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6 Ways Managers Can Help Employees Be Better Learners

Sandy Elvington
Sr. Manager, Managing at Oracle

Managers, did you know that you can sabotage your employees' development?  Let's say you send an employee to a 3-day development program, starting on Tuesday.  On Tuesday afternoon, you IM your employee asking him to join an urgent, last-minute customer call.  On Wednesday morning, you tell your employee that he needs to join your staff call to fill everyone in on the customer's status.  Thursday, one of the employee's customers calls with an escalation, so you tell your employee that he is the only one who can appease the customer...and he spends two hours handling the issue.

Your employee has now missed somewhere between 4-6 hours of development that your department is paying for!  For a three day program (24 hours), they've missed 17-25% of the program (if you were in school, that would be a "B" or a "C").  And this doesn't even count your employee coming in late, leaving early, or taking a long lunch (and yes, this does happen).  So what's a manager to do?  Here are some tips to keep you and your employee on track:

  • Know your employees' career aspirations.  Having regular development conversation where you talk about how the employee wants/needs to grow and why it's important to his or her development will give you insight into potential development opportunities.  Document these ideas on the Individual Development Plan so you and your employee can refer to them regularly and update accordingly.
  • Agree on expectations when registering for a class.  If a development option is to attend a specific class, talk with the employee about what he or she expects from the program.  Share what you want them to get out of attending the program.  This is a great time to talk about any pre-work required for a program and reinforce the reasons for doing that work.  You can have this conversation prior to the employee registering for a class, but at the latest, have it prior to the start date of the class.
  • Take development seriously.  You're providing the money and time for an employee to attend a class, so realize that it's an investment in the person and in your copmany, and treat it as such.  Ask your employee to be sure he or she can dedicate the time out of the office necessary for the class (if they can't, suggest re-scheduling for a better time).  Support your employee by letting others handle customer calls.  Know that by helping your employee develop, you're helping your team and your company develop also.
  • Schedule a learning debrief.  Schedule a call with your employee a day or two after a class ends.  Ask questions like:
    • What did you learn?
    • What do you think you'll apply to your daily work?
    • How do you think you'll apply it?
    • What will it look like if you're successful?
Discuss ways that you can support application of what was learned (this could be as simple as checking in at your weekly 1:1 meetings on what's working or not working).  Your employee is still accountable for modifying his behavior - you're just providing support for that change.  
  • Let your employee share his learning.  In your regular team meeting, have your employee share one or two major things that he learned while attending a program.  This lets employee know they will be held accountable for learning something, and it shows you, the manager, places premium on learning.  You may want to discuss in your debrief meeting what the employee will share with the larger team.
  • Provide ongoing support and feedback.  Your employee has shared what he's learned and how he wants to apply it.  Your job is to help him do that - provide feedback on the behavior changes you see and take the opportunity to coach when needed.  This reinforces and sustains the learning experience.

There will always be something "terribly urgent" that can take priority over a learning experience, but as a manager, part of your job is to help your employee focus on learning when required.  

Various sources point to "learning agility" or the "ability to change and learn" as top skills a person needs to stay relevant for the future.  Further, learning increases an employee's engagement with his job; allows him to explore new ideas; and encourages knowledge creation and sharing across the organization (there are even studies that show these things also positively impact revenue and company performance).  

Investing in your employee is a smart thing to do, and if you show that you're serious about that investment, your employee will take it seriously as well.

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Comments ( 1 )
  • Madhusudhan Mahadevuni Friday, July 27, 2018
    Thank you for sharing the information, I think point 5 & 6 are really important to ensure that the learning becomes part of one's skill set.
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