A major variable in whether or not learning and development sticks is the role of the participant’s manager. Some would say the manager is the biggest ROI variable, so great is their influence on the participant’s state of mind as they embark on training and afterwards attempt to apply what they’re learned. Newstrom (1986) identified three significant barriers to ‘learning transfer’, a.k.a. applying learning back on the job:
1. Lack of on-the-job support and reinforcement.
2. Interference from the immediate work environment.
3. A non-supportive organisational climate.
Clearly, the manager plays a major part in all three barriers. So what to do – and what not to do – when one of your team is about to embark on a development programme?
View your colleague’s participation in training as a nuisance. The first words out of your mouth will have a huge bearing on the participant’s attitude to learning. Hence…
- Say, “You’re going on a course? Oh no! That’s awful. How long will you be away for?”
- Be the last to know. Your team’s development is a KPI for your role, so you if you’re the last to know someone’s about to do some training, something’s wrong.
- Ignore the training until the last minute, then fly into a panic about how that person’s work will be handled.
- Say when the employee returns from the course, “Hope you had a nice holiday. Now here’s all the work that’s been piling up whilst you were swanning off”
- Discuss learning and development with your team members individually and frequently. Work with them to distinguish training needs from training wants. Wants are usually about anxieties (that essential presentation refresher usually isn’t essential, whereas opportunities to practise are); needs are relevant to the person’s role and growth.
- Support your team’s progress by backing them for development opportunities and lobbying the right people to ensure places are fairly distributed.
- Discuss how the learning fits the team’s and business’s needs with the participant before the course, and how they’ll be able to contribute.
- Identify before the training the specific opportunities the participant will have for applying the learning afterwards.
- Support your team in managing the participant’s workload whilst they’re taking part in the programme.
- Let the participant fully engage in the training, uninterrupted.
- Coach the participant on their return to work on what they’ve learned and how it will be applied.
- Accept that learners take longer: as your participant practices their new skills they will need more time to complete tasks, compared to those for which they’ve built up proficiency.
- Show you’ve noticed, informally: catch them doing it right and say so. Give feedback and coach them.
- Show you’ve noticed, formally: ensure the training and its impact are discussed and recorded at 1:1s and in appraisals.