I rarely post a guest blog, but in this case I couldn’t resist posting Bernard Donkerbrook’s reaction to my last blog post. Bernie is a long-time automotive company manager and experienced engineer. Having retired from the auto industry, he is now an executive coach focused on improving Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in leaders. I have tremendous respect for Bernie’s wisdom and insights that come from years of experience. Bernie wrote this in response to my last blog post:
Steve, your 5As material is so good. The logic and specifics are great. I love the sense of understanding, enthusiasm and acceptance the leadership team conveys here regarding their role in learning. This is a really good-news story for you and their company!
As you might expect, based on my input to a previous blog (3/25, Training Isn’t Learning), I was delighted to see the emphasis on the necessary role of the manager! Allow me to offer some further viewpoints on how strongly I feel the necessity is to strengthen the individual manager’s ‘obligation’ to be ‘actively and personally accountable’ for ensuring delivery of results from the learning intervention. For me, ‘accountable’ means managers are as much, and maybe more, responsible as the individual learner for applying learning and delivering results.
It’s hard to over-emphasize the role and impact that managers have in the daily lives of their employees in a large, long-standing corporation. This is especially true for those organizations with a culture of hierarchy, command-and-control, departmental/functional silos, active and sometimes manipulative competition between managers for recognition and promotion, and less-than-excellent history of departmental collaboration.
Managers control the weekly priorities which go to solving the current crisis, inevitable quality glitches during mass-production, next quarter's targets, budgeting/interviewing/staffing problems, daily work issues, etc.
I’ve taken the liberty of suggesting strengthening a few of your points relating to the manager’s role. See below. It is my personal attempt (and tone) to address these conflicts of priorities, especially when a new learning intervention is adopted (or mandated), and to unambiguously make clear the expectation of the manager’s prime role in the success of any learning intervention and to make it one of his/her prime priorities. If the company is going to the time, commitment and expense of a learning intervention and is serious about it, then it needs to be led and executed on a daily basis by the manager.
From my long personal history in this kind of corporate work environment at the management level, and knowing from more recent years of managerial coaching what it takes to change behaviors, my views are more directive, more forceful in tone than yours. It takes clarity and intention to change behaviors, and it takes practice. If bosses and senior executives are on-board and involved, then it makes ALL the difference, as you so well know and advocate. Recognizing and rewarding the leadership team and individual managers for facilitating this continuous learning and obtaining performance improvement results is so important, and a catalyst for success.
In order for any kind of learning intervention (training, coaching, mentoring, action learning, etc.) to have a positive impact on achieving the organization’s goals, managers have to take an active role in supporting learning and become active, personally-responsible leaders for their immediate staff in delivering actual results from new learning. Both learner and boss should be held clearly accountable for improved business results in their organizations and operations.
This is the role of managers from the perspective of the 5As Framework:
- Alignment: managers explain to employees the importance of a particular training program and how that learning will help them help the company be successful; make this conversation part of employees’ performance reviews; define this effort as the leadership role expected of managers and, therefore, clarified in their performance review objectives.
- Anticipation: managers clarify expectations for what they want employees to learn; managers should communicate high but reasonable expectations for employee learning; this should be part of informal conversations managers have about performance and expected deliverables on a frequent basis (not only at annual performance review time). Success depends on managers establishing a regular process for status, progress, issues and results with each key direct report participating in the learning intervention.
- Alliance: managers meet with employees before training to identify learning goals, meet with employees during training to discuss progress (a pre-scheduled process by manager works best), and meet with employees after training to identify what was learned, how employees will apply that learning in the workplace, and what additional learning/tools/resources they might need.
- Application: managers lead the department efforts to determine and provide opportunities for employees to immediately apply learning in their work in a way that will make a difference
- Accountability: managers give employees feedback on an ongoing basis, typically regularly scheduled, on their application of learning and measure the impact, measure the beneficial results/improvements of that learning on their teams, the organization and how it’s affected their personal skills, competencies or effectiveness