,” he says.
Leaders and managers face a lot of choice when it comes to furthering their education and skills, leaving many in Magill’s situation wondering which is the best way to go.
And employers, despite the economic uncertainties, are turning to leadership training in an attempt to retain their senior managers and leaders, says Carmel Ackerly, the chief executive of AIM (Victoria and Tasmania). AIM’s latest employee engagement survey, published in April, shows senior managers are the most disengaged of all employees. “Businesses have stopped rationalising [after the global financial crisis] and they are looking at the capability of the staff they have got left, and how to develop them to take on the challenges,” Ackerly says.
“They can’t afford to lose the corporate knowledge.”
Magill’s choice is an example of the latest model of effective executive training and development, known as the 70/20/10 learning and development model. Based on research from a global training company, the Centre for Creative Leadership, the theory is that about 70 per cent of learning is from on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving, about 20 per cent from feedback, mentoring and coaching, and about 10 per cent from courses and reading.
This is the approach taken at the National Australia Bank, says Colleen Deakin, NAB’s manager of capability solutions (leadership). Deakin runs the leadership development programs for the NAB Academy, a 100-strong in-house training faculty for NAB employees from the front line to senior executives. “We take an enterprise approach to leadership training,” Deakin says. “We build programs where [70/20/10] is the philosophy. What is it that happens after the program? It is all about building NAB leaders to transform the organisation. For us, it is all about the application.”
The 70/20/10 model pervades most leadership training: long-form courses, such as those provided by registered training organisations and universities, now allow for short bursts of face-to-face study followed by time to apply the skills and ideas in day-to-day challenges. Short courses are typically followed by a period of coaching, mentoring or professional development seminars and breakfasts, such as those offered by the Strategic Management Institute.
Fred Davis, the senior business development manager of the publicly listed medical diagnostics company Universal Biosensors, recently completed the institute’s six-day course in strategy and planning, which was run over three months. “I have an intense job,” says Davis. “Too much training at one time is hard to fit in.”
Davis is a highly experienced executive, having run the national product development company Invetech for 22 years before his current role. Although he has completed executive education courses in the past, he wanted a refresher.
“I’ve done a lot of theory – I wanted something very practical,” he says.
Davis says the course structure allowed him to better absorb the material. “I attended a 10-day course at Harvard. By the end of the 10 days, you feel like your mind has been washed out by a fire hose. You reach saturation point. One or two days is quite a lot – then you can let your brain recover.”
Having completed the SMI course, Davis is now a member of the institute and can attend its regular breakfast briefings and short seminars, where he can share his experience implementing the strategy he developed through the course.
Short, sharp and relevant
Deakin says the NAB Academy offers short courses for “just-in-time” situations. She says: “If you are leading a business function through change, it may be very relevant to have a short, sharp course in leadership and change. We have topics like building impact in presentations, emotional intelligence and resilience.”
However, the NAB approach is to provide long-term training at every stage of career progression. In Deakin’s area of leadership training, the first course starts with the first promotion to management, with a five-month “leadership essentials” course. Deakin says: “It starts at the foundation, the nuts and bolts of managing people, people leadership fundamentals such as managing a team and their performance. We support leaders from the very beginning, the junior level.”
Underpinning the courses is a group of “leadership ambassadors”, who are some of the bank’s high-performing and experienced leaders – including NAB chief executive, Cameron Clyne – delivering elements of the program.
“Cameron is a key part of the enterprise leadership program,” Deakin says. “He opens and closes the program, facilitates part of it, and holds those participants to account.”
External providers, such as Melbourne Business School’s Mt Eliza Executive Education and the Australian Institute of Management, also frequently “customise” their leadership training. Jayne Jennings, Mt Eliza’s general manager of learning and practice, says: “We work with an organisation to create a program according to their needs. We work out what issues they are facing, look at their systems and culture, and create a program with them. It might be coaching, or work-based activities, such as getting a cross-functional team to work on an assignment.”
Mt Eliza also offers residential programs, where executives from a range of companies come for a five-day immersion in leadership theory and practice, as well as three-day “functional” training, such as strategy and marketing, finance, negotiation and decision-making.
Jennings says the complexity facing executives is a big motivation to gain more training. “Executives are leading in a complex environment, the environment is uncertain and there is no right or wrong way. They are looking for skills in adaptability, collaboration, boundary management, strategy thinking, and change management.”
Employers pay for training for about 75 per cent of participants at AIM Victoria courses, Ackerly says, and need to be clearly shown a return on their investment.
Jennings adds that cost is less of a barrier for training than time.
For Magill, leadership training was a career breakthrough. “I had a 20-year history in operational roles and had been 20 years in one company. That was too long. The market pigeon-holed me as an operations specialist, and I wasn’t considered for other roles.”
Shortly after starting the course, Magill moved quickly up the ranks as he moved employers. He is now the general manager of sales and marketing at national car parts company, Burson Automotive.