Over the years, L&D professionals have almost universally advocated that managers are critical to the transfer of learning – and it’s almost blasphemous to suggest otherwise. But why?
The vast majority of learning solutions are designed and delivered separately to the context of the work itself. This traditionally, and typically, leaves learners to translate what they’ve ‘learned’ into a better way of doing their jobs. Even though we’ve become better at delivering training, and understanding more clearly how to engage people with courses and e-learning, it’s still rare that the learning is transferred back to the day job in a way that demonstrably improves the work – and results. So line-managers are expected to be the conduit for the transfer of learning, and this places an unfair expectation on them to be responsible for making formal learning work.
Line-managers are already responsible for setting priorities, having ongoing conversations around the work itself, progressing the ability of individuals to perform, and cultivating efforts around personal and professional development of team members – amongst many other things. When they’re expected (as traditional design sees it) to be actively involved in the application of learning, we’re not helping matters.
What we normally see is a heavy investment of resources (time, money, people and personal energy) in the design and delivery of L&D solutions. Even if there has been effective needs analysis carried out, the solution is still often independent of the work context. This creates further pressure on the line-manager to understand how to relate learning outcomes to the work context. We then get caught up in the questions of ROI of learning solutions because this approach is the most typical. What ends up happening is we ask the wrong questions, and we expect managers to do the wrong things.
The questions we should be asking are:
These questions help us better think about performance enhancement.
The traditional design element that L&D have long considered core to effective learning design has less currency. It has less currency because we now have an opportunity to focus on ‘resources-first’ so that any individual employee can perform better today and truly develop as part of a longer practice. The ‘resources-first’ approach means that individuals are better able to perform because they’re accessing digital resources that are directly relevant to the work context, when they need them, and to overcome their real-life challenges.
By considering resources-first, and development as longer practice, we allow line-managers to continue to focus on stretch goals, performance coaching and team achievements. It also shifts the focus of the L&D solution to be less about whether or not the line-manager is bought into individual solutions and instead focus on the context of the work itself and a holistic view of individual development.
Resources-first as a way of impacting the work and supporting every day performance, means an evolution of practice for L&D professionals. It means being able to not only understand needs through traditional methods but also get closer to the work in order to build bridges between those who know (and know-how) within their organisation so that those who need to know (and know-how) can perform with greater confidence and competence today.
So what does the above result in for line-managers? It means they’re focused on the things they are expected to: team capability, results, and culture. When line-managers can do that, and the L&D solution is a core part of the practice, L&D directly demonstrates its value without an unrealistic reliance on the manager to help transfer learning that they may only have a cursory awareness of.
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