Executive KnowledgeWorks
Leveraging Executive Education and Leader Development For Strategic Planning, Action Learning, Customized Executive Education and Enhanced Business Meetings - all supported by a philosophy of Breakthrough Centered Development.
Research and Publishing:
Eight National Benchmarking Reports.

Breakthrough Centered Development

Over the past three decades corporate America has been attracted to, in turn, a series of directional philosophies and organizing frameworks for its human resource development efforts. In the ’70s, corporations like GE, IBM and Motorola invested in centralized management training (Crotonville, Armonk and Oracle). In the 1980s, we discovered the power of focusing human resource development on the strategic imperatives of the corporation. In the ’90s, the corporate universities became very much the rage.

Each of these organizing frames helped contribute to the growth and evolution of their host corporations. Each of them was in some sense timely and appropriate. Each of them was, not surprisingly, limited in range and, in most instances, duration. In a few instances, such as GE’s Crotonville, the corporation was able to combine the existing frame with new and complementary development initiatives, thereby building on rather than replacing the frame.

Our belief is that, as useful as these organizing frames were, most of them fell short of their potential of helping to lead the corporation through increasing and sometimes traumatic change. We feel strongly that the true potential of human resource and organization development is nothing short of the most powerful of the corporate functions. We also know that that potential has rarely been realized.

There is a long list of potential explanations for these less than stellar results. We would probably agree with much of the list and have no doubt been guilty of engaging in a portion of that. However, one way to think about human resource and organization development’s failure to more consistently achieve their true and stellar potential is to think about the relationship of critical mass to focus.

Success, perhaps especially in large organizations, can lead to or feed additional success. Initial successes often require some form of critical mass of resources (money, individual heroics, collective attention, the organization’s energy, etc.). In most corporations, resources -- even in good times -- are limited. To achieve success -- to break through -- those limited resources need to be carefully focused and efficiently leveraged.

Each of the above organizing frames for human resource and organization development was, at a generic level at least, guilty of dissipating precious development resources over too broad a front - over a too dispersed set of targets. No doubt with the best intentions they often attempted to take on too many campaigns -- to wage war on too many fronts. Often, they failed to mobilize a critical mass of development resources on a succession of critical, future-oriented, high-priority business targets. As a result, their successes- to-resources ratios (or ROIs) were ultimately insufficient. Put another way, they did not often enough help their client businesses break through or succeed on a critical front. When the inevitable difficult times came, the significant resources that had been expended for human and organization development were, understandably, carefully scrutinized and found to be of questionable or marginal value. More often than not this resulted in the then-prevailing organizing frame for human resource and organization development falling out of favor.

Breakthrough Centered Development organizes the resources allocated for human and organization development around a tightly focused and sharply identified key emerging business issue or target. Breakthrough Centered Development integrates and coordinates the range of available development tools and processes around a critical business target. It triangulates. It focuses multiple layers in an attempt to break through -- to succeed. That success can then lead to additional successes. And, with the pursuit of each new target and each additional success, the organization and its human resources are developed. Which leads to still further success.

Whenever possible, Executive KnowledgeWorks attempts to work with its clients to implement this coordinated, integrated, multidimensional approach we call Breakthrough Centered Development.


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