Developing Leaders in Times of Change & Transformation

“They just don’t get it! They have training manuals, real-time data, managers, directors, and a CRM.  Why can’t all of them just exercise common sense?”

Leadership during times of significant challenges or change demands skills and abilities of leaders above and beyond the typical. Some leaders naturally seem to rise to the challenge, while others struggle to lead effectively during times of transition. This developing leader’s frustration with his customer service team after a series of mishandlings of a complex client issue indicated to me that he was one of the latter.

Change leadership involves new skills and ways of thinking that leaders may need to learn and practice before they become skilled at change leadership, especially if they have come up through the ranks of an organization in a management capacity.  To help developing leaders grow and improve as effective change leaders in their organizations, it’s important to be aware of this, and to be prepared to offer insights, techniques, and tools to help them step more effectively into this role. 

An effective change leader knows how to keep the complexities of the work to be performed commensurate with the levels of learning of those who will be performing the work. As I worked with this leader to analyze the cause of the many breakdowns, it became clear that there was a misutilization of the levels of learning within this organization.  Certain entry-level employees were expected to make complex decisions for which deep institutional knowledge and a robust understanding of the enterprise was crucial to determining the optimal solution. To help him improve his change leadership skills and avoid running into similar issues in the future, I taught him something called the Four Levels of Learning.

RUAC: the 4 Levels of Learning

When I am working with executive leadership teams and teaching a new process, tool, or skill set, I frequently refer to the Four Levels of Learning. I like to remember it with the acronym RUAC, which stands for:

  • Rote
  • Understanding
  • Application, and
  • Correlation

RUAC lays out the learning journey in a way that makes it easy to assess a person’s understanding of something and help them advance to the next level. I have found it to be an invaluable tool for helping managers and executives expand and develop into effective leaders of change in their organizations. Understanding this sequence will improve your ability to lead others and even yourself from one level to another.

Level 1: Rote – Nearly every learning process begins with and requires some level of rote learning. Rote learning answers the question, “What?” This refers to all the basic facts and sequences associated with the job or process. If you are going through an organization design, the rote part of it includes the policies and procedures, the things that get written or stuck on the wall or in the 2” binder, and documenting charts and job descriptions. Someone at a rote level of understanding can look at these things and follow them without necessarily understanding them or being able to explain in depth what they mean. An entry level or labor position within an organization may not require any level of learning beyond the rote. However, even top executives may find themselves at a rote level of learning at times when learning a new process or concept.

Level 2: Understanding – The next step in the learning journey is to start to understand the “Why” behind all those rote processes and concepts: to know what it means to have an organization chart, or a reporting structure, or levels of responsibility and accountability. For example, a person at this level of learning will be able to explain why we have budgets and policies and rules. People need to achieve at least this level of learning about a job or process in order to take on management roles in that area with any degree of success.       

Level 3: Application – At this level, the person doesn’t just understand how the system or the process works, they are now experienced enough to be capable of putting it into practice. This is where leadership starts in organization design. It’s saying, “OK, I understand this, but when you do that it also affects these two or three other people, functions, or parts of our organization.” It’s thinking more strategically, getting more in alignment with people and the vision, anticipating the future, and communicating direction and strategy throughout the organization.  

Level 4: Correlation – At the highest level of learning, a person can take many applied processes and orchestrate them into the entire big picture. It’s the ability to function highly in all regards, to think about the future while understanding the present, and to correlate everything together across an entire organization.  A leader at this level can take people who have various levels of understanding and bring them together to help them start to apply what they have learned and, through multiple applications of that process, begin to develop their own sense of correlation. People at that level thus become correlation builders themselves. This is the level of learning required for effective change leadership.

How to Use RUAC for Leadership Development

Any time we take an employee or even an institution through a new process it will go through these phases. Familiarity with RUAC can help you understand your leadership team’s current level of learning so you can find ways to help developing leaders progress to the next. For example, when introducing a new concept or process you might take them through the following progression:

Rote: Hand them some policies and procedures to look at and familiarize themselves with.  

Understanding: Spend a little more time explaining the concept to them.

Application: Discuss how it ripples or propagates throughout the organization.

Correlation: Discuss the deeper impacts and consequences; how it embeds into the strategy, vision, and mission; how it will lead to corporate goals and vison, etc.

Whether you are developing leaders in your organization or working to improve your own change leadership capabilities, utilizing RUAC can help to facilitate the learning process and facilitate smooth transitions in your organization.

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