Do your managers play a big enough role in your L&D strategy?

Many managers don’t have the training to support the skills development journey of their team, limiting the learning experience for employees and benefits of L&D for the wider organisation’s capabilities…
HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Do your managers play a big enough role in your L&D strategy?
Greater manager is critical to helping employees achieve skills development goals

More often than not, managers are set up to fail.

Companies choose the wrong candidate for management 82% of the time, according to Gallup. And given managers account for around 70% of engagement across the organisation, with disengagement costing the UK nearly £340 billion a year, it becomes a costly problem.

Aside from the obvious issues of micromanagement, team bias, and creating toxic work cultures, poor management also has a significant knock-on effect on the quality of L&D.

Rather than serving as core partners in the learning experience for employees, and helping the company achieve the capabilities it needs to achieve competitive advantage, many managers can become blockers to continuous improvement.

Whether managers are too busy, lack the skills themselves to help, or simply do not care enough to push their team to improve, this can kill employee engagement and L&D investment in equal measure.

Companies have to take the time to support line managers by creating a culture of learning and giving them the skills to help employees who are seeking personal growth and development.

The L&D-manager link

Managers bring HR to life in the organisation. This is true for organisational development processes, benefits and recognition policies, or performance management practices.

And it’s certainly true for L&D, where managers are both responsible for on-the-job training – which makes up a significant proportion of L&D under models such as the 70:20:10 framework – and for connecting employees with other learning opportunities.

CIPD’s Professionalising Learning and Development report found that close to 80% of L&D professionals believe that line managers are blocking better solutions to improve organisational performance.

We can have the best strategy in the world but if employees don’t have sufficient time to engage with our efforts, it’s all for nothing

Thomas McKiernan | VP of Learning & Development, BNY Mellon

By selecting the right managers, and training managers to coach and facilitate learning for employees, L&D leaders can push far greater adoption of the learning processes they roll out.

“The role of the line manager is pivotal to the success of L&D strategy,” says Thomas McKiernan, VP of Learning & Development, BNY Mellon. “We in the learning function require line managers to ensure time is made available for learning. We can have the best strategy in the world but if employees don’t have sufficient time to engage with our efforts, it’s all for nothing.”

In addition to providing time for learning, line managers must ensure that their directs experience the personal benefits of learning - the desirable outcomes of opportunity and reward - as much as possible.

Partnerships between L&D and line managers are fundamental to effective learning design

How to ensure managers are an extension of L&D

To ensure line managers fill this role and positively influence the success of learning within the company, L&D leaders first have to build support and clearly demonstrate these benefits.

“In the learning function, we have to undertake the successful selling and marketing of our solutions such that line managers buy into our efforts, understanding their benefit,” shares McKiernan.

If we can show with data the success of our efforts, and how they solve for challenges line managers care about, this is all the more likely to be a success

Thomas McKiernan | VP of Learning & Development, BNY Mellon

This calls for a data-led approach to create a clear business case and rationale that helps managers understand L&D is business-critical and part of their role, rather than a nice-to-have or waste of time. If managers cannot see the value of L&D, what chance do their teams have?

“If we can show with data the success of our efforts, and how they solve for challenges line managers care about, this is all the more likely to be a success,” says McKiernan.

Having ensured managers understand the value of learning to employees, their teams, and the organization, L&D leaders must then help them understand the role they can play.

Turning managers into coaches is a crucial first step to increasing their role in L&D practices. On-the-job work, one-to-one performance reviews, and creating mentorship opportunities can all turn the manager-employee relationship into a coaching partnership.

But alongside shaping L&D outcomes, McKiernan argues a strong partnership is crucial to helping orchestrate and plan learning programs. “Partnerships between L&D and line managers are fundamental to effective learning design and needs analysis,” he says. “Whilst we might have lots of data on our learners nowadays, nobody really knows their people better than a line manager.”

Learning leaders should train managers to spot skills gaps in their teams where performance is poor. Managers also need to develop the understanding, communication, and empathy capabilities to understand what soft, hard, role-specific, or career-building skills their employees wish to develop. Most managers receive no formal training. HR Grapevine heard at a recent L&D roundtable that whilst no evidence supports the need to train managers before they step into the role, offering them dedicated training once in the role helps them to ground their own learning with real-life scenarios. In this case, training on spotting skills gaps can help managers think about their team and where L&D programs could help each individual boost their engagement, productivity, and mobility.

Lastly, learning leaders should clearly articulate broader, company-wide development initiatives such as digital or AI upskilling, for which managers will play a crucial role in driving progress. This creates a partnership between managers and L&D that brings together individual, team, and company needs to develop the right focus areas for an employee’s learning experience.

How manager-supported L&D can drive business performance

Improving the quality, adoption, and success of L&D can drive benefits from productivity and adaptability to engagement and financial growth. The Virti 2023 State of Learning and Development report finds 67% of L&D leaders say the function positively impacts revenue. Moreover, GenZ is increasingly prioritizing skills development as a priority for their career, creating knock-on effects on recruitment and retention.

This underscores the need for a healthy partnership between learning teams and managers and shows how this relationship can influence business-level outcomes.

“Line managers have key responsibilities of employee advocacy and enablement, particularly post-learning,” says McKiernan. “They must provide space for their team to influence processes and ways of working to improve customer experience and the faster realisation of customer value.”

L&D have to treat managers as a vital part of the learning design and implementation process to see the most success from their skills development programs. Employees, fellow business leaders, and managers themselves will all thank them if they do.


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