Recognising outstanding learning and development partnerships: Excellence in Practice 2021

The 2021 Excellence in Practice awards attracted an impressive set of submissions, despite the ongoing challenges due to the pandemic. More than 50 cases registered for the awards, an all-time high. As in previous years, the diversity of applications is an asset in itself, with entries from most continents and very diverse industries ranging from knowledge intense services to traditional industries, structured as multinationals, SME’s, not-for-profits and governmental agencies.

The richness of this portfolio might not always be apparent in the final list of award winners, but it clearly coloured the discussions of the jury members and the summary of observations below. We are truly grateful for the efforts that all of the applicants made to document this wide set of experiences, and hope this GF supplement does spark your interest and creativity. This is also what we intend to do with the 2021 Executive Development Conference which builds on these current practices to explore the near future of Exec Ed.

Surprises this year

One of the main surprises of this year’s batch of cases lies in the rise of submissions that address SDG-type challenges. The attention to social and ecological challenges we see rising in society in the slipstream of the COVID-19 pandemic is clearly echoed in the cases we received. Not only did the crisis bring us a novel cluster of SDG-development cases and subsequent awards, it was also present in quite a number of cases in the other clusters.

In hindsight, it is not a great surprise to see that three of the five gold award winners are part of the (auto) mobile sector, a sector in profound transformation. But quite a number of cases also came from the energy sector and large industrial enterprises. As someone noted: social/ecological issues and business issues are converging more than ever. So besides the solid recurring cases of culture and organisation transformation to favour retention of young talent, foster client-centricity, focus on digital business agility, promote organisational integration and the like; we received cases with a focus on social entrepreneurship, diversity and inclusion, corporate volunteering, stakeholder recognition, sustainability reporting, and more.

Impact measurement

Trying to do justice to the impact measurement efforts of this variety of cases will always be an incomplete attempt, but pointing at some solid and emerging practices might contribute to our shared impact awareness and capability. Hence the below selection is presented as food for thought and inspiration.

  • First of all, there are the traditional individual/participant focused measurements. Mapping engagement, behaviour change, performance through surveys, learning evaluation reports, work-based learning reports on the qualitative side and measurement of onboarding and recently appointed management adaptation periods as well as certification programmes as ‘hard’ indicator attempts.
  • Moving beyond this first layer, quite a number of organisational/team impacts were reported with, of course, the more common project approach delivering in-programme tangible impact. Some named these ‘organisational experiments’ or worked with an internal consulting format. The roll-out of leadership frameworks and even performance management systems were also mentioned as by-products of an L&D intervention. Maturity measurements of projects and even an Agile Culture Index were interesting highlights of practice.
  • Beyond these individual and organisational indicators of impact, a number of measurements were rather related to the positioning of the client organisation within its own ecosystem. Sustainability reporting of SME’s (to fit into their B2B supply chain), redefining Stakeholder Management, but also positioning in industry rankings can be cited as practices in this category.
  • Some interesting business impact indicators were used across the submissions, including customer retention, the number of start-ups or (social) enterprises created, and product launches and partnerships. One case even coined the concept of Social Return on Investment.

The sources of measurement also varied, which added to the strength and validity of the indicators used. Just using participants as a source of opinion or measurement (cf. Net Promotor Scores) is of course potentially biased by the recent effect and personal pride of being selected to participate. Learner-led narratives add to the story of success, but demonstrating impact could involve more than only participant statements. In several cases, the direct hierarchy of participants were included in the measurement, from line managers to directors. Some even probed for customer feedback and a few cases used dedicated external providers for impact measurement.

The timeline of measurement has also been widespread, ranging from in-programme formative measurements (to adjust the programme in-flight) to indicators showing impact on behaviours from within the year, to up to a decade of continuing investments follow-up focused on both business and people.

The above and more serve as observations and input for further debate and practice exchange, starting with the Executive Development Conference on 21 September where the transition into a post-pandemic era is at the core of the reflections. Hope to see and hear you all there, and also at the 2022 version of the Excellence in Practice Awards. Stay tuned!

winners list

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