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Leveraging Manager Involvement for Learning Transfer

3 Tips to Pull Learning Through Your Organization—A Blueprint for Success

By Carl Eidson, PhD, Michael Leimbach, PhD

Conventional wisdom and practical application support the notion that “no job is too big with the right tool.”

From our numerous in-depth conversations and best practice sessions with CLOs and training and development directors over the past few decades, we are convinced that “giving managers coaching skills, along with the right tools at the right time, will yield the greatest learning impact.”

This collective wisdom holds some powerful implications for organizations wanting to pull learning from a learning event into positive, productive, supported learner application in the workplace.

We all agree that learning transfer is vital—making newly acquired knowledge, skills, and attitudes not just stick around, but also translate into improved performance and bottom line ROI results is not a new concept. We also know that without well-engineered organizational alignment, the “use it or lose it” syndrome sets in. So how can we best leverage (busy) managers’ involvement in maximizing learning transfer throughout the learning initiative in a way that’s efficient and wildly effective? We’ve honed it down to three practical ways. Please read on . . .

We have captured a handful of the most important actions organizations need to take to leverage managerial involvement and organized them into a Manager Involvement Audit. This provides a quick assessment of your managers’ readiness to support learning.
We also know that without well-engineered organizational alignment, the ‘use it or lose it’ syndrome sets in.

1. Equip Managers with Coaching Skills

Regardless of the training’s focus, equipping participants’ managers with a structured, methodical approach for learning coaching skills—something as straightforward as an easy-to-remember coaching process—greatly increases the likelihood of managers providing coaching that recognizes, reinforces, and/or redirects desired behaviors.

Our research shows that after training the managers in coaching skills, the average performance improvement of direct reports is 18%. Not bad—18%. However, when you compare that to studies in which you train managers in both general coaching skills and how to coach to the specific skills their employees are learning, you get a different picture. Performance improves 42%—or two and a half times more than with coaching skills alone. This brings us to our next point.

2. Enlighten Managers with Knowledge of What Learners Are Learning

A great example of a highly effective coach is James (Doc) Counsilman—a former college swim coach with the best win record in history. Yes, he had great coaching skills, but what set him apart was his knowledge of swimming; he studied, researched, and wrote about swimming.

While not every coach needs the depth of a Doc Counsilman, every effective coach needs to understand the skills he or she is coaching to. Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced and busy work world, we often act as if a “quick overview” of the skills is enough to prepare managers to coach effectively.

Of course, the best case scenario is providing the very opportunity for managers to participate in the learning experience along with their direct reports. That being said, if time, place, or practicality doesn’t allow for managers to complete the very same training, there are several other ways to enlighten and involve busy managers.

Consider the spectrum of engaging options for involving managers:

  • Concise e-learning modules delivered to managers’ desktops, taken when and where they are able.
  • Training content embedded into the coaching skills development program.
  • A hands-on role at a learning workshop in which managers act as “table discussion leaders” during skill practice and application exercises.
  • A front-of-the room role at a learning session in which managers act as a co-facilitator and assist the professional facilitator, especially in the area of guiding and debriefing application exercises.
  • A thorough program overview delivered face-to-face or via webcast, conference call, or video, at a minimum.

3. Enable Managers with Accessible, Timely Coaching Tips and Tools

The number one reason managers give for not coaching more is, “I don’t have the time!” Being ever mindful of the time crunch faced by overloaded managers, as well as providing tips and tools that solve these time crunches, can boost the amount and effectiveness of their coaching.

Best practices we have learned from organizations to address time issues include:

  • Provide managers with “coaching sessions in a box” playbooks that include everything from e-mail invitations to scripts, key coaching questions, and worksheets. This way, managers do not have to create the coaching activity; they just have to deliver it.
  • Focus managers on frequent, short coaching conversations rather than long coaching sessions. It is easier for a manager to find time to coach six employees for 10 minutes each rather than find time for a 60-minute coaching session.
  • Push out weekly reminders to coach—make coaching not something they do, but who they are.
  • Provide video models of short coaching conversations; a major reason managers hold back from coaching is the fear they will do it incorrectly. Modeling videos help overcome that fear.

Consider the message and the media. Send the right message at the right time. Keep content chunks small, digestible, and actionable. Provide easy access to planners, behavior checklists, mobile apps, and other tools.

Assessing Managerial Involvement

So, are your managers prepared for this critical role?

Carl Eidson, PhD

Carl Eidson, PhD, is Vice President of Business Development for Wilson Learning. Dr. Eidson leads and coaches a virtual team of over 100 independent distributors stretching from Toronto to Bogotá and works extensively with clients. Dr. Eidson has coauthored articles on selecting top talent published in scholarly journals, including Journal of Applied Psychology, Human Performance, International Journal of Selection and Assessment, and Journal of Business and Psychology. He has also authored and coauthored articles on leadership, sales, virtual teams, and employee engagement in industry publications including CIO, Training magazine, and Sales Pro Magazine. Dr. Eidson is a frequent speaker at professional conferences on the topic of learning transfer and human performance improvement research and practices.

Michael Leimbach, PhD

Michael Leimbach, PhD, is a globally recognized expert in instructional design and leadership development. As Vice President of Global Research and Development for Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc., he has worked with numerous Global 1000 organizations in Australia, England, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and throughout the United States. Over more than 30 years, Dr. Leimbach had developed Wilson Learning’s diagnostic, learning, and performance improvement capabilities, published over 100 professional articles, coauthored four books, been Editor-in-Chief for the highly acclaimed ADHR research journal, and is a frequent speaker at national and global conferences. He also serves on the ISO Technical Committee (TC232) on Quality Standards for Learning Service Providers and on the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development Dean’s Advisory Board.