The line to great success

Besides pushing to meet the objectives of their team, how can line managers play a part in encouraging a culture of learning in their organisation? HRM discovers how HR can partner with line mangers to maintain an updated and healthy talent pipeline.

The undisputed role of Learning and Development (L&D) in workforce development is evident in the way companies tap on different strategies to grow their employees. It is seen as a worthwhile investment to empower them to do their jobs better and more effectively over the long run.

Granted, talented human capital drives successful businesses, but how do you ensure that your L&D efforts are fully maximised, even after they are given a significant portion of the company’s time and attention? The answer to this often lies in the effectiveness of a line’s manager’s ability to implement and get the most out of L&D opportunities.

In the line of learning

A report by the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), entitled Learning and the Line, highlights there is a strong link between providing effective coaching and guidance by the line manager and levels of employee satisfaction, commitment, and motivation.

While employees value L&D programmes that offer personal and professional growth, line managers need to be able to identify development opportunities which are relevant and targeted to learning needs and wants. “When this is aligned with business goals, business strategy and performance are properly aligned, resulting in better efficiency and productivity. Businesses can tap on L&D to offer training programmes that increase capabilities at various levels,” Justin Hill, Director of Strategic Accounts (Asia) at Skillsoft, says.

CIPD describe line managers as those who “have responsibility for directly managing individual employees or teams. In turn, they report to a higher level of management on the performance and well-being of the employees or teams they manage”.

As they helm a team and work with each team member closely, line managers are in a good position to identify the capability gaps of each employee. They therefore have a vital role to play in moulding careers and driving L&D programmes at an individual and company level. This in turn supports both the employee’s development goals, and business needs.

“It is crucial that line managers encourage a culture of learning where no question is a stupid question. Also, emphasising the need for thorough thought behind the reasons for actions, and evaluating whether the proposed action is the best solution, can help to cultivate greater learning within the organisation,” Rick Chan, Head of Audit and Assurance at Mazars, says.

Additionally, providing employees with the necessary skills before assigning tasks to them can bring about a sense empowerment which can motivate them to complete the task with an effective fulfilment.

“On a personal level, employees will also experience autonomy and valued as a trusted member of the team since they are entrusted with a task despite the potential risks involved,” Chan says.

It also helps to equip line managers with a clear outline and direction when it comes to L&D requirements. JTC, Singapore’s national developer of industrial infrastructure, demonstrates this in its commitment to the training of its employees. “We have developed customised competency road maps for each critical job function, where the L&D requirements and job expectations are clearly laid out at each level of proficiency. With the help of these competency road maps, JTC managers will pro-actively work with staff to identify their specific training needs and meet their individual L&D outcomes,” Terence Seow, assistant CEO and Director of HR at JTC, shares.

As the lead government agency responsible for the development of complex and future-ready industrial infrastructure, employees at JTC require a diverse mix of technical and management skills. Explaining further, Seow says these range from land planning skills to policy development; and from project management to specialised engineering abilities.

“L&D is thus critical in helping JTC staff to grow in-depth technical expertise and problem-solving skills, as they undertake challenging industrial projects such as Jurong Rock Caverns and the one-north development,” he explains.

The link to HR

Line managers often foster closer relationships and have deep insights to their team members’ development needs. They are usually the most direct line of communication with team members.

It is therefore important that HR understands and leverages the relationships that line managers have with their team members, in order to initiate and implement successful and meaningful L&D opportunities within teams.

Conversely, line managers need to act as a bridge to provide feedback from their team members to HR on what is needed in terms of their skills development.

“Line managers must coach and mentor their teams and incorporate these insights into the programmes, to encourage employees to enhance their skill sets and motivate them to invest time in learning,” Hill says.

It is also important that the feedback to HR is provided in a timely and proactive manner to give HR enough time to revise and improve the curriculum accordingly. This keeps learning targeted, relevant and engaging.

Being ahead of the curve in identifying and projecting future skills required among the team will also allow HR to plan accordingly, putting the organisation ahead of the competition in terms of having a well-skilled workforce that is able to meet the demands of the market.

Surveys show there is a clear desire for a more inclusive process in designing and implementing L&D initiatives. HR should plan them with input from employees, as conveyed from the line managers, to ensure the programmes meet the employees’ and business needs.

Hill adds it also helps to implement frameworks that allow the business to assess the impact of these programmes. Not only will they help to measure completion of the broader goals, it is also useful when it comes to refining the curriculum and recognising what can be done to meet unachieved targets.

Initiating new information

An effective partnership between HR and line managers will not only make it easier to embark on and to roll out L&D opportunities, these initiatives are also likely to be more impactful as well.

To push a culture of learning and to make it a priority, Chan suggests HR should consider designing and implementing a reward system to encourage more L&D opportunities in the workplace. “Aside from that, HR needs to allow sufficient time for line managers to perform their role, and not penalise them for delayed delivery due to training,” he adds.

The report by CIPD also points out line managers need to have strong, development-based support from their own superiors. “It’s nearly impossible to exaggerate the importance of senior management support and action on the development of line managers, and through them, on the climate of L&D in the organisation,” it says.

Implementing a mentor or learning buddy system can also be beneficial because having well-organised team structures with appropriate team dynamics can better equip line managers to initiate L&D opportunities.

“HR also needs to provide a supportive organisational culture that encourages co-ownership of personal developmental goals,” Hill says. “While individual employees take responsibility for their personal growth in the organisation, line managers should at the same time, be able to provide support to help employees meet their goals by identifying the training and development needs of team members.”

Line managers who go through formal leadership training are also in a better position to initiate and plan L&D programmes for their team. As an employer, JTC makes a concerted and sustained effort to equip its line managers with the relevant leadership and coaching capabilities.

Its over-arching Leadership Development Framework provides targeted support to line managers at different stages of their leadership journey. For example, early career managers go through an intensive Young Leaders Programme to prepare them to manage a team for the first time, while experienced managers undergo customised training to address specific developmental needs as well as to further hone their leadership skills. “These skills would underpin our line managers’ ability to help their respective teams in achieving the desired L&D outcomes,” Seow explains.

At the end of the day, human capital is key to an organisation’s success, and having a culture of learning among employees is of utmost importance. As Chan puts it, “We need to constantly ask: Why are we doing this? and How can I do it better?”

What can line managers do?

The role of the line manager in supporting learning and development includes:

  • Listening
  • Supporting
  • Challenging
  • Observing
  • Motivating
  • Coaching
  • Setting objectives
  • Exploring mistakes
  • Setting problems
  • Providing opportunities
  • Unblocking obstacles
  • Encouraging risk taking
  • Helping to focus efforts
  • Feedback and reinforcing
  • Providing business context

Source: Berkshire Consultancy


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