We have all experienced the challenge of getting each employee the opportunities he/she deserves. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by tapping into your ultimate resource: direct managers. Because they are so close to the action and know their team members the best, managers are naturally positioned to lead this effort. That’s why it’s important that managers become educated about, and active in, professional employee development.
The Role of Managers in Employee Development
Some companies have managers who are deeply involved with employees, while others focus on their own tasks. For this second type of organization, it’s no wonder that problematic management is often cited as a major reason behind quitting. But, on the bright side, a huge majority of employees feel that managers are essential when it comes to building an engaged organizational culture. Let’s examine some of the ways in which managers support the employee experience, often with the help of the HR department.
The starting point for creating effective employee development programs is assessment. Performing employee evaluations is a standard part of many management responsibilities. For example, during semi-annual or annual reviews, employees are graded on their performance. But a deeper dive into this subject should include comments on skills. If an employee needs to do a little brushing up in this area, managers have several options, including mentoring, training opportunities, and L&D referrals.
It’s a basic trait of good managers to give advice to employees, and when this turns into a routine effort, it becomes a mentoring relationship. From occasional comments to frequent sessions, managers can become unofficial L&D experts who give employees practical performance suggestions. A supervisor can also match a struggling employee with a peer if that is more efficient, and if the peer is a willing and skilled instructor.
Managers can spot a chance for employees to take advantage of job rotation, job shadowing, and similar opportunities. For the simple reason that managers might know of a few employees who want to make such a switch, they can be HR’s people on the ground for seeing when there is a possibility of doing so. Of course, moves like this should be arranged with HR to make the most out of career development plans.
Whenever a manager decides that an employee needs more support than they can provide, the manager can contact HR/L&D to request some skills enhancement training. It could be that HR has already listed such an employee for an upcoming course. But it can’t hurt for the manager to provide their own recommendations regarding what skills a certain employee should develop.
Even when an employee development plan is developed by HR, managers are still a major aspect of it. Managers need to find time for an employee to train as well as a temporary replacement. But it’s just as important for managers to show interest in the worker’s development, and even recognize their efforts by making them an example for the team to follow.
Similarly, managers should always be part of any discussion regarding employee development. They might have noticed that a certain skill is totally absent from their team, or that a new product coming down the line will require some training time.
Any employee development effort needs to be evaluated. Here too, managers are on the front lines. They will see first-hand how any development initiative translates into better performance. Plus, a properly designed L&D course will feature an assessment component that includes the direct manager.
Enabling Manager Participation in Employee Development
What can HR do to get the most out of managers? Overall, the recommendations and support which managers provide should be an official segment of development initiatives. Here are a few examples of how organizations should formally involve managers in development-related HR programs.
Involve Managers from Start to Finish
Move a few more chairs into the HR office! Managers can provide valuable input at all stages of a course, and HR should meet with them frequently to hear their feedback. For example, during the course set-up phase, they might have ideas about when training should be provided, or share some advice about specific employees.
Set Up a Space for L&D
Even in an era when phones can seemingly be used for everything, live and in-person instruction still counts. A dedicated area for learning and development gives the impression that your organization takes its L&D programs seriously. For frequent group instruction and workshops, à la continuous learning, this also avoids needing to clear out a meeting room or open space each time. Plus, if you are using multimedia or a digital learning platform, you will need a place to keep the hardware.
Make Managers Part of Communicating with Employees
“Straight from the horse’s mouth.” There’s no better way to show a manager’s commitment to the skills of the team than to make them your representative. Whenever courses and initiatives are announced, it says a lot when the HR/L&D manager stands side by side with the employees’ direct manager. Employees will naturally gravitate towards their manager when they have questions about courses, a situation made possible by the manager’s participation from the start of the process. This move also has a practical side in that everybody will be on the same page for various aspects of the program.
(Note: just as employees should be given credit for their participation, don’t forget to acknowledge a manager’s L&D efforts.)
Get Managers to Attend Courses
Many L&D courses are given by experts from outside the organization. They probably don’t understand their clients’ actual use cases related to what they are teaching, and that’s where managers come in. Managers are perhaps the best people to see how a learning topic fits into operations. They will also be a valuable resource for determining which subjects are most relevant. And lastly, they might learn a thing or two.
Include Feedback in Pulse Surveys
Pulse surveys are meant to be short. The questions that go on them reflect the priorities of the organization. By including a space about employee development, you are making it a central part of HR’s focus. This also allows both managers and employees to report regularly on their progress and give recommendations for improvement.
Provide Leadership Coaching
If managers are going to be involved with employee development, then they should have the right abilities for the task. Through L&D programs, an organization can optimize the skills of managers to lead and motivate employees so that they progress.
Why Skills Are Vital for Manager Participation
Not everyone is a born leader. It’s also true that not every manager shows up on day one with managerial skills. Actually, 34% of managers receive no training in employee management before being placed in charge of people, while an additional 32% of them get a maximum of eight hours of instruction before starting.
So it’s easy to imagine that many managers are less than prepared to become a fully-functional part of an L&D initiative. There are many skills that they should have in this respect. We can break some of them down by using an employee development plan as an example.
Step number one of an employee development plan is to set professional development goals. In truth, it’s up to HR to do most of the work when it comes to development plans for employees. But managers still have two crucial responsibilities at this stage:
- Working with the employee to match skills with goals. Lots of factors come into play here – what the employee wants, what skills the manager feels are most important to reach the goal, and if the employee’s talents and personality are a fit. To analyze these characteristics, managers need certain skills:
- Communication skills to allow a constructive conversation about these issues
- Critical thinking to figure out what roles are not suitable
- Creative thinking to come up with ideas that the employee may not have considered
- Working with HR to finalize the plan. This will also take the form of a conversation and will require a few more skills:
- Empathy enables the manager to be the employee’s advocate in front of HR
- Strategic thinking to match employee and manager goals with the objectives of the company
Boosting Skills through Leadership Coaching
Happily, all of these skills are a perfect target for leadership coaching. As you may have noticed, they are all soft skills. Unlike the hard skills that can often be taught by a technical trainer in a week, soft skills need long-term effort and close attention to develop. In addition, most people are good at some aspects of soft skills, but not all.
A great example is communication. When it comes to employee development plans, a manager might be good at explaining what they feel should be the goal, but it could be that they don’t listen closely to what the employee wants.
This is the kind of development challenge that is ideal for a coach to handle. Through close observation during a long-term engagement, a coach will get to know the manager closely and figure out where they need improvement. Then, the coach will use their skills to guide the manager towards discovering their own path forward. A coach (or group of coaches) with the right specialties can cover basically any soft skills that need attention. In fact, 48% of leaders prefer coaches to provide the L&D programs that they attend.
What’s in it for the Manager
It’s not only your employees who will benefit from the attention paid to their skills and development. Participating managers will also find themselves with a new set of abilities.
Soft skills – The skills that managers acquire through coaching will help them in many tasks beyond working with HR. As mentioned above, these are some of the “classics” any leader should have if they expect to succeed.
Closer relationships – For certain, becoming part of an HR-oriented program will be new for most managers. But cooperating with employees, and getting to know them in the process, will be an eye-opener for many. Such a level of interpersonal communication is a fantastic way to inspire loyalty and learn more about each other.
Greater organizational value – Sitting with HR means that managers discover more about their company as a whole and build more connections. As a result, their profile among other managers will increase, and they will add another layer to their experience in preparation for greater levels of responsibility.
GrowthSpace: The Leading Platform for Leadership Coaching
Each manager who is part of your employee development strategy will have different levels of leadership skills, and very little time to work on them. That’s where GrowthSpace comes in. As the L&D industry’s top platform, GrowthSpace automates the matching of skill requirements to experts while also planning out the ideal program through optimal course settings.