Friday, 21 December 2007

The Role of the Line Manager in Facilitating Workplace Learning - Part 2

I have been asked to give a presentation on the above title at an international L&D Conference in the new year.

Consequently, I've started to pull together my initial thoughts on this topic. I plan to use this blog as a mechanism to help pull these ideas together, and (hopefully) to get some feedback from others reading this emergent 'presentation'.

In The Role of the Line Manager in Facilitating Workplace Learning - Part 1 I suggested 6 Key Questions line managers should ask themselves when supporting the development of their staff.

Building on this, I'd suggest the next question is how can L&D professionals be most impactful in supporting line managers addressing these questions ?

  • What are the additional skills your department needs to deliver the business goals ?
For me this links to 'Talent Management' - and the opportunity to add value by ask some searching questions during the diagnosis of Learning Needs. I'd suggest that it is important to consider a 'portfolio' of outcomes aligned to both the short & long-term business strategy; based on:

  1. Performance Improvement (knowledge/skill/behaviour improvements required to address current needs)
  2. Structured Development (to meet predicted future needs - eg the concept of a leadership pipeline 'flow' of people from induction to retirement)
  3. Adaptive Development (to enhance the adaptive capabilities of the organisation to help 'buffer' against the unpredictable aspects of the future - eg learning through skunk works, MBAs etc, and training in innovation processes/tools)

  • What actions will help to ensure colleagues understand their individual development needs ?

I'd suggest that this links to 'Performance Management'. This starts with Line Managers being knowledgeable in the business strategy & the talent gaps ...and being able to translate this from an overall business line view to actions required from groups of individuals.

Hence - I'd recommend that L&D (with HR colleagues) consider the depth and breadth of competency line managers demonstrate in operating the organisation's performance management process (eg setting/managing of SMART individual performance goals) ...and if necessary L&D should work with senior leaders to introduce required training/support on this topic for line managers

  • What can you do to help colleagues appropriately blend training with outher development activities ?

This links to the very essence of the theme of this blog ... and whether the profession is viewed as 'training providers' or 'learning consultants'. Two key actions are:

  1. Education of key stakeholders on the extra 'value-add' that the function can provide in such an extended role (arguably this starts with HR colleagues !). I'd suggest it is an easy sell that 'workplace learning' is much wider than taking training course (eg based on the distribution of time between on-the-job and off-the-job activities) ...what is a harder sell is that it should be the L&D profession taking the lead in this space.
  2. Education has to be supported by the L&D profession investing in our own development to extend our understanding of these associated areas - eg executive coaching, secondment best-practices, initiating action-learning sets (as well as leverage of Web 2.0 collaboration tools :) )

  • What will you do to ensure colleagues appreciate the importance of building the required skills ?

This links to the above comments on Performance Management. Beyond the translation of strategy into individual goals, it is necessary for colleagues need to understand (from their line manager) how by investing time/energy in addressing these needs it will be to their advantage (ie - 'What's in it for me ?').

In my experience, managers can sometimes seek to avoid the required 'courageous conversations' when things are not hitting the mark. Hence it may be necessary that 'Performance Management' training of Line Managers also focused on skills practice to ensure the 'reward & recognition' processes of the organisation are applied fairly to encourage the right investment of time/energy (and implement the negative consequences to be expected from inappropriate performance).

There is also the opportunity for enhancing the coaching skills of managers to support this (and the previous) objective ...this is something I will expand on specifically in Part 3 (a future post)

  • What opportunities can you provide to ensure colleagues put the newly acquired skills into practice ?

Most training works for some, but not all delegates. Hence, rather than simply assess the 'average' impact - there can be significant merit in L&D seeking to understand the factors that make the difference between the same training class being considered 'highly effective' by some, and of 'limited impact' by others. Brinkerhoff has written some interesting articles on this methodology. For more info on this see: Reflections on ASTD 2007, part #2.

Where the evidence supports it, this data from L&D can be used to emphasise the need for line managers to focus on this area (eg by always having follow-up conversations when their direct reports return from training)

Interestingly in a recent study I conducted of a curriculum of open-enrolment 'bite-sized' instructor-led learning - it was actually those who found the training effective that cited 'Lack of follow up discussion and coaching from my manager' as the main barrier (those who found it had limited impact ...albeit they had good retention of the key concepts taught...cited 'Lack of alignment between the course description and the actual experience' as the main barrier ?!)

  • What learning can be identified from the actions taken & how will these be implemented in your department ?
Does the organisatioon have a culture of continuous improvement ? ...knowledge of 6-sigma etc.. If not, I'd suggest there is an opportunity for L&D (or Organisational Development - OD - Professionals) to influence building a culture of continuous improvement (eg with regular after-action reviews) ..and in doing so ensuring this impacts how the line uses learning strategically.

feedback welcome !

In Part 3 I plan to focus on 'Developing the coaching ability of managers' and then ending with Part 4 - focused on 'Implications of a learner-centric focus for managers'