By Francis Marshall, Cegos UK
Francis Marshall, MD of Cegos UK, looks at how to get line managers more involved in people development
- Line managers are the crucial link between L&D and business strategy
- Businesses need to understand the value of training and how best to train their workforce
- Line managers need a clear definition of what is expected of them
Few can argue that line managers have a crucial role to play in people development, particularly at a time when training budgets continue to be stretched to their limits.
But, despite the fact that line managers are the link between learning and development and organisational business strategy, all too often they are not engaged in the training process and don’t see staff development as a core part of their role.
Making time for training is a key issue. Indeed, a recent study we undertook among managers across Europe revealed that today’s managers appear to be spending too much time reporting and not enough time managing their people.
So how can we address some of these barriers and get line managers to take on a greater role in the development of their direct reports?
First and foremost, support for training needs to come from the top, with senior management bought in and committed to the process. As L&D professionals, clearly we have an important role to undertake in educating the business about the value and benefits of training and to ensure that we have the appropriate measures to demonstrate this in place.
We also need to make sure that line managers know what options are available to them and their people. Clients often tell me that their people tend to replicate their own learning experiences which are very often rooted in traditional approaches. However, we now have four different generations working side by side each with their own very distinct preferences of how they take in information and gain knowledge and experience. There is also the age old issue to counter that one in four managers typically have not had any relevant training. Therefore, it is imperative that line managers experience a range of training tools and techniques first hand if they are going to be effective people managers.
The more positive and productive a training experience we can give line managers, the more likely it is that they will become a motivated advocate and champion of training. I believe that coaching has a key role to play here in helping to focus line managers on skills development which is essential in today’s harsh economic climate.
While in many scenarios, coaching often delivers the greatest impact when it comes from within the business, a lack of time and the way the organisation is structured can often hinder the best intentions. Take one of our clients with a structure where second level managers typically have more than 20 direct reports. Understandably, this leaves them with very little opportunity to coach or role model behaviours on a day to day or informal basis. Changing organisational structure wasn’t an option! So the solution here was to ensure that line managers were supported by their peers as well as external coaching sessions, with some structured coaching sessions with their own very busy managers also built in a longer term, modular learning path.
Another key tactic for getting line managers to prioritise the training of their people is to embed it in their job role and possibly even in their performance goals. If line managers are going to be effective in coaching and up-skilling their teams, then they need to have a clear description of exactly what is expected of them.
The problem is that job profiles aren’t always clear enough. For example, a job profile might include ‘manage your team effectively to deliver its objectives’ yet it probably won’t define what this means in terms of the actions and behaviours required to achieve the goal, and specifically how this relates to training. This uncertainty often leads to managers saying and feeling ‘It’s HR’s job, not mine’ when planning training and development for their direct reports. L&D and HR must therefore be closely aligned to tackle this issue.
Also there needs to be better dialogue between L&D and line managers in order to ensure a greater understanding of the business drivers and specific challenges line managers face. Stepping into the shoes of the line manager will help ensure that L&D initiatives are better aligned to their individual goals as well as those of the business. Understanding the tensions and pressures they face, and talking the same language – improvements to productivity, long-term growth and return on investment – will put L&D on a better footing.
As businesses return to limited economic growth in an era of considerable austerity, line managers unquestionably have a key role to play in the coaching and up-skilling of their staff. If we don’t utilise them to their full potential then we risk losing our competitive edge in the marketplace.