Why manager-employee development conversations are broken…

For managers when it comes to conversations with their team members about their learning and training needs… minds often go blank.

What training do you need? The manager asks.

What can I have? The employee says.

And there, everything that could be useful is lost in the moment. The employee may be put on the spot, unprepared or unable to ask for what they really want and need. Training outside of their current responsibilities or to help them with the next step up in their career, for example. They may want something that there is no in-house option for, or even a simple external option. Their wants or needs possibly don’t align to a specific course or off-the-shelf offering.

It’s equally tricky for the line manager, who is considering a multitude of factors. Budgetary cost, time off work, how to find a solution for a training need, and even the fear of raising expectations for team members for what purpose?

If they develop new skills they’ll leave, won’t they?

Of course, not every line manager thinks this way.

But all the little ‘micro’ needs that we think of as we do our jobs, day in, day out, are lost in that moment when we’re asked what training we think we’d like in the next year.

Putting all the pressure into one conversation is not the way to do it. Having line managers act as the gate-keeper to meeting training and learning needs is not the way to do it.

Everything we’re being told about the future of work points to organisations being able to re-skill effectively.

And how does that happen?

Is that going to happen through an annual conversation, with a line manager, where training and further development is protected by permissions and budget sign-off?

How is that going to fit into the organisations’ larger talent plan?

How is that going to support an individual that knows they want to develop new skills and is self-motivated but wants some guidance to get them started?

As someone that has spent many years looking after people development in organisations, I’m well aware of the shortfalls of the annual development conversation. I’m also aware of the need to support individuals to take ownership of their own learning and development.

Supporting individuals to take charge of their own learning and development is a win-win strategy.

It’s a win for the individual because they will learn skills that they can use over and over for the rest of their career. It’s a win for them because they will learn faster and more effectively.

It’s a win for the organisation because people will share their learning and this will have a knock-on effect towards a learning culture. It’s a win for the organisation because people will naturally be able to move towards re-skilling and up-skilling, should they want to.

The model of line manager as gate-keeper to training is outdated.

So, what to do instead?

Over the last year I’ve been piloting an ‘outsourced’ offer for these kinds of development conversations.

I offered individuals the chance to talk about their personal development at work, with me, an external person. Many jumped at the chance. (You can read about the pilot here).

Most shared things with me that they would not share with their line manager, about where they wanted their career to go, or where their struggles and weaknesses were.

All of them got huge benefit from the conversation, gaining clarity, a road-map, and practical steps to take.

Self-directed learners as part of the solution

The other part of the solution is to support individuals with a framework of skills and approaches to enable them to self-direct their own learning. As our workplaces and work challenges become more complex with technological advances, there are no simple ‘skill’ fixes. Being able to work out your learning goals, ‘unlearning’ old skills and knowledge, building a learning network, and sharing your learning are all key aspects of being a self-directed learner.

Our new programme ‘How to be a Modern Learner and take control of your career’ does all of the above. We have an open programme starting on the 25th January. We’d love to see you there.



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