Learning & Development, Talent

What Role Should Managers Play in Employee Training?

Managers have a lot on their plates. Not only are they responsible for overseeing their departments, but they also often have responsibilities of their own, such as managing budgets and advocating on behalf of their teams for resource allocation and conflict resolution. But should they also be expected to have a role in training their employees?

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We polled a variety of industry experts to get their feedback and put together some key considerations, which we listed below.

Don’t Lose Sight of Primary Responsibilities

As noted above, managers have many responsibilities that compete for a limited amount of time. If they allow training to consume too much of this time, those other important responsibilities may suffer.

“In all of my 15 years’ experience managing employees, I can only think of one situation where I didn’t have a portfolio or my portfolio was small enough to allow me to properly coach and manage others,” says Jennifer R. Farmer, Principal with Spotlight PR, LLC. “In most of my roles, I was juggling my own body of work with also trying to be present for my team. This approach sets both the manager and the employee up for failure.”

“A manager should never let training take over their entire day or all the time they have,” adds Stacy Caprio, business coach with Stacy Caprio, Inc. “If they can be helpful in training someone, or better yet, a group at once, they should limit the time spent training to 1 or 2 hours maximum a day so they can focus their time on more leverage-important activities for the majority of the day. If more training for that individual or group is needed, they should have long-term, experienced staff do the rest of the training.”

Facilitating Training

Overall, the manager’s role is not necessarily to conduct the actual training but rather to facilitate the training on behalf of his or her team. Managers shouldn’t assume that “someone else” is going to ensure the necessary training happens.

“Managers need to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of engaging and working with direct reports, setting training objectives, securing the resources needed to provide the training and development opportunities for their employees and then helping employees see the value of both incremental and step-function improvements in their abilities,” says Heidi Abelli, SVP of Content Product Management at Skillsoft and adjunct professor at Boston College.

Let’s look at some of the elements of facilitation in more detail.

Reinforcing the Importance of Training

Many employees treat training as a grudging obligation—something mandated by HR that they need to get out of the way so they can get back to their jobs. Others treat training as truly valuable and a means for meaningful development and advancement. As a leader and immediate superior, the manager has a key role in determining which attitude employees develop.

“A positive learning culture starts from the top down—a manager’s attitude towards learning will trickle down to their employees, so if they are disengaged with the L&D policy, other employees will be too,” says Katie Martinelli, learning and development analyst at High Speed Training. “The organization needs to ensure that all managers understand the importance of training and upskilling their staff, as well as understand how and why training needs to properly align with the company’s objectives.”

Defining Objectives

Katie Evans-Reber, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Head of People at Wonolo, notes that managers have a unique vantage point from which to see what skills may need development or improvement. “Often times when a manager comes to HR to suggest training initiatives, they are the canary in the coal mine for the rest of the organization,” she says.

Including managers in overseeing and setting objectives for training programs also helps the training team by encouraging buy-in from those managers.

“Managers should be providing information on the L&D needed to effectively upskill their employees in line with the organization’s mission, vision and values, as well as identifying any barriers to learning within their departments,” says Martinelli. “If they are aware of the benefits of training and involved in the process, they are much more likely to positively support and encourage their staff.”

Translating Theory into Practice

Training might cover many topics—effective communication, customer service, project management skills, process efficiency, etc.—but some of these topics may come across as more theoretical than practical when being taught by a full-time trainer.

Even trainers who have had their own real-world experiences may not have the experience in applying the skills they’re teaching to the organization they’re training for, as they aren’t working in the trenches on a daily basis.

But managers can help bridge that gap. “Managers play a critical role in the transfer of training from textbook to tasks on the job,” says Jeff Skipper of Jeff Skipper Consulting. He describes three distinct phases during which this takes place:

  • Pretraining: Managers set personal learning objectives with employees—what benefits are expected in relation to employees’ performance on the job? Will they be able to take on more challenging assignments?
  • During training: If training is longer than a day, managers can demonstrate interest in—and, therefore, the relevance of—employees’ training.
  • Posttraining: After the training has been completed, managers can ask employees to create a plan for how they will apply what they’ve learned to their jobs. What will be different? What is the timeline for seeing change?

Although the insights we’ve gathered cover a range of viewpoints on how involved managers should be in employee training, there is an overall theme we can draw from those insights: Managers absolutely have a role to play in employee training but not necessarily as the trainers themselves; rather, they should be playing a role in defining objectives, reinforcing the value of training, and translating that training into on-the-job success and employee growth.

Learn about more techniques and strategies to make your training resonate at Workforce L&D 2019. This event will be held in conjunction with HR Comply and RecruitCon. Check out the larger event HR World, for more information or to register today!