Manager Support Promotes Training Impact

Manager support and encouragement of training program participants is critical to the success of the program.

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Meshing Training with Workplace Change

Organizations investing in training their employees obtain the most benefit from their expenditures when the organization's leaders take a systems view of training. When the training program is integrated with the organization's other systems and processes and the training is targeted to help with a specific change initiative or improvement project, training will have a positive impact on the organization's performance.

For some projects, new policies and procedures are introduced. Hardware and software systems may be upgraded. Employee roles and responsibilities may change. The organization may be heading in a new strategic direction. To encourage the new way of working, new incentive systems may be introduced. For training to be successful, all of the pieces of the puzzle need to be in place, and employees need to be taken on board the change with good planning and clear communication.

When there is a disconnect between the training program and the wider organizational changes — or the objectives of the change are not clear to the leadership team — training participants will return from the training exercise and quickly go back to "business as usual".

Manager Support Is Critical

A prime mover in meshing the training with the other systems in an organization is the training participant's immediate manager or supervisor. They play a key role in communicating changes, motivating employees and passing problems up the line to the leadership team. This is especially true for front-line managers and supervisors. They play a pivotal role in creating the right workplace environment for training participants to apply their learning back on the job.

Front-line managers and supervisors deal on an intimate, day-to-day basis with employees who directly add value to the organization's activities. These front-line employees either build product delivered to customers or provide customer services, immediately impacting customer satisfaction and cash flow. Because front-line managers and supervisors typically have more direct reports, and these reports directly impact external customers, these people's interpersonal interactions tend to have greater immediate impact on the organization.

Managers and supervisors set the primary role model for expected performance and behavior and are most in a position to provide assistance and encouragement for the employee once they return from training. A supervisor overtly or covertly discouraging, or even simply not encouraging, the application of the new skills will lead not only to a waste of scarce training resources, but also to an increase in employee frustration and lowered morale.

The Manager Support Continuum

The effect of manager and supervisor attitudes and behavior towards program participants cannot be overemphasized. Figure 1 below illustrates the impact of manager and supervisor practices on workplace behavior change through a continuum. Manager approaches to employee support range from the most debilitating Preventing and Discouraging approaches on the left of the scale to the most supportive Encouraging and Requiring approaches on the right. Balanced between the disapproving and supporting approaches is a Neutral approach in which the manager does not care whether the participants apply their new skills or not.

For each type of approach labeled on the scale, there is shown three or four behavioral indicators. Readers familiar with our PRACTICE Approach™ will notice that the behavioral indicators shown to the favorable right of the scale directly relate to the various elements of our high impact training model. In the pre- and post-training phases, managers have an active part to play in setting up and supporting new role responsibilities and procedures, performance measures and feedback, on-the-job coaching, relevant rewards, and so on.

Figure 1 – Effects of supervisor/manager support on employee skills transfer

Chart displaying effects of supervisor/manager support on skills transfer

In all of this, what the manager does and says sends a strong message to training participants about how they are expected to behave after they complete the training. What the manager omits to say and do sends an equally potent message about what is expected. Below are examples from each of the management support styles shown on the continuum of how a supervisor could respond to employees following their training. In these examples, employees were trained in the use of a new data management system.

  • Preventing

    "That new system is rubbish. Just fill out the paper forms."

  • Discouraging

    "Yeah, this new system is just great. Congratulations to the brains that dreamed it up." [Said sarcastically with a sneer.]

  • Neutral

    "I'm just too busy to welcome the trainer at the training sessions."

  • Encouraging

    "How can I help you get comfortable with the new system?"

  • Requiring

    "If you continue to use the old forms, I will find another person for this role."

Review Support Behaviors

If you are a higher-level manager responsible for a training program, how are your front-line managers and supervisors supporting the new behaviors? Are they modeling the new behaviors, passively undermining the changes or actively mounting an insurrection? The more left your supervisor and manager behaviors are positioned on the support continuum, the more destructive the damage done. And the more is wasted in training resources and human potential.

How are your support behaviors being perceived? Are you doing enough to actively encourage the new behaviors and promote the positive impact of the training? It may be time for you to conduct a review of the role played by yourself and the managers and supervisors that report to you. Take the time to talk with training program participants before and after the training. Ask for their feedback on their perceptions of the course and the support they are getting to put into practice what they learned. Then act on what you have learned.

Where employees are not clear on the purpose of the course and why they are attending, organize proper pre-training briefing sessions with prospective attendees. If skills are atrophying after the course from lack of use, conduct post-course debriefing meetings with each employee to discuss skill application goals and to remove roadblocks. With these simple strategies and others like them, you are helping to create a learning and performance culture in your organization.

Expert View Author: AIMM MAITD

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Find out more about how trainers and managers can support the transfer of skills to the workplace and improve the impact of training programs. Check out Leslie Allan's practical resource kit packed with ideas, tools and templates for implementing effective learning. Download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive training guide and toolkit today.

From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance

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