Effective employee development begins with managers (2023)


Employee surveys show that when companies invest in their development, employees will stay. Managers are in a unique position to encourage employee retention and engagement, and companies should ensure they play a more active role in employee training and development. These five steps can help: 1) Let managers tell you what they need; 2) Make dedicated time and space for learning; 3) Give managers a specific role in training; 4) help managers put training into action; and 5) Gather feedback on the training from both managers and employees.

As a cost of the Great Resignationkeep growing, companies need more ways to attract and retain employees. A clear approach is to offer more training and education – louda LinkedIn study from 201994% of employees said they would stay with their employer if they invested in their development.

However, the rise of remote work complicates things. Indes Trainingsmagazins Training Industry Report 2021Respondents said their biggest challenge was "getting people into distance learning".

Some companies are trying to solve this with better technology. New delivery formats, e.gcohort-based coursesand technologies likevirtual realitycan significantly increase the effectiveness of distance learning.

But another solution to employee engagement may be more obvious: manager engagement. A recent Gallup pollfoundthat "at least 70% of the variances in team engagement are explained by the quality of the manager or team leader". It seems that this solution is often overlooked - most managersto expressa bleak notion of the effectiveness of their learning and development (L&D) function.

Businesses should correct this. Here are five simple yet effective steps to create a more active role for managers in training and developing employees:

Let managers tell you what they need.

Managers have a keen sense of the skills their team members need to build andresearchshows that they are more likely to initiate training than an HR or training professional.

Organizations should establish a process to identify and quantify training needs directly from managers. This could take the form of a regular survey complemented by in-depth discussions with a select group of managers who can provide feedback and guidance on training initiatives as they are conceived.

Ørsted, the global green energy company headquartered in Denmark, has adopted this approach. In 2020, the company launched a training program for all employees called Power Your Career. “Our goal was to improve employee retention and career mobility,” explains TereseKorsgaard Christensen, senior human resources consultant at Ørsted.

To design an effective program, Christensen and her colleagues had to figure out what was causing employees to feel stuck in their careers. The team conducted 15 in-depth interviews with managers at multiple levels in the company, followed by four focus groups. The resulting program focused on addressing specific issues that managers said inhibited employee development, such as how to provide more constructive feedback and have more effective one-on-one meetings with employees. It also included a mandatory component for managers called "Power Your Team".

“It was a lot more work to spend all the time with so many managers initially, but our post-program impact studies confirmed that involving managers at multiple points was critical to success. We have seen a significant improvement in the quality of manager-employee interactions and a greater focus on continuous development,” says Christensen.

Create goals and structures for learning.

It can be difficult for managers to encourage busy and overworked team members to learn something new. One solution is to set a space and time for learning, giving managers cover when encouraging their team members to participate.

In his bookThe strange advantageNovartis Chief Learning Officer Simon Brown describes his company's goal of dedicating 100 hours a year to learning. Coupled with vocal support from CEO Vas Narasimhan, the company has seen employees spend more than double the time on learning over the past three years compared to the previous period. CEO endorsement and a quantified entitlement make it much easier for managers to encourage their team members to participate.

In addition, the employees also prefer clear goals and structures. At Emeritus (where I work) our researchfoundthat workers generally prefer guided learning experiences, where training content and assignments are released on a schedule with clear milestones, versus self-directed learning, where all content is available at once. A key feature of these guided learning experiences, often referred to as cohort-based courses, is that employees complete the course on a set schedule and alongside a group of peers. The sense of structure and community helps employees complete the course, remembering what they have learned and applying it to their roles.writesWes Kao, founder of the cohort-based learning platform Maven.

Assign a specific role to managers.

Too few training and qualification programs create explicit roles for managers. This is a mistake. Managers have much more visibility and control over employee priorities than a central HR or L&D team.

Training programs should harness this power to achieve greater participation. For example, rather than having an L&D person announce a training initiative, consider having managers send the announcement directly to their team members, after which HR and L&D professionals can reinforce and remind them.

French retail giant Carrefour's internal "Carrefour University" gives managers a key role. “All participants selected for a training course are briefed by their supervisors, who are aware of the development goals of that particular training course, making it easier to integrate the newly acquired skills into the job,” says Adilson Borges, the company's chief learning officer . Line managers also encourage participants to share their learnings with others after completing their training.

Help managers turn training into action.

Another role for managers is to help team members apply what they have learned.

Aegon, a financial services company headquartered in the Netherlands, uses this approach as part of a company-wide "Analytics for Leaders" program. Led by Hiek Van der Scheer, Chief Data and Analytics Officer, part of the program is to develop concrete ideas on how analytics can be used in different areas of the company. Participant managers themselves play a role in the program and are responsible for approving and “owning” these ideas. "This ownership was important to me because 'great ideas' don't get anywhere without an owner," says Van der Scheer. A month after the program, the organizers contact the managers to assess the status of each idea and resolve any issues. This process is repeated regularly and management receives a regular report on the concrete actions resulting from the training.

Gather feedback from managers.

Most training initiatives only collect feedback from the participants themselves. In addition, companies should collect feedback from the leaders of the participants. The timing of this gathering must be different. Rather than asking for feedback right after the training session, schedule it just before the training session when managers can share their expectations, and then 30 to 60 days after.

The questions will also be different. Instead of asking about the quality of the training, ask about the impact. How should team members apply what they have learned? How did they? What blockers could stand in the way of more effective use?

AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish global pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, has integrated this approach into its talent development and retention strategy. For example, in the company's Leader as Coach program, a six-month hands-on development experience, participants are evaluated by both their supervisors and their own managers. These assessments take place before, during and after the program and cover 20 different criteria, including the extent to which participants "recognize and celebrate team achievements" and "create an environment that encourages others to maximize their potential."

"This is a very experiential program that involves a 'practice and apply' approach, so we want to assess the real-world impact," said Brian Murphy, Global Head of Learning & Enterprise Capabilities at AstraZeneca. "Feedback from managers helps the learner and the L&D team understand real impact and progress."

As employers grapple with a profound shift in the labor market, the burden of retaining and developing employees need not rest solely with HR and training teams. Managers are in a unique position to drive employee retention and engagement - organizations should give them the structure and tools to do so.

Editor's note: Harvard Business Publishing has a content creation and distribution partnership with Emeritus. Neither the author nor the editor who worked on this article are involved in this partnership.

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