Line manager support to help learners use what they have learnt is a major factor in training delivering performance improvement. Where line managers support learners, 94% go on to apply what they have learnt.
People Management Journal – March 2010
When we talk about creating successful L&D programmes with lasting outcomes, we often start looking at the training intervention itself – the participant facing component. What we really should be looking at is the environment around the participants. Following on from my last article about creating an engaging learning environment, I’ve spoken to one of The Oxford Group’s Senior Consultants, Steve James, to expand on an example we provided. Here we explore how he has worked successfully with a client to engage Line Managers for the benefit of programme participants.
Steve works closely with TechnipFMC, a global leader in energy projects, technologies, systems and services, whose annual nine-month long High Potential programme is a top priority in their talent management strategy, feeding their succession plan. In 2013, 36 people were identified on succession plans for key executive positions – within three to five years they need to be ready to move into these positions.
The Oxford Group was brought in to re-design a previous iteration of the programme that was no longer fit for purpose. It became clear early on that engaging participants wasn’t enough: if a programme is to be a learning experience, not just a one-off event, and for transfer to happen, you need to engage the participant’s Line Manager.
Our involvement is on-going, however the programme has seen great success in its first few years as a result of a carefully thought out support system delivered to Line Managers (LMs). Central to this success is a number of elements that the organisation and our consultants aim to carry out, and aspire to improve, each year.
Visible support and drive from the most senior levels in the organisation
The invitations and programme messaging are sent to participants by a sponsor on the Executive Committee.
Just as important is communication about how the training links into established Talent Management strategies and processes.
Top-level endorsement is critical to demonstrate to LMs that the programme is a high priority and is well supported.
Samantha Jones, Group Learning Manager
Talent Managers (TMs) are advised first at each stage, followed by the LMs, and then participants. This way, there are no surprises for anyone, and all parties have someone to refer to if they have questions.
A structured and useful communication schedule
Ideally, before a participant comes on the programme they’ve had an IDP discussion with their LM and TM so they know that this is likely to happen. This also helps both LMs and participants understand why they have been chosen for the programme.
Before and after each module LMs are sent messages about the key themes the participants worked on and are given questions to ask them. We intentionally make this communication brief so they are encouraged to talk to the participant to find out more. At the same time, participants are constantly reminded that their LM is there to support them.
A physical chain of support
TMs play a crucial role in the support structure. Traditionally TMs are responsible for ensuring that talent is developed and placed in the right roles. This programme has expanded their role beyond this to training and supporting the Line Managers of those in development programmes.
While there were (and still are) separate streams of activity for Talent Managers and Line Managers, the importance of their role, and the links between the two, needed strengthening. Therefore, we have positioned TMs to support LMs, and LMs to support participants, creating a chain of accountability for learning transfer.
TMs provide LMs with the right key messages, help them have the right conversations, facilitate the individual development process (IDP), and make sure that the LMs are ‘checking in’ with the participants.
Programme-specific training for Line Managers
While many LMs want to support participants, often they don’t know how. To address this we run a virtual ‘kick-off’ session that covers the programme itself (e.g. timings, content and outcomes), and the role of the LM. This role is often wider than expected and includes checking in with the participant before and after modules, facilitating the IDP conversation, and helping to create opportunities to apply learning back in the workplace. We give them examples and encourage them to generate ideas such as stretch assignments and linking between objectives.
LMs are advised that participant’s workloads will need to change and that applying their learning on the job may require the participant to do things differently. This can slow productivity down initially and LMs need to be prepared for that.
Often a small taster session of part of the programme is offered to better help LMs relate to the participants. This session really focuses line manager’s attention on how the programme can impact on specific aspects of the participant’s performance, so that they are clear that their people are learning how to apply the programme content in practice not simply ‘learning about’ it. We encourage them from the beginning to engage with the participant to encourage clarity about which aspects of the individual’s performance they are looking to grow or change as result on joining the programme. This in turn helps later when line managers can track how those changes are going in action.
Follow-up communications are then sent to the LMs that include all the practical information they need about how they can be successful and where to turn if they face challenges. It also shares the valuable points and suggestions that other LMs contribute on the call.
LMs emerge very engaged with the programme as a result of these sessions. They have asked for sessions to be run in the middle and at the end of the programme. These middle sessions have become less about us ‘telling’ and more about them sharing what is working, what challenges they face, and what they can do next. In effect, the LMs themselves become better managers as a result of supporting participants through their training.
Nothing can replace the engagement and focus of the Line Manager: they are the gatekeeper of the participant’s success. While HR and talent management staff are central to learning and development, they will never understand participants the way that their LMs do. Consequently, they can see opportunities to support participants and extend their learning that HR simply can’t.
A truly engaged Line Manager believes in the value of training and understands that facilitating ‘on the job’ learning opportunities is part of their role. With proper support, like the structure set up in this organisation, LMs can undertake this role with confidence, and as a result, the participant develops to their full potential.