How do we encourage managers to take a more active role in learning? And why is that important?
We recently had the privilege of working with a role model learning leader. That’s a term we’ve possibly made up, learning leader. What we mean is, a manager who leads their team in learning and developing constantly, attending workshops with them and/or holding each individual to account for applying the learning they have taken from any intervention.
In contrast, another organisation we worked with recently sent out line manager briefing webinars. The message was, “you asked for this development for your team, but now that means losing this person from your team and the day job for a whole day. You can’t afford for that to be wasted time, so how can you ensure you get a return on that investment?”
Sadly the L&D team received reports from a few managers that their peers were bragging about not having watched the webinar, as though they had somehow got out of doing something boring and annoying. Whilst one or two of the managers followed the advice and guided their people through a positive learning experience, most showed a lack of interest in the idea and many delegates complained that they had not been supported to use what they learned.
Time and time again, we see that the line manager’s role in learning is more important than any other factor. CEB first reported on this decades ago and every paper on the subject since has revealed the same findings: well-designed, brilliantly facilitated learning in line with business objectives is useless without the support of the line manager.
Theories as to why the line manager is so important vary from the sense of support, “how can I help you apply what you learnt yesterday?” to challenge and accountability, “show me how you have benefited the business with new skills and actions since you went on that training.” Even more simply, we know that what gets measured gets done and what gets talked about gets done.
So if a line manager is not measuring, noticing or talking about changes in behaviour following development, then why would anyone bother about it?
In the classic wisdom of less is more, our experience tells us that the L&D team investing in 1:1 conversations with delegates’ managers makes the biggest difference. Rather than focusing on getting more people through more development programmes, these L&D teams invest in supporting fewer people to a higher level of quality. And of course if this happens first at the top, then the cascade effect can work its magic.
With leaders at the top role modelling support and challenge for the application of learning, then ultimately the business can end up with the holy grail of a learning culture.
So if you’re struggling with engaging line managers on a mass scale, why not start small? Find a couple of managers who are doing this pretty well and work with them to make it even better. Find another few managers who might be open to trying something new, and guide them on how to coach their people to share their learning and put new skills into practice. You’re likely to see greater success with that than anything designed to engage the masses.