Why it’s time to make line managers your learning heroes

Posted on Feb 07, 2019

Learning strategies

Comms & campaigns

We never forget a great teacher, do we? Brilliant teachers have inspired some of the biggest names in the world. People like Bill Gates, Dame Helen Mirren, Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou are among those who’ve publicly attributed their success to one of their teachers. But it’s not just famous people who reap the rewards of a supportive teacher: we all do.

Within a workplace context, it’s the line manager who is tasked with empowering employees. In outlining the role of line managers, the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development (CIPD) states that HR and L&D must give proper consideration to how line managers are developed and managed “on an ongoing basis”.

The required support includes regular feedback, access to relevant, just-in-time training, and help with the development of their people-management skills. Without these, how can they get the best out of the employees they line manage?

Employee engagement

The line manager-employee relationship is critical. It affects how the employee views their job, their organisation and the organisation’s values. Employees who are disengaged with their organisation tend to be those who are dissatisfied with their line-managers.  In fact, one study of 1,500 employees in the US found that 80% of those who were dissatisfied with their direct manager were disengaged. Ultimately, a lack of engagement usually leads to employees being absent or quitting. And it’s a global issue. A poll of 142 countries by Gallup found that only 13% of employees are engaged at work, while 63% are not engaged and 24% are actively disengaged. The Gallup report links the disaffected workforce with the continuing sluggish global economy and concludes: “Business leaders worldwide must raise the bar on employee engagement.”

Onboarding

If the role of line managers in employee engagement is often forgotten by organisations, then the same can be said for employee training – especially the onboarding process. Who guides new joiners through their day-to-day roles and responsibilities? Their line manager. Who do recruits turn to at a time of need? Their line manager.

But for onboarding programmes to work, clear accountability and ownership is required. Managers need skills, resources and guidelines to support new hires as well as clarity on their responsibilities. L&D should ask: “Are we providing our managers with the right training and resources so they can support our new staff?” And “Shouldn’t we have in place a powerful integrated onboarding experience that supports new employees and their managers?”

Even heroes need help

In many cases, line managers just aren’t getting the support they need. They want to learn but can’t because they don’t have the time and because the training resources aren’t there. A quarter of managers can’t find learning when they need it, according to research by Towards Maturity; and when they can find the training they’re looking for, 37% are put off by the uninspiring or irrelevant content.

Design for success – design for both!

In our award-winning customer service training with AXA, the whole programme was designed with and around line managers. Before rolling out Inspiring Customer First at the company’s UK contact centre, team leaders took part in an intensive ‘Train the Trainers’ session. As expert coaches and on-the-ground ambassadors, they were then central to the success of the roll-out. 

“By far the major influence on an employee's engagement is the relationship with the immediate manager, reflected in the day-to-day workplace climate."
The Macleod Report

Not all heroes wear capes

The Macleod Report commissioned by the UK Government looked at the employee disengagement crisis that was affecting businesses. The conclusion to be drawn from one of its key points is clear: effective line managers equal more engaged employees.

“By far the major influence on an employee's engagement is the relationship with the immediate manager, reflected in the day-to-day workplace climate. Employers are not generally recognising this: less than 20% of managers have received training in how to engage with and bring out the best in their people.” - Macleod Report

Line managers are in a unique position that affords them super powers as advocates and supporters of employee performance and development. They should be every organisation’s learning heroes. And that’s why they deserve L&D’s special attention. 

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