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Sammy Johnson

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Line managers not always key to learning transfer


New research: Management professional Jane Brockliss' ground-breaking research that is behind her Doctor of Education success at University of Derby, reveals some surprising new information about the individuals that unlock successful implementation of learning into day-to-day working practices.

Co-creator and Director of Derbyshire leadership development firm Awbery, Jane devised and undertook the ‘Learning translation – A Network Social Capital Perspective’ study for a Doctor of Education programme at the University of Derby, and here explains her aims for the research and some of the findings:

Workplace line managers are only one of the factors that influence the translation of leadership learning into practice according to the findings of this new study.

A key determinant of an organisation’s return from its investment in leadership developments on investment is the leadership learning that it is transferred into, to improve practice in the workplace.  Very little is known about such an important topic, and so the doctorate and research were born.

The study’s methodology involved ongoing exploration and review into how senior executives successfully transfer skills and knowledge from professional training and development programmes, into improved professional practice in the workplace, to establish the return on investment from leadership development initiatives, investigating both the drivers of the return and, importantly, how it can be improved.

The main aim has been to create a new conversation around the transfer of learning from leadership development programmes and the results reveal a wider range of social network actors and influences that help or hinder the translation of leadership knowledge into improved practice than we have previously considered.

Over the duration of the research, a number of contradictory results in learning transfer were uncovered.

Some studies showed that learning transfer was dependent on line manager support, whilst others showed no such relationship. Far from being off putting, this contradiction was a real motivation for me, a bit like a detective puzzle. When my research began to show the explanation, there was no holding me back.

As a result of the study, we now appreciate that the workplace line manager is only one of many factors that influence the translation of leadership learning into practice.

Additionally, the line manager has been found to perhaps not be the most important one for some individuals, instead it seems that individuals vary greatly in terms of which relationships in their social network are important inhibitors or facilitators of a leader’s ability to translate learning into their day to day work.

The research provides important knowledge for practitioners of leadership development coaching, but also about all situations where learning takes place, and how successfully it is then translated into another situation.

According to Dr Neil Radford, Programme Leader for Doctor of Education at the University, the research findings have made “unprecedented, significant contributions to the knowledge surrounding business leadership coaching and education.”

He said: “The thesis on Jane’s unprecedented research, and her explanation of the methodology and the findings, was deemed exceptional by the examiners and she was awarded a Pass with no amendments, which is very rare at doctoral level.”

Personal and commercial objectives

The research and doctorate were driven by a mix of personal and commercial objectives. If you asked me at different times from when I started the doctorate in 2009 until I completed it in 2016, I would have given different answers.

In 2009, my life was very busy with working full-time and having a family. Although I had to ‘think through’ opportunities and problems at work and home, I realised that my thinking had become rather predictable shallow. Working at Awbery was great in terms of knowledge and client relationship building dependability, but I realised I needed a new challenge.

The Doctor of Education programme was ideal: it is academically challenging and also encouraged me to look at leadership development from a different perspective. As a practitioner and professional doctorate, as opposed to a traditional PhD, the EdD is designed to examine a practical education issue in depth and as such, meant my studies would be of value to Awbery as well as to me personally.

Now that the research is completed, on a very personal note and as I near retirement, it is great to see the EdD as a culmination of this latter part of my career.

I hope the research provides both unique insight into the success rates and influencers of transferring learning skills into the workplace, but also delivers new information to benefit the world of learning.

It is important to disseminate this learning so that others can benefit from it, and potentially build on it for further research, and I am working with Dr Radford and University of Derby to develop a plan for sharing the work and findings to both the academic and practitioner communities, working closely with the teams at the University of Derby and beyond.

Awbery is one of the UK’s leaders in the creation of leadership and management, HR and coaching solutions. The Learning Transfer study is the latest in the firm’s ongoing research programme that has also tackled issues such as corporate burnout, mentoring, coaching, and the challenges and opportunities facing HR professionals.

The firm has its head office in Repton, Derbyshire and delivers high-impact leadership and management development programmes, HR and coaching solutions to multi-national organisations across the UK and Europe. For more information:, Tel: 01283 703828, and follow @AwberyTweet .

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