Line Managers as Champions of Learning – Russell Evans

In the current unpredictable and disrupted business climate, line managers play a critical role in developing their team members to be able to deal successfully with their challenges. Line managers are the frontline connection between business strategy and operational execution and having well developed people is critical to effective implementation. Sadly, in our experience, for a range of reasons, they are not always set up for success or engaged enough to see learning as an organisational imperative.

Studies from a number of notable institutions and organisations have identified a couple of dominant reasons for this:

  • Too busy – challenging business climate, pressure from senior leaders to focus exclusively on activities that directly drive profitable growth.  These can mean that long-term growth through the development of people and their individual talents takes a back seat.
  • Not my job – over time many organisations have developed cultures, and it’s often in the ‘unwritten rules’, that learning is seen as HR or L&D’s job. People go away from the workplace, they get trained, a miracle occurs; and they come back to the workplace transformed.

Leaving this situation unchallenged within any organisation should not be an option. The consequence of leaving the issue unaddressed potentially affects the long-term organisational health, retention of talent and overall performance.

Primeast is a certified Kirkpatrick Partners consultancy and helps organisations develop a learning culture and derive better value from their investments in learning. Here are 10 practical tips to help start making progress:

Develop THEM as Champions of Learning

HR and senior leadership should commit some time and money to educating line managers as to why their role as Champions of Learning is vital to organisational growth. Also, you need to ensure line mangers themselves are well trained and have good personal experience of the benefits of learning.

Engage them to make learning ‘the norm’

The role of learning needs to become part of culture, not just another process. Once line managers ‘feel’ the value of learning, they are much more likely to become Champions of Learning. Old school Scientific Management (Taylorism), where employees just learn to do one task and managers just mange the repeated execution of that task is no longer good enough.

Define the need and the measurement

HR and senior leadership need to help line managers by providing clear guidance on what the organisation expects in terms of people development. Vague objectives and statements aren’t sufficient. Line managers need to understand what behaviours, mindset and practice will make a positive impact on Leading Business Indicators (micro-measures that show things are on track to hit bigger objectives). All this needs to feature in role definitions and personal objectives too.

Help line managers to understand team member development needs

Part of the journey of turning line managers into Champions is developing their ability to recognise development needs in their team members and colleagues. They need to be able to recognise patterns and trends in what they see going on around them. Then by using their coaching skills and Deconstructive Dialogue (Kegan and Lahey) they can work them to find the best way forward. Of course, training may not actually be the right solution.

Help them create space in their work plan

Many line managers will say they are too busy with workload to be responsible for developing their people. HR and senior leaders need to consider how they re-engineer the way they work to create this capacity. Many of the world’s most cutting-edge businesses, such as Google and Apple have built time into workflows to allow for innovation and people development.

Options, options, options

Once line managers have capacity and personal skills, they will begin to know their people much better and what each person’s learning preferences are. It’s the role of HR to provide a range of options for development. This means creating a blended suite of learning solutions. Technology may provide rich and cost-effective ways of learning content, it’s not the panacea. Human evolution is slower than technological evolution, so if organisations want effective learning, they have to accommodate a variety of needs; then let their Champions be stewards of the best choices.

Make communication omnidirectional

Take steps to include the value of learning as a ‘golden thread’ in internal communications whether that’s strategic, operational or peer to peer.

Create a common language around learning

HR and learning have long been a haven of jargon. The best organisations use clear, understandable language surrounding learning that is meaningful for the whole organisation top to bottom. The better people understand the more likely they are to act in a way that contributes to progress.

In the 70:20:10 learning process, the true value comes in the 70

As part of their development line managers need to understand what workplace-based options are available to them to recommend to their people. These may be used as experiences for people to practise and implement things they’ve been taught in formal learning; they may just be a ‘potentially meaningful’ experience, such as organising or facilitating a meeting or being part of high-profile project team.

Invite and encourage feedback

Alongside all of the above, meaningful feedback loops built in to the system will contribute to the development of the organisational learning mindset and processes. Feedback needs to be seen as an opportunity and if appropriate for making positive moves toward business objectives, acted upon as soon as is practical.