Line Managers are organisational pillars, but pillars need support too

ASK has long held that line managers are critical to enhancing organisational effectiveness, workplace productivity and the transfer and application of learning: their active involvement in, engagement and support for these activities are vital to their success.

In relation to leadership development, we have long been adamant that three things – a focus on behaviour as well as knowledge, the development of self-awareness, and the follow-through and support activities that take place after interventions – must each be aligned with line manager behaviour, reward and recognition strategies and performance management practices. As the results of our Learning Transfer Survey 2012 argued:

The line manager has been identified in the academic literature as more influential in learning transfer than either the learner or the trainer.”

Yet as the survey showed, learning transfer practises that involve line managers remain among the least frequently used. While the earlier 2010 survey had identified:

[…] the ‘gap’ between the trainer, who is accountable for the learning experience, and the learner’s manager, who is necessarily responsible for what happens in the workplace”

and the use of manager-related transfer practises has increased in the intervening two years, the gap is still very much in evidence.

When it comes to talent management and development – another critical issue is not just the enhancement but the sustainability of organisational effectiveness – our consultant, Naysan Firoozmand, noted after our free online Why Is Potential A Dirty Word? webinar that:

Line managers get a rough ride, often because they are the ones we look to as mentors, coaches, evaluators of performance and even potential within the workplace. But despite the fact that they often don’t have the tools, experience, knowledge or even the will to do all these things, their organisation still builds these responsibilities into their job description.”

Despite the evidence of the passing years, we had perhaps clung to a hope that the optimism we were showing by doing so was less delusional than that of organisations that identify a genuine need and use ill-equipped people as sticking plaster or means to plaster over the cracks. Hand on heart (and palm on forehead), the brief chuckle that we had at the recent example of a project manager being hired to act as a dedicated change manager (see our recent post) was hollow laughter: the kind of merriment to be briefly gleaned when something terrible happens to someone else. But also the kind of merriment that dies on your lips when you realise that something far less than optimal will have happened to several other people as a result.

Reading a recent post from Training Journal, however, raised no enjoyment at all, as the opening paragraph should make clear:

New research released today from the CIPD reveals that 36 per cent of line managers have not received any training for their role, and that time for effective line management is too often squeezed or lost in favour of more immediate task oriented priorities.”

This headline figure also conceals variations by sector: the private sector (39%) actually fairs worse that its voluntary (30%) and public (20%) counterparts. And as well as lacking training, 36% of managers are not appraised with regard to people management skills in performance reviews, while a further 22% answered “Yes, but it is less important than performance targets.”

Nor are these the only findings in the report (download as PDF) that raise eyebrows while lowering hopes. As many respondents (48%) saw leadership development as something targeted only at ‘the executive team’ as they did at “Developing individuals’ skills to engage and empower people regardless of what level of management they are in”. Identifying the qualities that made them effective, Junior Managers were more likely than their Middle or Senior counterparts to identify “Help staff develop job skills and career” or “Know when to adapt management style to individual team member”. The report also highlights the importance of self-awareness as an element of management and leadership training:

This finding reiterates figures from spring 2012 Employee Outlook, which highlights significant contrast in views between how satisfied managers think the employees they manage are with them as a manager and how satisfied employees really are with their direct manager. In all, 80% of managers think their employees are either satisfied (65%) or very satisfied (15%) with them as a manager. However, only 58% of employees are satisfied (34%) or very satisfied (24%) with their manager.”

Another of our forthcoming webinars looks at Workplace Learning, in which we will also be conducting a nationwide survey. Recognising the impact of changing patterns of learning delivery and approaches on the responsibilities of managers, there are important questions to pose:

  • How are managers responding to these new responsibilities?
  • Are they playing an active role in identifying their colleagues’ development needs?
  • Are they helping their colleagues to make sense of the vast amount of digital learning content available to them?
  • Are they creating the projects, secondments and assignments that enable informal learning?
  • Are they coaching, mentoring and providing feedback?
  • Are they ensuring that new capabilities are put to work?

We sincerely hope that HR functions and senior leaders are reading the CIPD Report to ensure that their answers are not – as seems too often to currently be the case – that their line managers lack the time, training or capacity to even make an effective start. A lot of futures ride on their response.

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