Change Management:
"Learnings Unlimited"

By Rhea Borysiak-Fix


Learnings Unlimited is a change management intervention created by McPherson. and Wittemann (2004). Their solution set is made up of eight steps that support behavioral science principles and work to "take confusion out of change, while motivating people at all levels [of the organization] to take charge of change in their areas of responsibility" (p.7). The eight step process (McPherson and Wittemann , 2005) includes:

1. Get your employees' attention
2. Align strategies throughout the organization
3. Create a change leader team
4. Create a culture to fit your strategy
5. Align formal leaders
6. Focus the workforce
7. Ignite unbeatable performance
8. Let go of the present to get to the future

  Caption Text
  Figure 1. "Z" cut: change leaders in teams of eight (McPherson and Wittemann, 1997)

An array of interventions support the steps. The outcomes of several interventions lay the foundation for Learnings Unlimited, which is tied directly to Step 6: Focus the Workforce. The Learnings Unlimited intervention initiates an intense three-day workshop that is attended by the change leader team created as part of Step 3 (J.K. Wittemann, personal communication, February 8, 2005). This diverse cross-section of employees, called a "z" cut, includes the organization's most senior leader, front-line workers, members of the supporting organization in between, and other stakeholders, including clients, customers, suppliers, and contractors (McPherson and Wittemann , 1997). The objective of the intervention is to "integrate the new strategy [developed in Step 2] into the organization's everyday operations" (McPherson and Wittemann, 2004.)

 

How Learnings Unlimited is Used
The Learnings Unlimited workshop begins with the introduction of participants to a new company, Learnings Unlimited. This company models the new culture of the participants' organization, which is based on the vision, mission, and principles created in the first two interventions. Workshop attendees spend three days creating three products (McPherson and Wittemann, 1997).

  • Learnings - ideas for changing the organization to operate under the new culture.
  • Projects - initiatives that directly impact the organization's bottom line.
  • Culture - a means of working in support of the new strategic direction.
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  Figure 2. Team projects posted for approvals. (McPherson and Wittemann, 1997)

To create these outcomes, Learnings Unlimited workers are divided into teams of eight members each. Facilitators present the culture, divide the days into a calendar of four quarters, and set a minimum quota of learnings for each worker to submit. Workers learn about the process, the impact of culture on how people work, and methods for writing effective, measurable learnings. They receive worksheets and other materials to support productivity and quality in all three outcomes. Each "quarter," workers perform an audit to monitor development of the culture (McPherson and Wittemann , 1997).

Value to the Organization
Value is realized in the resulting operational efficiency, productivity, and synergy of the organization that implements the intervention's change projects and action plans. There is also value in what can be a profound experience for members of the organization, who may be revitalized and motivated as a result of participating in the workshop.

Evidence for the Impact
The client organization is impacted by the workshop outcomes in two ways. First, workers select five of their own changes or learnings that they will personally implement in their first five days back on the job. They commit to implement forty five learnings over the following year. Secondly, each team evaluates their combined learnings for development of one improvement project that directly affects some portion of the organization. The teams submit business plans for approval by an executive review panel. The panel responds with a Go, No Go, or a Conditional Go on the project. The approved projects are allocated with teams, budget, resources, and a schedule for implementation within the organization. McPherson and Wittemann (2004) publish the results of workforce alignment for several of their clients:

  • Client with 1200 employees. Program cost: $1.5 million; Revenue increase after 12 months: $4 million.
  • Client with 5000 employees. $37,000 savings on one project; over $1 million in lost revenue recovered with a change in approach on company processes.
  • Division with 2500 employees. Productivity increases by 25%; Customer satisfaction increases from 78% to 93%.
    What Makes it Work

Pointing out that many approaches for change management rely on group involvement processes, motivational techniques, and training or development in place of workforce alignment, the Learning Unlimited approach works, because it quickly aligns all people in the organization behind company strategies while producing strategic bottom-line results (McPherson and Wittemann, 2004). They suggest that the intervention's power lies in its ability to engage emotions and logic.

"One reason many programs fail to deliver is because they depend too much on one or the other…the content of the experience is almost completely logical. The emotional experience comes through teamwork." (pp. 156-157).

Guidelines for Use

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  Figure 3. Tracking the submission of learnings by individuals. (McPherson and Wittemann, 1997)

The primary goals of workforce alignment are to develop company strategy and develop the culture that supports it (McPherson and Wittemann, 2004). While other approaches may be based on sound practices, their outcomes do not achieve these goals. Although positive, they may not provide opportunities to work with the value sets, elicit support in an observable way from individuals, or develop culture organically from within the organization. This intervention appears to work best in environments where leaders have defined where they want to go and are ready to fully involve the workers in the organization to take the company there. Retaining control over what and how to change the organization is not supported by this intervention.

Ability to Work in Authentic Settings
McPherson and Wittemann (2004) offer case studies of their work with over twenty companies, ranging in size from a couple hundred to several thousand employees and across industries. Client industries include government organizations, utilities, transportation, technical, medical, and training in countries from the United States to Australia (pp. 235-236).

Client Testimonials
McPherson and Wittemann (2004) report client responses to the intervention. "In a short period of time we got great results. The teamwork in creating actionable results is something that is ongoing in the organization…It is a normal behavior as we go forward (p. 147). "Each time we went out there, we were a new company. I've participated in simulations before, and they simply were not real. This was. You have new company every time. We were dealing with real issues (p. 155).

References

McPherson, C., & Wittemann, K.J. (2004). Inspiration or Desperation: Companies Change When People Care. Georgia: Summerville Books.

McPherson, C. & Wittemann, J.K. (Eds.). Services of McPherson-Wittemann Group Change Management Consultants [Homepage of The McPherson-Wittemann Group], [Online]. (1997). Available: http://www.mc-wittgrp.com/learnings%20unlimited/learnings%20unlimited.htm [2004, February 7].

McPherson, C. & Wittemann, J.K. (Eds.). Welcome to Change Mentors [Homepage of Change Mentors], [Online]. (2005). Available: http://www.changementors.com/ [2005, February 7].

Wittemann, J. (joeandcherry@worldnet.att.net). 2004, February 8). A Paper on Learnings Unlimited. E-mail to R. Fix (rhea@redpepperconsulting.com).

Author Note

Rhea Fix
President
Red Pepper Consulting
rhea@redpepperconsulting.com

For more information about Learnings Unlimited, visit the McPherson-Wittemann Group at http://www.changementors.com and at
http://www.mc-wittgrp.com/learnings%20unlimited/learnings%20unlimited.htm

 

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