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Jackie Clifford

Clarity Learning and Development


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How to transform line managers into learning champions

Three ways line managers can bring learning to life for employees.

Line managers play an essential role in supporting learning and development and in today’s challenging business environment, it’s never been more vital. Learning needs to happen and be applied daily. 

Line managers are in a prime position to diagnose and dissect learning needs and other performance-limiting factors. 

Through ongoing dialogue (including regular one-to-ones with team members) managers can help individuals to work out whether their performance will improve if they learn some new skills or acquire certain knowledge, if they change their behaviour, or if there are equipment, systems or process issues that are impacting on performance.

1. Identify the need

Getting this right relies on managers asking the right questions. Some questions to ask could include:

What are the biggest successes that you’ve achieved recently?

  • How did you achieve those successes and what helped you to achieve them?

Sometimes the ‘L’ word (learning) can be off-putting and immediately take people down the ‘we need some training’ route.

What are the biggest challenges that you are currently facing?

  • What external factors are contributing to those challenges? 
  • How can these external factors be mitigated?
  • What might need to change so that these external factors aren’t ongoing barriers to performance?
  • What do you think you might need to differently so that these challenges don’t arise again in the future?
  • How do you use the skills and knowledge that you already have to overcome these challenges?
  • How do you behave when these challenges arise?
  • What additional knowledge or skill might help you face these challenges if they arise again?

​​When you think of your business and team objectives, what do you believe needs to happen to bring you closer to achieving them?

  • Further, when you think of your own personal objectives, what do you think needs to happen to be successful?

2. Personalise learning

Line managers can help to differentiate learning experiences so that they are more personalised to each individual team member.

The management role is about supporting performance and removing barriers to performance.

Steps that managers can take to personalise learning include:

Pushing back when they, or their team member, jumps straight to the ‘we need some training’ solution. This means that line managers need to be more conscious of the different methods of learning and the different types of learning that their team members might need to undertake.

Sometimes the ‘L’ word (learning) can be off-putting and immediately take people down the ‘we need some training’ route. With this in mind, it might be possible to use other words when talking about how to improve performance. Some example questions including different language might be: 

  • What would help you to discover how to do this?
  • When did you realise that you were able to…? What might help you to have more realisations like this?
  • How did you come to understand how to…? What could make that understanding even deeper?
  • How have others picked up this skill in the past?
  • What have you done so far which has helped you to develop this skill or gain this knowledge?
  • What would need to happen so that you can put your knowledge to the test?
  • If there was no such thing as a training course for X, how would you find out how to do it?

3. Support ongoing development

Managers need to challenge their team members to develop daily. 

Managers should be role modelling learning behaviours. 

I’ve already listed some coaching-style questions that can be used to support this. Other actions that managers can take that will encourage what Andy Lancaster calls ‘learning in the flow of work’ could include: 

  • Using daily stand-ups to help team members to consider one of these two questions (depending on the time of day of the gathering) – “what will we do today so that it’s even better than yesterday?” or “what did we do today that made it even better than yesterday?”
  • Setting up a channel in MS Teams or Slack where team members can log their insights and lightbulb moments
  • Encouraging team members to see problem solving as discovery and learning so that when individuals have dealt with a problem, managers ask them what they will take away from that experience
  • Urging team members to ‘take a moment’ when an issue arises so that they can consider how they will face the issue and what they will need to know/do to overcome the issue
  • Supporting team members to work together on projects or when challenges arise so that there is a sharing of knowledge, skill and experience

4. Leading by example

Line managers may look at these ideas and feel as if they are something else to add to the to-do list. I would counter this with a couple of things:

  1. The management role is about supporting performance and removing barriers to performance and the ideas I’ve listed will be enablers for this.
  2. Ensuring that team members feel capable, competent and confident will reduce stress, enable individuals to take on new work and new challenges and ultimately free up management time as more tasks can be delegated. 

Finally, as well as supporting their team members to develop, managers should be role modelling learning behaviours and applying all the actions listed here to their own development too.

If you enjoyed this article, read: Unlocking the power of middle managers.

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Jackie Clifford


Read more from Jackie Clifford

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