"Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it." — Henry Mintzberg

With the Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) retiring at a clip of 10,000 per day, the skills transfer necessary to get the next generation ready to take over the reins is monumental. Most leaders have a limited amount of time available to teach those around them, so people development efforts must be targeted and effective. To meet that challenge, we’d like to share an educational method known as the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model (GRRM), a technique for transferring knowledge and bringing others along in a deliberate and accelerated way. We use this method inside our firm and are confident that it can bridge the generational transfer of knowledge you’re facing.

Most of us learn by doing, a truism proved by the 70/20/10 learning concept developed by the Center for Creative Leadership.

  • 70% of learning comes from real life and on-the-job experiences
  • 20% from one-on-one feedback, coaching and working with role models
  • 10% from formal training

When I first joined ConvergenceCoaching, I had no firsthand experience with the sales process. A consulting business is highly non-recurring and so all consultants must serve clients and actively participate in business development. My leaders could have used the “time in” model to get me ready, planning to wait a few years until I had participated in enough calls, or observed enough meetings, and by a (long) measure of time, been deemed ready. Instead, the team immediately began involving me sales meetings in a deliberate plan to develop my skills in selling.

I’ll use my selling example as an analogy for putting the GRRM to use in your organization. We’ll use “Partner” (she) and “Renee” (me) to indicate the roles in the learning examples that follow. Remember, this methodology can be used for any type of on-the-job training, not just teaching your team to sell. However, for many of you, your urgent need to develop your next generation of rainmakers makes it a great place to “pilot” GRRM with your team.

Phase 1: I do/You watch – Focused lesson

The first phase of the GRRM involves mostly observation. At this point in my role as a learner, I’m mainly watching and listening, absorbing the key messages and techniques used by the Partner.

In our sales learning example, the Partner asks me to observe a sales meeting with a prospect. When we begin the meeting, the Partner introduces me to the prospect and might say something like “Renee is riding along today and will be observing” to set the stage for how I’ll participate. On our team, we ask the learner to write a post-meeting recap to the prospect, which encourages me to listen carefully for key messages and decisions made or actions assigned.

After the meeting, the Partner and I debrief, giving me an opportunity to ask questions and point out techniques observed, as well as clarify next steps for producing the recap email. The goal is to move me on to the next phase within weeks or months, not years, so the Partner should provide three to four valuable focused lessons and then move to the next stage.

Phase 2: I do/You help – Guided instruction

In phase two, I shift from observing to having a small role to play. Observation continues to be a key component of the process, but the Partner is ready for me to take more ownership over the outcome, as well as experience some success (or failure!) and learn from it.

Using a specific sales illustration from our team, the Partner plans to discuss two separate offerings with the prospect – career manager training and our Transformational Leadership Program™ (TLP). The Partner lets me know in advance that when the TLP comes up in the meeting, I’ll be asked to share the program with the prospect. The Partner introduces me, begins the meeting, and when the conversation shifts to the TLP, says “Renee, why don’t you walk us through the TLP program and the important outcomes we see it producing.” At this point, the Partner is listening intently and gathering insights or observations to share with me after the meeting. If there are missing points, the Partner can chime in and provide them, either during my “speech” or afterwards. At the same time, the Partner is careful where possible to not correct me in front of the prospect, to avoid discouraging me or lowering my confidence. The Partner may instead ask me to follow up after the meeting to correct any misstatements with something like “I was thinking about the question you asked about TLP coaching and would like to clarify my answer.”

The Partner and I take the opportunity after the meeting to check in on what went well or what to try differently next time. When giving feedback, specificity counts. Ideally, the Partner will have documented a few positives along with two or three things to do differently in the next meeting.

Phase 3: You do/I help – Collaborative

At this phase, I’m expected to translate the strategies learned to date into problem solving and practicing more independently. The Partner participates but in a more supportive role.

In our sales example, I might arrange the meeting, kick it off and make introductions, and drive the conversation. The Partner is there to provide additional insights or answer questions outside of my comfort zone. I can even call on the Partner as needed by saying “Partner, could you speak to that point?”

Once the Partner has responded, she should look for opportunities to hand the meeting back to me. This part can be hard since it’s so easy to fall back into our old roles as teacher and learner. It helps if we stay grounded in our mission in this process, that while we’re working together to develop a prospect into a client, our true aim is to accelerate my selling skills. For that to happen, I need to be speaking, gaining confidence, and willing to take some chances. Teachers will need to practice being open to new approaches and ideas from the learner since stylistic and technical differences will emerge.

At this stage, I take responsibility for debrief calls, reaching out to the Partner afterward to share insights, ask questions, and gather the necessary information to drive next steps in the sales process.

Phase 4: You do/I watch – Independent

In this phase, I’m applying knowledge and strategies acquired to date in new ways. The Partner might participate and observe, but, more likely, does not take part and is only available for questions after the fact.

Following our sales example, I arrange an appointment with a prospect and manage it on my own. There are some questions that arise during the meeting that I can’t answer, so I let the prospect know that I will gather more information and report back to them by a specified date. I can use a debrief call with the Partner to resolve those questions and develop a response to the prospect.