We are often asked how managers can support direct reports who are going through a learning and development or coaching journey. As it happens, manager support is the most overlooked leverageable asset for ensuring the success of any development activity. Many organizations have “Develops Others” as a competency—and supporting people who are engaged in learning provides an often disregarded opportunity for managers.
Managers are responsible for creating a safe learning environment
It is an accepted truth that training is more effective when the manager is involved when their employees are going through a learning or development process. No one disagrees in principle. But managers already have so much on their plates, it can be a challenge to add one more thing. And what exactly can a manager do? Most end up being only tangentially involved, if at all.
Here are some ideas. If managers committed to only a few of these, employees would not only take the development opportunity more seriously, they would also pay closer attention to the content they are learning and be more likely to share their learning with others and apply it to their jobs.
It all starts with the Executive Sponsors—business leaders and OD/LD professionals. Ideally, they would:
- Craft and share the criteria for who is invited to training/coaching and involve managers in those decisions.
- Provide the business case for training/coaching along with expected outcomes and impact on business results.
- Articulate specific connections between learning outcomes, career paths, and job role aspirations.
- Attend an executive overview of the content with managers so everyone has a solid understanding of what their people are learning.
- Share examples of how managers can model behaviors expected from those who go through training/coaching. There is nothing so demotivating to employees as the suspicion that their managers have not learned what they are learning. We have lost count of the times we have heard “Is my manager getting this training?”
Managers whose employees commit valuable time to learning/coaching should also dedicate ample attention and time to demonstrating their support. They could:
- Make sure they have had conversations with each of their people about their current tasks and goals, satisfaction in their current role, and career aspirations. If the organization has defined job role/career paths, discuss objectives and manage expectations.
- Inquire with each employee at the beginning of a learning/coaching journey what their preliminary learning objectives might be, both personally and in light of job roles and aspirations for future.
- (For coaching) Provide frank feedback directly to the participant as well as in any interviews or online multi-rater 360s. Managers should be prepared to support any feedback they give and to provide more detail and rationale should the employee want to discuss this. It is not fair for the manager to hide behind anonymous feedback or hope that what is said won’t be taken to heart.
- Share what they learn in an executive overview and ask for feedback on their own behaviors/practices and how they do or don’t align with new content. Leaders must at the very least try to be role models for the behaviors they expect.
- Dedicate time in each one on one meeting to what the individual is learning and how it can be applied to their daily work.
- If all employees are going through training or coaching together, spend some time debriefing in team meetings.
- If only a few employees are going through training or coaching, ask each participant to share one learning tidbit per team meeting.
- Recognize and reward completion of development journeys and allow time in team meetings for each participant to share any takeaways.
Managers are responsible for creating a safe learning environment in which all employees can practice a growth mindset. People want to be seen and heard. They need to experience that their manager has their back, in terms of enabling both best results and professional growth. A little bit of extra attention to what people are learning and how they can apply it will go a long way toward ensuring a strong return on investment of time, money and effort.