The role of the manager in supporting employee learning

With the shift in work practices requiring a demand for continuous and lifelong learning, traditional models where employee learning is seen to be the domain of HR or the learning team need to be replaced by a shared responsibility between the learner, their manager and the organisation.

As the Deloitte 2019 Human Capital trends report outlines, ‘leading organisations are taking steps to deliver learning to their people in a more personal way integrating work and learning more tightly with each other, extending ownership for learning beyond the HR organisation, and looking for ways to bring solutions we use in our daily lives into the learning environment’.

The role of the line manager can be key in supporting learning that is both personal and more integrated, but for some, this may not come naturally. Here are some practical tips that line managers can use:

1.     Be a role model

If organisations want learners to take responsibility for their own learning, then this needs to be role-modelled by managers and leaders. Simple things such as reporting back and sharing on learning when you’ve attended a conference or read a book. Demonstrating a learning mindset by being open to feedback, sharing your personal learning goals and sharing what you’re doing to develop, both professionally and personally.

2.     Put learning on the agenda

Add learning to the agenda, whether on team meeting minutes or a one to one discussion. We know that learning is collaborative and allowing those that have had a learning experience the opportunity to share this with others will help them to process and reinforce the relevant learning, as well as then allowing others the opportunity to learn also. This can also be a great way to improve cross departmental working – multiple parties discover they have a common interest in a topic, often relating to different work projects. Sharing knowledge can highlight crossovers in areas and can lead to better results.

3.     Set stretch objectives

Managers can set work objectives that encompass learning goals, through the ‘learning by doing’ principle. Proportionally, most workplace learning takes place ‘on-the-job’ from new responsibilities, challenging assignments, or observing others and a much smaller amount from ‘formal’ learning such as training courses. So, for manager’s – being mindful when setting your team’s objectives, and giving them opportunities that stretch beyond comfort zones, can be the best way to support their learning.

4.     Use a coaching style

A coaching style for managers when supporting employees to learn is essential and can help individuals make sense of what they experience. As a manager, being aware of how to coach, and knowing when to use a coaching style as opposed to a more directive style, are all key aspects of a manager’s role which should be continually developed and practiced. If you’ve not had ‘manager as coach’ training – this is definitely something to ask your learning team to arrange!

5.     Work at a team level not just an individual one

The beauty of a line manager’s involvement in learning is that they are in a unique position to identify and support learning needs for the team as well as for individuals. The line manager can act as a facilitator, allowing teams to consider complex issues that can only be resolved together. Peter Senge’s book ‘The Fifth Discipline’ stresses the importance of ‘team learning’ with the goal of developing ‘the skills of groups of people to look for the larger picture beyond individual perspectives’. Many line managers and team leaders are completely comfortable working with the whole team. If you’re not, get some support from your learning team, they can talk you through how to design and facilitate a discussion, and even buddy with you a couple of times, until you build up your skills in this area.

6.     Get good at delivering focused feedback

Constructive feedback can offer great learning for team members. The timeliness of feedback is crucial, with the principle that it should be delivered as close as possible to the event that it relates to. So, as a manager, it’s important to know how to give good, effective feedback – in the moment. If you find yourself putting off giving feedback, and worrying over how to give it, take a look at ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott to reinvigorate your feedback muscle!

7.     Familiarise yourself with the tools your organisation has

Your organisation may have tools you can use to support your team members learning that you are not aware of – find out what’s available and let your learning team know if there’s something specific that would help. There are learning resources you can use with your team in team meetings and one to one discussions, like LearningPlanet’s online video library – a suite of 1-minute and 10 minute videos and workbooks. Ready-made, easily accessible resources can save you reinventing the wheel, and allow you to deliver effective focused learning.

What are your tips for helping your team members learn?

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