Is it sweating your assets or L&D on the cheap?

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Many organisations are now looking to line managers to provide employee training and development. Shrinking training budgets, increasing time pressures and the need to keep employees productive make on-the-job training a very attractive option.

The argument is that, armed with some basic tools and techniques, managers can be the best, and most cost-effective, resource for training in the company - after all, they understand the business and what's going on at the front line don't they? So, is it possible to ramp up your on-the-job training with goal-setting and fast feedback in this manner or is it too much to expect? And is it a way of adding value to your human capital assets - or just training on the cheap?

The benefits of on-the-job training

It makes intuitive sense that managers are the first in line for training staff; after all, they have the job-related information and experience that training departments may not. On-the-job training has been proven to be a better way of creating immediate transfer of training to the workplace; line managers are ideally placed to provide ongoing feedback and direction to the learner. The manager will also feel more responsibility for making sure that the learner gets the support he or she needs to put their learning into practice - another reason for encouraging line managers to become on-the-job trainers. Networked technology and online support tools can make the work of the line-manager/trainer much easier, providing contextual information, company data and other knowledge available to help them in their training role. Simple but effective online tools can also help with goal-setting, feedback and performance monitoring, giving both the line manager and the trainee a clear path from training to improved performance.

Obstacles and issues

There are obstacles of course. Line managers may be reluctant to train their staff, they may complain about lack of time or they may feel that it's not part of their role. And often their reluctance is down to a lack of confidence about their own skills in training, coaching and giving feedback effectively.

And in many cases, they're probably right. Unless a line manager has been trained to use coaching as a training tool, is reasonably skilled at giving constructive and appropriate feedback, and knows how to help people set goals, he or she is going to struggle with providing consistent and effective on the job training. And that's just for job-skills training.

What about developmental training that staff need in order to improve the scope of their skills; like communication, negotiation or management skills? Can we really expect line managers to provide this type of training too? The answer is that this type of training will only ever be as good as the skills of the line managers themselves, which brings us back to why line managers won't want to be trainers.

A new perspective on the role of the line manager as trainer

If you're really going to go down this road, you must as an organisation make a full commitment to training line managers in these critical skills and making training a fundamental part of the line manager's role. Increasingly, organisations are indeed adding this element to critical line manager competencies.

One large consulting organisation for example, has started to provide new managers with training in these areas as soon as they are promoted to their new role. Of the four key competencies that line managers must be able to demonstrate, two are managing self (self-awareness and ability to learn) and managing people - specifically, feedback, coaching and delegation.

So where does this leave HR and training departments?

This idea need not be a threat to traditional training - the professional trainers can be a big support and asset for line managers who provide on-the-job training. Expertise in how to pass on knowledge and information effectively, how to use online and offline tools and advice with training problems can be addressed by the in-house training team - making their role one of adding value to overall performance and allowing them to focus on more strategic and specialist development activities.

Key action points for devolving training to line managers

The organisation needs to define training as a key part of the line manager's role; not something they do when they have time or when they feel like it.

Communicate to and train line managers on the levels of performance expected from their teams - this is something that can sometimes be missed and can lead to a lack of consistency in performance appraisal and reward.

Measuring and re-measuring, regular update training and reminders and rewarding managers for being good at on-the-job training is probably the most important factor in ensuring that this gets done.

Short, regular training sessions for managers have been shown to be more effective than long, off-site courses. They can then put their new knowledge into practice immediately, observe and note their progress and share and discuss it at the next training session with other managers.

Jo Ayoubi (pictured) managing director, Track Surveys Ltd

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