Managers are crucial to learning in organisations. They decide who has time to learn and when, and their attitude towards the L&D department can determine how entire departments approach it. But how do managers themselves learn and how can L&D influence them?

Recently GoodPractice engaged with ComRes to ask 500 UK managers what they get up to behind their L&D department’s back. In this webinar the results – published at the end of November – are aired online for the first time. Be warned, though: you won’t like everything they say.

  • What do managers do when L&D aren’t looking?
  • How do they REALLY cope with challenges?
  • What two factors most influence how managers choose to learn?
  • Where do they go to find the stuff that’s crucial for their work?
  • What practical actions can L&D take away from this ?

Owen Ferguson

This was my first Learning & Skills Group webinar, but it certainly won’t be my last. I found it really interesting and it was great to be part of a non-teaching/education community for once, but a community still interested in learning. I feel as though a whole new window of perspectives is available for me this way and these are the first two places I’ll be exploring until the next live webinars:

Past webinar recordings

Video recordings

The research

The company decided to conduct research into the truth about the learning lives of managers. The main purpose behind their research was to inform their work in the company and the products they asked their staff to work with.

If you ask people to talk about learning experiences, they generally reference formal learning experiences as this is what they’re more comfortable with. Ask them instead how they overcome unfamiliar challenges.

Managers see learning as something that happens outside the normal workflow; something they have to make time for.

The representative sample was taken across a broad range of organisations and sectors. There is little variation in the results.

Most of the data was gathered over the phone, rather than online, where only those more confident with digital tools would have participated.

The findings

What do managers turn to for help to overcome challenges? Most people in the comments state that it’s their colleagues/fellow managers. There are other responses such as asking children, searching Google, using YouTube too…

 

find 1

It’s rare for people to reach outside of the organisation: they feel far more comfortable speaking to a colleague.

This is why I think that Action Learning Sets worked in my last organisation as managers are already comfortable exploring how to overcome challenges in that way.

What is easy to access, gets used. Even if its effectiveness is lower, they still engage in it.

find 2

However- we don’t know what drives managers’ perceptions of what makes something effective but this would be worthwhile exploring. 

Intranet

Managers were preferring to conduct external searches rather than use internal tools.

2 in 5 managers say their intranet isn’t easy to use.

If we start seeing the intranet as somewhere for learning then it needs to be designed as such- at present, they’re just repositories for information and a storage facility- rather than a live place where stories are shared and solutions are talked through/links/videos shared. It needs to become more user-centred. 

LMSs were generally perceived to be light on business skills and heavy on the compliance elements.

Ease of access and perceived speed of the result seemed to be the over-riding factor in learning. They don’t want the background information that can aid understanding but lists, how-to-guides and top tips are more valued by managers as they feel they can get a result more quickly.

I work in education and sure, students also think that something quick and easy is better for their learning…when in fact it very rarely is. I wonder how we can meet the perceived needs of managers and provide something quickly, as well as provide something that can lead to better learning in the longer term.

Senior managers have experienced poorer quality online learning in the past, and therefore they’re reluctant to participate in it now.

When you mention the word learning, managers see it as something they will do when they have time. Managers will never have time. We should begin to change this behaviour but also tap into the fact they don’t have time and start providing things that meet their needs quickly.

Managers appreciate that learning is useful but they’ll still continue to go for the easy-access content, even when they think it’s less effective. We need to create things that can compete with where managers are going.

Do we need to compete? Does it matter where they go as long as they’re getting responses that help them to grow and develop? Is it reasonable to think we can compete with Google?

Suggested actions

  1. Review your existing online initiatives- ease of navigation, speed of result… we essentially need to make them as easy to access as Google
  2. Conduct user testing of your online tools- bring in a representative sample of your target audience- get them to use it in the way you’ll want them to use it and observe- don’t just ask what they think of it.
  3. Assess your own knowledge and skills in relation to digital technology- speak to industry peers who’ve implemented their own digital learning resources. Go to the most successful enterprise softwares too- go beyond L&D and industry
  4. Survey your learners on their experiences and opinions on organisational digital skills.
  5. Build an engagement plan- a dedicated effort- move beyond your internal Comms team- look at LinkedIn, Facebook etc. and learn from them in relation to engagement.

You can download the paper here.

The Towards Maturity Report was a recommended read too.

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