As their role evolves, managers must take on more responsibility for learning, writes Barry Johnson
The move from training to learning has emphasised the critical requirement of line managers to be facilitators and providers of learning. It has always been a manager’s responsibility to ensure the skills, knowledge and attitudes of the staff in their care. In the broad view, this has not been a manager’s key priority. Managers are evolving to be leaders of individuals and teams. In modern organisations, employees are responsible for their own development.
The shift in the international business climate and rise of social networks have impacted on organisations, changing the manager’s job dimensions. Managers have to become leaders – and this is much more than a name change.
The role of training and development (T&D) is moving from being primarily subject-matter experts who deliver expertise, to L&D professionals who ensure learning. Consequently, T&D is in a revolution, with T&D practitioners taking on a greater role as learning consultants to line managers.
Off-the-job training still predominates, but a growing need is on-the-job and one-to-one learning. Asking learners their preferred method indicates a desire for learning by doing, with guidance from colleagues or the line manager.
Ensuring that the leaders have the skills and commitment to support learning is essential. So ‘what do leaders need to do?’ becomes the question we need to answer.
First, they need to undertake clear departmental learning needs analysis. Second, they need to work with their L&D department to identify what off-the-job learning is required so the L&D department can discuss this with similar departments across the organisation.
On-the-job learning also needs to be developed and improved, as there are three main ways in which it can be achieved. At its simplest level, the lesser-skilled employees work with the more experienced members. L&D professionals may have to facilitate the on-the-job processes and may have to take actions such as supporting the development of internal social networks that span functions and divisions, which give employees a broader understanding of the organisation and help them spot opportunities to learn and to add value. Training selected employees and all supervisors to be coaches is necessary, as is helping leaders to use secondments, delegations and exchange schemes with other departments to build skills and confidence for employee development.
It’s crucial that leaders make use of modern feedback methods and reviews to strengthen skills displayed by team members, and build confidence and clarity for the learner. The key to reviews and feedback is a manager who asks appropriate questions, gives support, rarely if ever ‘tells’ the learner anything, and is never negative. This leadership can be a hard lesson for managers from ‘command and control’ environments to learn. Reviews ideally will sit within the individual’s time span of discretion. Annual reviews are never effective.
Evaluation is the return on investment in learning. The finance and L&D functions, working together, should be able to design a process that leaders can use.
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