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G4S plc, based in London, is the world’s leading international security solutions group, which specializes in outsourced business processes in sectors where security and safety risks are considered a strategic threat. G4S employs over 620,000 people in more than 25 countries and is the world’s second largest private sector employer. Company turnover is roughly divided half and half, with 47% coming from Europe, and the other 53% divided between N. America and developing markets.



In addition to the challenges of managing a large, diverse and globally spread organization, the organization is in a process of change:

  • Locations in NW Europe and S/SE Europe have been brought together only in the last 2 years;
  • Companies located in Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Finland have all had their Cash operations, which constitute roughly half of G4S’s global business, integrated also very recently;
  • The exit of longtime CEO Nick Buckles. Ashley Almanza, a very recent arrival at G4S as CFO, and new to the security industry, was promoted to CEO in his place.

Because of rapid growth and these shifts at the top of the organization, investment in leadership development had been put on the back burner in recent years. An attempt had been made to begin a European Leadership Program a couple of years previously, including selection of many suitable candidates, but was cancelled before it could take place. The current list of candidates was prepared in December, 2012. Because of both internal and external stability and employee satisfaction, it was very important to many stakeholders (candidates, their charges, HR, upper management, among others) that the current program begin as scheduled.

European Leadership Program

In order to design, develop and deliver the program, Regional Human Resources Director – Europe Peter Agergaard was looking for a new external leadership development company to partner with. He wanted something new, creative and different, something other than the standard management development program with its emphasis on cognitive knowledge and skills training. Preferably something with more strategic relevance, personal development and real-world application  Additionally, because of all the recent worldwide acquisitions of smaller security companies, he wanted a program that emphasized the values of G4S, namely an open, creative, proactive organization which a transition from a man-hour provider to a solutions provider. The key of the program should be to transform the leadership of G4S from problem solvers to change agents with a shared vision.

De Baak was present on a list of 10 possible collaboration partners based on its strong reputation in the Netherlands, where many of the top management is located.


After an initial round, De Baak was selected as a short-list candidate and invited to Amsterdam to present ideas for the European Leadership Program. A very productive co-creation session resulted in a program that met the requirements. Some of the unique features of this program were:Image

  • Action Learning: 4 strategically important projects would be defined that would act as a platform for learning, as well as providing business results for the company at completion. The projects would be based on the classic Reg Revans formula for Action Learning: P + Q = L, where P stands for programmed knowledge, Q for the structured questioning process, and L for learning.
  • Online collaboration: given the fact that the course participants in the program, and their repsective Action Learning project teams, were geographically spread across Europe and the Middle East, a method for supporting synchronous project collaboration was needed. The existing tools within G4S (WebEx, the “Hub,” as well as internal knowledge bases) seemed to be adequate for this support.  
  • Upper management support: each of the Action Learning projects would be supported by mentors who would work directly with the team, and a project sponsor from upper management who would be the “owner” of the project, responsible for implementing the end results.
  • Employer branding: part of the success formula for leadership development programs is visibility within the organization. Letting colleagues know that the company is investing in their personal development is a significant motivator. Therefore, giving attention to the program through internal marketing channels was also a feature of the program.
  • Flow from and to existing management/leadership development programs
  • Entrepreneurial methods: by encouraging the participants to seek out resources both within as well as outside the organization, as well as linking the Action Learning project to all levels, the course helps to support the entrepreneurial development of the participants.   

G4S selected De Baak as its leadership development program partner, based on both the strength of the proposal as well as the creativity demonstrated by the co-creation process. The candidates were informed of the selection and all preparations were made to have 18 course participants travel to Amsterdam for the first of three European Leadership Program modules.


One week before the first module was set to take place, G4S instituted a company-wide freeze on all “non-essential expenses,” especially travel and lodging. In practice this meant that the first module of the ELP would not be able to take place as scheduled, as the participants would be traveling from all points of Europe, from as far away as Israel and Kazakhstan. The first module was also planned to consume an entire week in Amsterdam, which meant considerable lodging and per diem expenses for the entire group. It was with great disappointment that Peter Agergaard contacted De Baak with this news.

Considering the importance placed on having this program begin as scheduled, the anticipation that the selected candidates had in beginning the course, as well as the considerable investment made in partner selection, program design and development, cancelling the ELP altogether was not a decision taken lightly. Instead, Peter decided to postpone the program, with the first module taking place well into the first quarter of the following year, which assumed that the freeze on expenses would be lifted by then. The danger of this decision is that it might be met with scepticism from the candidates, especially considering the history of planned programs being cancelled altogether. This scepticism would have exactly the opposite effect on the organization as intended by offering a leadership development program in the first place. Instead of boosting morale and motivation, cancelling the program would most likely lead to demoralization and demotivation, especially among the selected candidates.


De Baak proposed an interim solution to G4S: to begin the Action Learning projects as scheduled, but treat it as a “prelude” to the program actually beginning the following quarter. This solution would:

  • Demonstrate to the participants that, despite this setback, they are valuable to the organization and very much worth the investment in their personal and professional development;  
  • Start making progress on projects that potentially have significant business value to the organization;
  • Demonstrate to G4S at all levels that the HR department is flexible and creative in finding solutions in developing its people, despite setbacks;
  • Take advantage of the blocked agendas of the participants for the coming week they would otherwise have been in Amsterdam;
  • Begin generating returns on the significant investment already made in the development and design process of the program.

The challenges to this proposed solution were two-fold:

1) The Action Learning formula of P + Q = L would not have the attention it would have received during the first face-to-face module. P being programmed knowledge in the form of:

  • Listening, communication and coaching skills;
  • Working collaboratively and team management;
  • Intercultural differences and communication;
  • Developing themselves as leaders;
  • Questioning techniques and feedback methods.

2) Group cohesion and company-wide learning opportunities would be diminished due to a lack of initial face-to-face contact.

All of this would be exacerbated by attempting to run a project without a clear understanding of who your teammates are and what you have to offer each other. Nevertheless, it was decided that the benefits of the clear internal signal beginning the Action Learning projects would send, as well as the potential business-related benefits of successful projects, were strong enough arguments to begin the course in this manner.


This proposed solution, as well as G4S’s willingness to accept it, proves that the collaborative, co-creation relationship that was established early between De Baak and its client G4S has benefits that extend far beyond simple design of the program in the initial stages. This relationship has set the tone for a long-term collaborative relationship that extends into the delivery of the course itself. It is expected that this mutual respect and give-and-take from both sides will continue to benefit both parties long into the future. The projects are currently running and all of them appear to be successfully launched. It is expected that they will mainstream with the programmed knowledge offered when the formal face-to-face portion of the course begins. Not only will the participants have had significant contact with each other in the meantime, they will have built a store of shared experiences that can form the basis for cases over the entire course.  

An outstanding article by a Twitter reference from a couple of months ago by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach:


As the CEO of a professional development company whose mantra is “Professional Development for the 21st Century Educator” I find myself continually cognitively juggling what’s best for my clients, what’s best for their students, and what’s best for our contractors and staff in an effort to find some way of making it all align with what needs to change in education.

It’s evaluation time. We encourage our communities to be brutally honest when they evaluate us. And we listen. Where it makes sense we shift or innovate.  It requires us to continually reinvent ourselves, to stay on top of where research and practice meet and to balance the desire for easy and structured with messy and self-directed.

Deep Reflection and Keeping the Focus on Learning
Evaluation time means deep reflection time for me personally. Especially when evals call you by name — pointing to what is perceived to be character flaws. It takes a thick skin to see past all that and look deeper to what is really going on- to keep your focus on learning by continually growing as a leader, learning about how to learn and how to model being a transparent learner. I want, more than anything else, to leave a legacy in education. I want what I spend my time doing to add value to the profession and to support teachers in helping their students self actualize. I also want to be part of lighting a fire that results in a learning revolution. I want to be a capacity builder who gives freely and learns openly.

But I have to tell you- I am frustrated. Really frustrated.

For example, here is a  recent evaluation comment:

I’m not sure that this is a very valuable experience, and I doubt I’d ever recommend it. It seems as if it’s based upon things like online communities and collaboration, which may have been new and innovative a few years ago, but which are kind of old hat now.

Old Hat? Come on. Have we really hit the tipping point with online communities and collaboration– true collaboration? Is deep collaboration (moving past talk and cooperation to appreciative and collective action ) so prevalent among education that we can call it “old hat”? And let’s say for sake of argument that learning in online communities isn’t innovative anymore– so what? Is our role to only play in sandboxes that are innovative or new and novel? Shouldn’t we be trying to  understand what is happening in those spaces that were new only a few years ago, determining how to best use them to learn and help our students learn? Is there value in knowing how to start, lead, implement, empower, and use online communities for the type of collaboration that is going to provide significant shift? The kind where we all bring our best giftings to the table and use them together to create something new and powerful. Are online communities the focus or merely the venue through which we learn? I do not remember anyone saying classrooms are dated and they have been around for hundred of years.

Which begs to ask a different question– are people confusing talking to people online with deep, connected learning? Does being part of a social networking site or a NING community mean you are going deep- growing  in your ability to co-construct or deconstruct knowledge? Does it mean you are collaborating if you post, reply to a post, Tweet, or engage in a #edchat conversation? Are we moving toward an acceptance of superficiality as a replacement for deep learning? Has our multiple choice  culture trained our brains to believe that innovation is the holy grail?

Personal Learning Networks

It is becoming ever apparent to me that those of us who are online learning prefer networks. Networks like we have on Twitter or other electronic spaces where we can share short snips of conversations and where our ideas are met with like minded support and agreement. The advantages of networking are many. And do not get me wrong- I am a huge fan. I believe Personal Learning Networks are one of the three prongs necessary to be a do it yourself learner in today’s world. But for all the positive connections, laughter, links, and ideas that networks bring, they only are the tip of what is needed to produce lasting change. I do not have to commit to anything when I network. I can be witty or not and still be part of the “cool kids”. Networks are very “me” centered in that I choose my mentors, feeds, resources, learning objects and those with whom I will learn. I am in control. I can be very visible and yet still quite passive in my learning. I can talk and talk and talk and never have to walk or put action to my ideas. I even get my need for belonging met (Maslow) and self esteem. And sometimes I meet others and from there we create a community where we do act collectively. For me, that is the key. If all I do is network I do not shift or grow because I am missing the opportunity to go deep and actually learn by doing. It takes both: Networks and Community. Online, global communities of practice and f2f learning communities in my local context.

Imagine the deep learning that can be produced when we come together in learning communities and do some of the following (below). These are the kinds of things that our Powerful Learning Practice communities members who dig deep engage in through out the year. And the impact is strong– don’t believe me? Look at what they say.

Here are the kinds of things I believe need to be happening as learners come together in online communities of practice.

Action Research Groups: Active research done by communities of practice focused on improvement around a possibility or problem in a classroom, school, district, or province.

Book Study Groups: PLPeeps, often in cross cohort groups, come together to read and discuss a book collectively in an online space.

Case Study Method: Case studies emphasize detailed contextual analysis of specific situations and their relationships to current thinking and pedagogy. Writing, discussing and reflecting on the cases from 21st Century lens produces  collaborative reflection and improvement on practice.

Community of Practice (CoP): A CoP is group of professionals with shared interests and challenges who make a commitment to improve or get better at something over time by sharing ideas, finding solutions, and creating innovations. This requires new dispositions and values such as resisting the urge to quit prematurely.

Connected Coaching: individuals on teams are assigned a connected coach who  discusses and shares teaching practices as a means of promoting collegiality and support and to help educators think about how the new literacies inform current teaching practices.

Critical Friends Groups (CFG): A professional learning team consisting of approximately 5-10 educators who come together voluntarily face to face at least once a month. Members are committed to improving their practice through collaborative learning. Using a CF protocols they examine each other’s teaching or leadership activities and share both positives and areas that need improvement in respectful ways.

Curriculum Review or Mapping Groups: Teams meet on a regular basis to review what they are teaching, reflect together on impact of and assumptions that underlie the curriculum, make decisions collaboratively. They often do lesson plan studies together.

Instructional Rounds: A process through which educators develop a shared practice of observing each other and analyzing learning and teaching from a research perspective and share expertise. Included in this is typically a way to examine how students are working toward becoming connected learners.

Personal Learning Network (PLN): A carefully selected tribe of people or resources who guid learning, point to learning opportunities, give quick answers to questions, and share knowledge and experience.

Professional Learning Communities (PLC): Face to face collections of educators who continuously seek and share learning and then act on what they learn. If done right they are teacher driven and use a distributive leadership model. Individuals take what they learn in their PLN, and CoPs back to the PLC and contextualize the information toward helping students in the school or district achieve.

Scale: Scaling up is a process of transitioning an idea or project from pilot implementation to full implementation in the following stages:

  • Depth – developing innovations that produce deep, transformative, and consequential changes in instructional practice;
  • Sustainability – maintaining durable changes in practice over substantial periods of time through robust designs;
  • Spread – widespread adoption that retains effectiveness while reducing the resources and expertise burden;
  • Shift – the innovations need to be “owned” by the users who then begin to view themselves as co-designers and co-evaluators; and
  • Evolution – the feedback loops from users to designers that allow all to adapt and rethink the model.

Self-Directed Learning: Making decisions about how to advance one’s own practice including reading books, visiting colleagues in their classrooms, transparently sharing through blogs and in online communities, attending webinars, going to a conference, networking, and collectively doing action research.

Old hat — I think not.
I simply do not think most schools are doing these things in online communities with people they have never met but have made a deep commitment to in terms of growing together and developing a collective efficacy from a none of us is as good or smart as all of us mentality. There is nothing, at least from the way I see it, old hat about learning in such deep and powerful ways collectively.

Please Reply… Tell me if I am crazy.
I would be very interested in what you think. Am I missing it? Am I on this island all by myself and everyone else has moved on? Are you regularly involved in the types of learning experiences I described above as connected learners?

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Leo Salazar

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