L&D Best Practices

6 Ways Managers Can Help Drive Learning

Jennifer Juo

HR and L&D Insights Writer at Udemy for Business

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L&D Best Practices

April 26, 2018

We believe that the best learning happens when team managers, or those closest to the learning goals of employees, play an active part in learning and development. Building a culture of learning involves sharing the learning responsibility with everyone in the organization – especially team leads or managers. As L&D becomes more integrated with the business, employee development becomes a shared responsibility with everyone–executives, line-of-business leaders, managers, and employees themselves. Research by Bersin by Deloitte shows that successful learning organizations have moved beyond the L&D function and have fully integrated learning within the flow of work and at the point of need–“enabling employee development wherever and whenever it happens.”

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In what Bersin by Deloitte coins as “invisible L&D,” the responsibility of learning is shared by everyone in an organization–in particular, team managers play a key role. A true learning organization leans on team managers throughout the learning process. Managers’ close relationship with their team members puts them in a better position to identify the skill gaps and career goals of their employees–setting the stage for a more personalized learning journey. Team managers also play an important role as development coaches, making sure learning is applied on the job and that ultimately, employee performance improves.

But how can L&D better leverage managers to help them develop people?

6 ways managers can help drive learning

Managers make a big difference in employee engagement and performance. Good managers can result in increased engagement, productivity, and retention. According to Gallup’s State of the Manager Report, good managers are the #1 benefit for organizations in attracting and retaining talent. Good managers personally care about their team’s short-term performance and long-term growth. As such, they are a huge resource for L&D, acting as partners in employee development.

Here are 6 ways managers can help L&D nurture employee development.

1. Assess employee career development goals and skill gaps

During 1:1 meetings, managers can sit down with their direct reports and map out where individuals want to go next in their career. During this conversation (and in partnership with L&D), managers can develop individual learning paths with key learning steps or project milestones employees can take to reach their career goals.

2. Engage employees in personalized learning journeys

Understanding an employee’s current skill gaps and future career goals can help managers and L&D create individual more personalized learning journeys for employees. Managers can recommend specific courses to their direct reports and track learning progress. For example, on the Udemy for Business learning platform our new “Group Admin” role enables L&D leaders to designate managers or team leads as Group Admins–enabling managers to select specific courses for their team to learn. The role also gives them visibility into a learning analytics dashboard that tracks individual and team learning progress. Given the close relationship between managers and direct reports, individuals are more likely to listen and follow their manager’s guidance–key to boosting learning engagement across the organization.

3. Coach employees to ensure learning is applied on the job

Managers play an important role in ensuring newly-learned knowledge or recently-acquired skills are applied on the job. What follows after a training session or taking a course is just as important as engaging employees in actual learning activities. Managers can serve as coaches post-training to help team members practice their new skills to enable behavior change. For example, assigning “practice assignments” provide opportunities for employees to master their new skills–whether it’s giving productive feedback to someone they work with or using Excel pivot tables. See 5 Ways to Change Behavior at Work: The Behavior Change Toolkit.

4. Stay in tune with performance through constant 1:1 feedback

Managers are on the frontlines of employee performance. They are in the best position to recognize performance weaknesses and strengths as well as coach employees when they stumble. And feedback shouldn’t be reserved for just formal performance review cycles. Constant feedback loops between managers and their employees give both positive reinforcement and constructive feedback throughout the learning process. Constant feedback is an important part of the learning journey, and managers are instrumental in making this happen.

5. Empower employees to own their development

Decentralizing learning makes learning everyone’s responsibility. It also means employees play an important role in their own personal and professional development. When developing individual learning paths, managers can help employees tie their own learning goals to the organization’s needs through the specific projects or tasks that the employee prioritizes. This then helps employees see their unique contribution to the organization’s overall business goals. For example, a digital marketing employee might focus on improving their search engine optimization (SEO) skills to get better at their job, which also helps the organization’s goals of increasing overall brand awareness and website traffic. Tying individual goals to the bigger picture motivates and inspires employees to learn and improve.

Managers can also facilitate learning by asking thought-provoking questions rather than giving directive commands, which encourages employees to come up with their own solutions. The more self-directed your work environment is, the more likely your employees will be self-directed learners as well. See 5 Ways to Build Self-Directed Learning.

6. Don’t forget to train your managers to be great coaches

Finally, as you partner with managers to help drive learning at your organization, it’s important for your L&D team to train them to be effective coaches. Coaching is the bridge between learning and performance. It’s what comes after the training session as coaches help employees apply what they learned on the job. But coaching and giving feedback is an art and not every manager will know how to do this well. Training can teach managers how to broach coaching conversations successfully and understand what situations might benefit the most from coaching. Courses on Udemy like How to Be a Great Coach or Coaching Skills for Managers can help teach your managers to be effective coaches and great L&D partners.

Udemy for Business helps employees do whatever comes next. We help companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, on-demand learning content through a subscription to Udemy’s top-rated business and technical content.

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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