A new training project is about to launch in your department. As a manager, you've scheduled the training for your people. Now, everyone just needs to show up, right? Easy enough.
Actually, let's back up a bit first. Research consistently confirms that what a manager does before and after training programs has the greatest effect on learning and its move from the classroom to on-the-job performance. Yet, most L&D professionals would probably say they struggle to gain the support they need to optimize the return on their efforts and the organization's investment. Said another way: many training projects are bound to fade into obscurity unless some crucial steps are taken before and after training.
Why is training so unloved?
The reasons abound. Today, managers are wicked busy with no spare time for anything that isn't considered mission critical. Increasing spans of control and remote workforces contribute to less coaching in general. And, evolving technologies make learning ubiquitous. That's the good news. But the implication of this is that the manager engagement outposts in the old training process have become diffused and distributed.
Optimizing the impact of learning today requires that we understand the changing landscape, establish realistic expectations of managers and make it easy for our managers to engage and meet those expectations.
The path forward
Here's a fun fact: management engagement begins long before a training project actually launches. Best-in-class L&D organizations suggest several strategies for enhancing engagement, and in the process, earning the right to ask for something of management in return. Check out these strategies:
- Create terrific learning products that the organization can't help but love. Managers support training materials that are easy to use and drive business results. Deliver that and you'll earn the right to ask them to step up to help optimize its impact.
- Invite managers to participate in the development process. Let them help you prioritize, source and even generate content if appropriate. Facilitate a process that enhances their ownership - and support will be a natural byproduct.
- Involve managers in pilots. But more importantly, take their feedback seriously. Share how their input molded the final product. If managers feel invested and listened to, they'll naturally want to engage with their employees' learning and you'll earn the right to ask for what those employees need.
- Help managers get excited. Paint a compelling picture of what's possible. Connect the dots to potential employee performance improvement and the anticipated business results. How can they possibly withhold the support required to make that happen?
Here's how to make training go from "meh" to "yeah!"
These practices go a long way toward creating a learning culture and an environment in which managers truly appreciate playing a role where they help drive results through development. With the door at least cracked open, L&D can then walk through it with targeted requests that are "right-sized" for the organization and the effort. Ask for too much and busy managers will opt out; ask for too little and you'll see sub-optimal results. The following four "asks" are doable - even by time-starved leaders - with just a little help from you.
- Ask managers to set an example: One of the most powerful ways a manager can support learning is by modeling the expected behavior and using the content themselves. Being vulnerable and openly sharing personal learnings, challenges and missteps makes it safe to learners and promotes real change. Give managers a cheat sheet with key information, skills and steps so they can efficiently review and demonstrate the content.
- Ask managers to facilitate insights: Insights are those "aha" moments when everything clicks and becomes clear. Insights drive behavior change and managers can spark insights by asking simple questions. Arm managers with a few follow-up questions such as: "What sticks with you most about the topic?" or "How does that fit with your role?"
- Ask managers to generate action: Managers are uniquely suited to prompt focused application of what's been learned. Simply asking, "Now what?" or "Where and when can you use what you are learning?" creates momentum and helps people commit to a next step or a plan that will make the learning real. You may even suggest that managers add these actions to employee performance or development objectives to simply yet structurally ensure accountability and ongoing conversation.
- Ask managers to offer recognition and feedback: Managers need to let people know that they'll be held accountable for what's learned. This means catching people using new information or skills effectively - and recognizing that. It also means noticing when things are not working well or when there's a missed opportunity to apply new learning and pointing that out as well. Offering a cues matrix with work-related examples of skill use/misuse and suggested responses can help managers more easily incorporate this practice into their busy days.
Organizations invest heavily in learning and development efforts. Just like with any other investment, an appropriate return must be realized. Actively engaging managers in the process, making minimal and reasonable requests and providing the tools and support they need to take action are powerful L&D priorities that will translate learning to performance and results.