In my last column, I discussed how every training department should establish itself as an investment, not an expense. Once this perspective is adopted, training programs need to align themselves with the organization’s best resources to guarantee success. Options like e-learning have done to learning what local area networks (LANs) did to data processing. They have decentralized it. The training department, once kept separate from the main lines of business, no longer owns learning. Now training can live at the desktop in total control of the learner. This will forever change the way we approach learning. With these systems so widespread, training departments need to understand how to influence and monitor the environment they once controlled very closely. This has made for new strategies and alliances in order to make training more effective. Training’s biggest asset may live in a place it’s rarely used before—the front-line manager. The problem is that most organizations haven’t realized the power and influence these individuals hold. Many front-line managers themselves don’t even understand this issue.
I had a conversation with a CLO from a Fortune 500 company about the introduction of e-learning into his organization. I asked him what his organization was most excited about. His answer was, “My managers get their 40 hours back.” When I pushed him to clarify, he informed me that his company had mandated 40 hours of classroom instruction per employee per year. With e-learning being delivered at the desktop, his managers were excited to reclaim that time and basically wash their hands of the training responsibility. The learner now controlled learning, and they probably should because they know best. We couldn’t be further from the truth!
A front-line manager’s involvement and engagement is key to the success of any training program. Harvey Feldstein and Terry Boothman did a piece of research that showed that a high-level intervention by the learner’s manager is critical for maximum performance improvement. The interesting issue coming forward in today’s training environment, particularly with the advent of e-learning, is that many front-line managers are seeing their role in directing learning diminishing. CLOs need to reverse this trend. With learning at the desktop, and as more effective blended learning strategies emerge, front-line managers are becoming more important than ever in the success of learning initiatives. The problem in most organizations is that these managers aren’t effective stewards of learning. Here are a few suggestions to help change that scenario:
- Raise awareness: Many front-line managers aren’t even aware of the effect they have when they are more engaged in the learning process. Training departments need to teach managers how to get more involved by creating tools such as learning paths. These paths help map learning options to specific performance outcomes based on job descriptions.
- Teach managers to be learning mentors: Many managers do a great job of mentoring their reports when it comes to doing their daily jobs, but many aren’t as effective at mentoring when it comes to learning. The daily job interactions can be very directive, while learning needs to be less guiding and more supportive. Teaching employees to be good learners is a different skill set for most managers.
- Managers need to exemplify effective learning: This is the classic problem of “the cobbler’s children having no shoes.” Although the manager promotes the virtues of effective learning, such as e-learning, many haven’t used it themselves. Modeling is one of the highest forms of instruction. We need to engage and champion these managers to practice what they preach.
CLOs have more learning strategies at their disposal then ever before. Training doesn’t need to be limited to the confines of a classroom. But with these wonderful options comes a greater risk of failure because of the “remoteness” of these choices. Soliciting the help of a learner’s most influential resource, his or her manager, can go a long way toward guaranteeing the success of these exciting strategies.
Bob Mosher is the executive director of education for Element K. He has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. Bob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.