Lack of line manager involvement is killing your L&D investment

Line managers at work
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Mark Arneill
Director
Lentum
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Organisations are spending vast sums of money on the development of their workforces, yet results from the new Global Learning Transfer Research 2017 – Insights for Impact study highlights that 46% of respondents said their ‘line managers were not significantly involved in the learning process’, and a shocking follow up is that only 22% of line managers have any kind of conversation with their learners before, during or after training.

We already know from numerous studies such, as those carried out by Brinkerhoff and Baldwin and Ford, that the line manager is single biggest key to influencing successful learning transfer. So why is this not happening and why should we continue to accept it?

What's the problem?

Are line managers just too busy to care about their team members requirement to learn? Or could it be that with everything else on their to-do list that they are struggling for time: and adding the need to monitor their staff’s learning activity - is just too much to ask? Could it be that although they carry the most influence over learning transfer process, because it doesn’t get measured, it doesn’t get done!?

We are all looking for ways to improve the performance of our employees and businesses overall. Until we can just download everything from the internet straight to our brains, the well-regarded learning and development activity is probably best way to achieve this performance improvement.

Being able to demonstrate new behaviours and skills after any kind of learning intervention still remains pretty elusive and it’s widely regarded that only around 10%-20% (Broad & Newstrom, 92) of what is taught gets applied.

Surely in the 21st century we can’t continue to accept this? I’m shocked by how mainstream L&D still seem so disinterested about this, give that its said to be a ‘hot topic’!

The need for progress

It’s too vague to continue to just assume that learning and development has a positive impact on the business performance of individuals. After all, how often have you finished a course with the best of intentions to make a difference or change, only to get caught up in our day-to-day activities and feel that fall by the wayside?

First, we need to accept that learning does not always lead to performance improvement. Whilst that may be controversial, the vast majority of L&D professionals just accept this. Not because they want to, but because of other pressures and demands placed upon them by the business to move on to the next project or intervention. Designing in enough time to correctly measure the business impact of learning just seems too difficult and time consuming, as well as expensive.

We should be moving from a cost focus to a business benefits one. Allowing L&D, managers and most importantly the learners to all be held accountable for turning learning into improved performance.

As a profession, we seem to somehow get caught up on the ROI of learning interventions which we all know is extremely time consuming, difficult and costly. It can be done, Phillips and Phillips have proven this, but is it necessary?

On certain courses it is very useful, but the vast majority don’t need to be measured this far. So, let’s give ourselves time to improve learning transfer overall - which is where the real business benefit lies.

What can we do for our line managers

With 51% of UK respondents saying that their primary goal to undertake L&D activity is to ’drive improved business results’ rather than ’supporting employees to do their jobs well ‘we need to think how this translates into what we are doing on a daily basis and how we can affect this further.

To improve this situation: communicate better with our line managers, and highlight to them just how important they are in the learning journey undertaken by their team. This may seem like a simple idea, and although I’m sure there are line managers out there that understand this, a reminder at least can make an improvement.

It’s widely regarded that only around 10%-20% (Broad & Newstrom, 92) of what is taught gets applied.

Secondly, we need to give them the right tools to be able to measure and monitor the outcomes of learning which in turn will further engage them in the process;

Finally, with the additional support of the line managers we need to think about how we can turn them into “line-coaches”, to enable them to nurture & develop talent in their teams.

No one has all the answers, but measuring is a start. What gets measured gets done, which is what the C-Suite of any business will be looking for more and more. Data is key to making informed business decisions and without any you are left with unanswered questions.

Looking forwards

We all need to take a more strategic and commercially orientated position. How we can improve performance of our workforce is ultimately what we should be judged upon.

Data is key to making informed business decisions and without any you are left with unanswered questions.

If L&D, managers and learners each become more accountable to the business overall, then learning transfer will happen.

The line manager will not only play their part in the learning journey, they will increase the value of all interventions and help build the learning culture we all so desire within our organisations.

The full report into learning transfer can be downloaded here.

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