Effective employee development starts with managers

While the costs of the Great Resignation keep growing, companies need more ways to attract and retain employees. A clear approach is to provide more training and development — depending on a 2019 LinkedIn study94% of employees said they would stay with their employer if it invested in their development.

However, the rise of remote work complicates matters. In Training magazine 2021 Training Industry Reportrespondents said their biggest challenge was “getting people involved in distance learning.”

Some companies are trying to solve this problem with better technology. New delivery formats, such as courses by cohort and technologies like virtual reality can dramatically improve the effectiveness of distance learning.

But another solution to engaging employees may be closer to home: involving managers. A recent Gallup survey found that “at least 70% of the variance in team engagement is explained by the quality of the manager or team leader”. It would seem that this solution is often overlooked – most managers have a low opinion of the effectiveness of their learning and development (L&D) function.

Companies should correct this. Here are five simple yet effective steps to create a more active role for managers in employee training and development:

Let managers tell you what they need.

Managers have a clear idea of ​​the skills their team members need to acquire, and research shows that they are more likely to initiate training than an HR or training professional.

Companies must put in place a process to discover and quantify training needs directly with managers. This could take the form of a regular survey, supplemented by in-depth discussions with a select group of managers who can provide feedback and advice on training initiatives as they are developed.

Ørsted, the global green energy company headquartered in Denmark, has taken 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,” says Terese Korsgaard Christensen, senior HR consultant at Ørsted.

To design an effective program, Christensen and his colleagues needed to know what made staff feel stuck in their careers. The team conducted 15 in-depth interviews with managers at different levels of the company, followed by four focus groups. The resulting program focused on addressing specific issues that managers felt were holding back employee development, such as how to give more constructive feedback and how to have more effective one-on-one meetings with managers. employees. It also included a mandatory component for managers called “Power Your Team”.

“It was a lot more work than spending all that 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 marked improvement in the quality of interaction between managers and employees and a greater focus on continuous development,” says Christensen.

Create goals and structure for learning.

It can be difficult for managers to encourage busy, overworked team members to learn something new. One solution is to have dedicated space and time for learning, allowing managers to hedge when encouraging their team members to participate.

In his book The curious advantage, Simon Brown, Novartis Chief Learning Officer, describes his company’s aspiration to provide learning every year. Coupled with vocal support from CEO Vas Narasimhan, the company has seen employees spend more than double the time on learning per year in the past three years compared to the prior period. Having the CEO’s support along with a quantified aspiration makes it much easier for managers to encourage their team members to participate.

Moreover, employees also prefer clear goals and structure. At Emeritus (where I work), our research found that workers generally prefer guided learning experiences, where training content and assignments are released on a schedule with clear milestones, versus self-paced 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 progress through the course on a set schedule and alongside a group of peers. A sense of structure and community helps employees complete the course, remember what they learn, and apply it in their roles, writing Wes Kao, founder of the Maven cohort learning platform.

Give managers a specific role.

Too few training and skill-building programs create explicit roles for managers. It 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, instead of having an L&D person announce a training initiative, consider having the announcement come from managers directly to their team members, after which HR and L&D professionals can reinforce and call back.

French retail giant Carrefour’s in-house ‘Carrefour University’ gives managers a key role to play. “All participants who have been selected for a training session are informed by their managers, who are aware of the development objectives of that particular session, thus facilitating the integration of the new skills acquired into the work”, explains Adilson Borges, director company general. learning agent. Line managers also encourage participants to share their learnings with others after completing their training.

Help managers turn training into action.

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

Aegon, a financial services company based in the Netherlands, uses this approach as part of a company-wide “Analytics for Leaders” program. Led by Chief Data and Analytics Officer Hiek Van der Scheer, part of the program is to develop actionable ideas on how analytics can be used in various parts of the business. Participants’ managers play a role in the program themselves and are responsible for approving and “owning” these ideas. “This ownership was important to me because ‘great ideas’ without an owner will not be successful,” says Van der Scheer. A month after the program, organizers follow up with managers to assess the status of each idea and resolve any issues along the way. This process is repeated regularly and the general management of the company receives a regular report on the concrete actions resulting from the training.

Collect feedback from managers.

Most training initiatives only collect feedback from the participants themselves. Additionally, companies should collect feedback from attendee managers. The time of this collection will have to be different. Instead of asking for feedback immediately after the training session, schedule it right before the training, when managers can give feedback on what they expect, and then 30-60 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 do it? What obstacles might prevent them from applying it more effectively?

AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish global pharmaceutical and biotechnology company has incorporated 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 the people they manage as well as 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 accomplishments” and “create an environment that encourages others to maximize their potential” .

“This is a highly experiential program incorporating a ‘do and apply’ approach, so we want to assess the impact in real work,” says Brian Murphy, Global Head of Learning and Enterprise Capabilities at AstraZeneca. . “Managers’ feedback helps the learner and the L&D team understand the real impact and progress.”

As employers grapple with a profound shift in the labor market, the burden of employee retention and development should not rest solely on HR and training teams. Managers are in a unique position to drive employee retention and engagement – ​​companies 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 is involved in this partnership.