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How does a person who has never been a successful top level cricketer, assist the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Steve Waugh to become better cricketers?

This was the question constantly being put to, and asked of, Australia’s just-appointed national cricket coach, John Buchanan when he was promoted from his position as Queensland State Coach in 1999.

As head coach, Buchanan was in charge of the learning and development of the Australian Cricket Team – a team that was already ranked number 1 in the world in both test cricket and one-day cricket and included in their ranks were some of the greatest cricketers of that era and arguably, any era.

In 2007, after 8 years in the job, John Buchanan stepped down from his position having overseen a team that had won the World Cup in 2003 and again in 2007, continued their reign at the top of the world cricket rankings and lifted their win rate to an unparalleled 75% including a new world-record of 16 consecutive test victories.

How did he do it? How did this coach help the Australian team go from being very good to being one of greatest?

Here’s a summary of John Buchanan’s coaching and learning & development philosophies taken from his book If Better is Possible (Hardie Grant Books, 2007):

  • The role of the coach is to challenge individuals and teams with possibilities and take them outside their comfort zones into the realms of uncertainty. In experiencing these situations we learn more about ourselves and grow as people.
  • Coaching is all about creating a vision and providing a safe environment that allows individuals to fall down a number of times during their learning and their development. The vision must be inspiring to the team, quite probably it may seem too big, too difficult, but nonetheless, it may also seem within reach.
  • The leader or the coach must constantly monitor the progress of the vision.

In these three points, I see the source of everything wrong with traditional organisational learning & development (read: training).


  1. L&D exists in a vacuum for most employees. In other words, rarely is the connection made between L&D and individual performance improvement.
  2. Employees rarely see the connection between their growth as a person and their performance improvement at work.
  3. L&D is not linked to how the team or organisation will fulfill their vision, mission and goals (assuming a vision, mission and goals exist!).
  4. Most people resist being taken outside their comfort zone into areas of uncertainty (where real learning occurs).
  5. Failure is seen as ‘bad’ in most workplaces which immediately kills off most attempts by employees to practice their newly acquired skills.
  6. Performance indicators (which are critical measures of whether L&D is improving performance) are often poorly constructed, ineffectively measured, recorded and communicated and as a result, are resisted by employees.

I was very fortunate to have (now) Aquent International CEO (Asia/Pacific & Europe), Greg Savage, as a mentor to me when I was a fledgling recruiter in Sydney in the early to mid-1990s. Greg was very big on learning and development. Some of the things that occurred in our workplace, under Greg’s leadership were:

  • Weekly internal training sessions
  • Live feedback and coaching after interviews, client visits and telephone conversations with clients and candidates
  • Consultants were sent on external courses (recruitment-specific and general)
  • External trainers and facilitators, both Australian and overseas, conducted in-house training
  • Six-monthly individual performance appraisals were conducted which focused and linked agreed skill improvements to a specific training and coaching program

As a result, it was no coincidence that our organisation, Recruitment Solutions, was seen as a benchmark company in terms of consultant performance and profitability (for specific financial results refer to my cover story, Managing Your Business Message, in the September 2008 issue of Recruitment Extra).

All recruitment company owners and leaders want improved performance (ie greater billings) from their people. But I am willing to bet my house that an effective individual L&D program for each employee is the exception, not the rule, if I analysed the employee records of every recruitment company in Australia and New Zealand.

If such a program doesn’t exist then what’s left is hope. In other words you ‘hope’ people will meet and exceed their billing targets, you ‘hope’ their attitude improves and you ‘hope’ they learn from their mistakes. As a result, most leaders and managers are punting big on ‘hope’!

The result is that the employees succeed slowly or (much worse) fail slowly.

The less obvious, yet very important flipside to an effective L&D program, is that it quickly exposes the people who don’t have the skills or motivation to succeed in their current job, or the job they may aspire to. This is because when they are taken outside their comfort zone, you start to see whether they are truly capable and motivated to take the action necessary to improve their performance.

This very thing occurred in my coaching practice this month. An organisation paid for a struggling leader to be coached by me. In our first session she said all the right things about her commitment to the process and going outside her comfort zone.

The following week, on four separate occasions, I tested her on her earnestly-stated commitment to go outside her comfort zone, and she failed, badly. I wasn’t prepared to give her a fifth chance so I fired her as my client. Why would I waste my time and the money of her employer if she isn’t committed to doing what was necessary to improve her performance? By investing in an L&D program (executive coaching) the organisation received a very swift answer to their question ‘is she ready and willing to do what’s required to take the next step?’

When L&D is not part of the organisational culture, I can guarantee there are many employees inside that business who are complacent, lazy, stagnating, unmotivated, uncommitted or under-performing.

Whether you like it or not, it’s these types of employees that define your culture – a culture that is unlikely to attract or retain a core group of high performing employees for very long.

How can you not afford to take learning and development seriously if you want to grow sales and profit and build a culture to be proud of?



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