Employee learning opportunities can be crucial in retaining employees at your organization, but whose responsibility facilitates said learning? Of course, your whole organization must take some responsibility for ensuring adequate training. You may also find some employees are self-starters. However, the driving force behind learning development must be management, those on the frontline providing employees with real opportunities to progress and develop their careers. Managers are best situated to assess their employees’ learning needs, act upon their findings, and give each employee the tools they need to grow.

Research conducted by Degreed and Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning found that only 40% of workers agreed that their manager helps them understand what skills they need to advance. Just 17% said their managers help to set goals for developing skills. Employees want to grow through learning and enjoy their managers supporting them, but they have a disconnect. While managers may not be directly responsible for learning program development, evidence from S. Meyer’s research: Are managers important to workplace learning? states: “While managers may not deliver learning content, they can play a critical role in revisiting and reinforcing that content. A recent analysis of the available research found that, yes, managers are critical to the success of workplace training – specifically because they are in a unique position to coach their employees throughout the learning process”. Therefore, it is essential to understand how management is optimal for facilitating learning. It is also necessary to examine the underlying theories supporting the assertation that management’s involvement in employee learning produces actionable results.

Connecting Management Involvement to Learning Outcomes

Various studies support the theory that management involvement can directly lead to effective learning. The first to consider is the job-demand-control-support (JDCS) model. Do workers respond differently to learning from supervisors and colleagues? A study of job resources, discovering sources, and employee wellbeing in China published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management highlights our understanding of how employees benefit from learning from their supervisors. The study looks specifically at social support and training and finds that a high level of work-based social support means employees can depend on their supervisors and peers. This, in turn, means they can gain information and knowledge from them. Furthermore, the study found that social support was positively related to learning from supervisors and colleagues, while job training was more positively associated with learning from supervisors. 

The second critical underlying theory is the Pygmalion Effect (Livingston, 1969; Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). This well-known theory suggests that leader expectations can affect employee learning behaviors. The 2009 paper, Pygmalion and Employee Learning: The Role of Leader Behaviors, published in the Journal of Management, explained how managers could stimulate engagement in learning. In the same way, the early Pygmalion Effect study by Rosenthal and Jacobson found students would perform at superior levels if expectations were higher. Organizations can see the same in their employees. With managers demanding high work-based learning and a career development focus, employees are more driven to succeed.

Management’s Role in Facilitating Learning

Understanding why managers are integral to employee learning is a great starting point, but this theory must be put into action. Managers need to be proactive in their approach to employee learning. There are several practical ways to achieve this.

Adopt a Coaching Mindset

Adopting a coach’s mindset helps position management as supporting employees’ opportunities to learn. Ellinger & Bostrom’s research found learning within your organization can be enhanced through coaching behaviors in its leaders. Additional study in The Impact of Managerial Coaching on Learning Outcomes Within the Team Context: An Analysis from Hagen & Gavrilova further asserts that a significant improvement in learning occurs within teams with a “coaching” team leader. Positioning managers as coaches helps to promote learning and an organizational ethos. 

Assess Individual’s Learning Needs

Your employees have their strengths and weaknesses. Helping them build skills in relevant areas falls within management’s role. First, understand and identify what training and skill development employees may need to carry out their roles effectively. This means assessing areas where your employees excel and where training could help. This also allows managers to see the whole picture and recognize the direct benefits of training programs to suit each employee. 

Provide On-the-Job Learning Opportunities

Active learning has become crucial to many businesses’ training programs. For example, a 1997 study conducted by Sveilby found that learners only remember under 10% of what they have heard in a lecture after five days. However, when the activities involved seeing and hearing, this increased to 20%. Most crucially, 60-70% of what they practiced was remembered when learners learned by doing it themselves. On-the-job experience and the opportunity to practically employ new skills are essential for employee learning to succeed, which only managers can directly provide.

Focus on Feedback and Communication

To understand your employee’s training needs, you need to have a clear view of their work performance, skills gaps, and growth potential. Gallup research found employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are three times more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year. Open communication channels make the feedback process easier to manage and less formal. It helps your employees feel able to discuss things more efficiently. As mentioned in Harvard Business Review by executive coach Monique Valcour Ph.D., regular career conversations help your employees refine their career goals. Once they understand their goals more clearly, it is easier to discuss training opportunities. 

Why should Managers care about Employee Learning?

Employee learning is one of the most powerful tools you have to boost your business and develop its growth internally. Maximizing employee potential can only benefit your organization and create a loyal and committed workforce—managers who show commitment to employee learning foster more significant and more effective relationships with their staff. In addition, a learning culture shows it is a business priority, and it is much easier to get employees on board.

For your managers to create this culture of learning and push their employees to be their best, they need the skillset. Here at Radiant Digital, we specialize in the training of all kinds. We can help develop training focused on growing coaching mindsets within your management team. In addition, we can work with you to design, develop, and implement management learning programs to ensure your managers are perfectly positioned to encourage employee learning. Contact us today to learn more.