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Why Gamble with Your Leadership Development Investment?

By Janice Burns

Why Gamble with Your Leadership Development Investment?Don’t you hate it when you’ve followed all the best practices and your leadership development efforts still fall short? You’ve done everything right. You’ve aligned your development program with your business strategy, identified business-relevant leadership competencies, secured strong executive support, designed a comprehensive, blended learning experience for today’s leaders, and measured the impact.

Then you realize that, despite your best efforts, you didn’t hit the jackpot. Sustained improvement of leadership behavior leading to positive business results remains elusive.

While there are many factors that contribute to learning transfer and behavior change, there is one guaranteed ace-in-the-hole practice that will significantly increase your odds of success: embedding manager support before, during, and after the training.

It sounds simple, but many organizations have yet to beat the odds to get this right. Our research has shown only 59 percent of leaders report their managers are effective at supporting their efforts to apply new skills in the workplace. What are those managers doing right? And what about the other 41 percent? Do we continue to let them off the hook and hedge our bets that our leadership development investments will pay off without their support?

Not enough managers are effective at providing support for development

In the past few years alone I’ve attended numerous sessions and webinars, read a plethora of articles, and talked with countless L&D professionals about manager support. The bad news, as I’ve learned, is most organizations continue to struggle to get it right. The good news is that there are simple, actionable steps every manager can take to increase the odds that employees will apply what they learn in training to the workplace. So why not stop the insanity—doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results—and get your managers to apply some of these practices, described below, to help your leadership efforts succeed?

Get your managers’ attention. Too often, managers don’t realize the critical role they play, so you need to educate and motivate them. Share data to heighten their awareness. A great example comes from our study PROOF That DDI’s Leadership Development Pays Off: “Learners confirmed the three factors that drive application of new skills are job relevance, personal motivation, and manager support.”

Additionally, motivation should come from the top. CEOs can explain leadership development expectations for the managers of the learners, and work with L&D to identify metrics to make sure it’s happening.

Show managers what they don’t know can hurt them. While most managers will want to gain an understanding of what their direct reports are learning in training, most don’t have time to go through the program themselves. However, you can provide simple resources such as manager’s guides that give an overview of the learning objectives, core concepts, and key learning tools. But it’s not enough. A short, synchronous session that presents research about the importance of the manager’s role, along with practical tips to discuss with peers and tools for applying them, can build confidence and capability. Armed with the insights and information they gain from the combination of a manager’s guide and a session targeted just to them, managers are better equipped to support their employees and hold them accountable for applying their newly developed skills.

Remember, managers are role models. Managers must “walk the talk” and demonstrate the same leadership behaviors they expect from the leaders reporting to them. But we can’t just assume managers have these skills. In fact, managers, the linchpin to ensuring your investments in frontline leaders pays off, often lack critical leadership skills such as coaching, developing talent, and effectively communicating to and interacting with others. Too often managers are forgotten or ignored, and when they are remembered the development solutions intended for them fail because they aren’t designed to meet managers’ unique needs. Double down and pay attention to the development needs of leaders across the pipeline—including your leaders of leaders.

Give managers a playbook to follow: To turn common sense approaches into common practices, managers need to understand the specific roles they need to play to support their direct reports development. Among them:

  • Meet with learners before training begins to demonstrate their commitment and support. Further, common barriers to formal learning, such as low relevance to the job and to business challenges, can be eliminated when managers spark conversations connecting learning to the job on the front, and back end, of the program. Managers can also help individuals personalize learning by identifying specific challenges and opportunities learners need to address and linking them to the training.
  • Help individuals determine what to tackle first, what can be tackled simultaneously, and what development needs aren’t worth worrying about. In other words, a focused development plan that addresses the skills the individual needs to be successful, while also helping the team and the organization. Unfortunately, the last time we checked, DDI research has shown that only one-third of frontline leaders had a written and up-to-date development plan.
  • Require—not just encourage—employees to disconnect from day-to-day work when they are engaging in any type of training, including digital or self-directed learning.
  • Drive accountability. Learning experiences are often squandered when there is no accountability for applying learning. No one is better positioned to hold learners accountable than the manager. They do this by providing opportunities for employees to learn from experiences such as new job responsibilities, in-role developmental assignments, and cross-functional tasks.
  • Promote daily learning activities and encourage employees to work on their development goals every day. This might take the form of searching the web or using social media to “bring the outside in.” This also can include helping direct reports identify learning moments that can be exploited, such as using a team meeting as an opportunity to strengthen communication skills. Lastly, managers should encourage individuals to carve out time, no matter how busy they are, to reflect on their daily work experiences and what they’ve learned from them.
  • Reward and recognize behavior change and promote continuous learning by demonstrating a personal commitment to lifelong learning.
  • Provide regular feedback.  Feedback from managers is often infrequent, inconsistent, and inadequate. But it shouldn’t be. Feedback is one of the most powerful tools managers can use to fuel development and drive behavior change. Great managers regularly reinforce positive results, and initiate two-way conversations—not one-sided monologues—when they spot opportunities for improvement.
  • Ask three questions. There are simple questions managers can ask to increase the likelihood that learners will apply their learning in the workplace: (1) What have you learned? (2) How will you apply it? (3) How can I support your efforts?

A safe bet

There is no doubt the sweeping workplace changes impacting jobs are also changing individuals’ learning habits. As L&D leaders rethink how they can enable and support workplace learning, these changes have created a huge opportunity to work with managers to help them recognize, encourage, and support development—including the learning that takes place every day as people do their jobs.

It’s a safe bet that manager support will increase your organization’s win rate when it comes to maximizing the impact of your leadership development investments.

Janice BurnsJanice Burns, leadership development product manager, works with organizations around the world to achieve business results through strong leaders. She is an experienced presenter on a variety of topics, including the design and implementation of learning journeys and blended learning best practices. She is a consummate shopper, particularly for shoes, and loves to attend auctions with her husband.

Proof of Impact
PROOF That DDI’s Leadership Development Pays Off
40+ years of research on the impact of Interaction Management®

Posted: 29 Aug, 2017,

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