Best Practices: Strategy, Alignment, and Training (Part 2 of 2)

Readers of the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s online factsheet “Aligning learning to the needs of the organization,” written by Valerie Anderson, will miss plenty of training gems if they don’t follow some of the links to earlier papers on related themes.
One, for example, leads to an April 2007 report, “Learning and the line: the role of line managers in training, learning and development.” It offers intriguing ideas for front-line managers who are thrust into the role of trainer without any formal preparation for that role.
“Learning and the line,” written for the Chartered Institute by Susan Hutchinson from Bristol Business School at the University of the West of England and John Purcell from the Warwick Business School, documents what they call “the critical role of line managers as facilitators and providers of learning” and moves right to the point: “(e)nsuring that line managers have the skills for and are committed to support learning and development is essential” (p. 3).
This, of course, is something which rarely receives attention within libraries. It’s enough of a challenge for most of us to organize or participate in train-the-trainer offerings when we are formally responsible for staff training programs. The front-line manager and supervisor who is running a facility or department is rarely acknowledged as a trainer, and probably sees little reason to participate in train-the-trainer workshops which would benefit staff and the institutions and customers they serve.
The problem is obvious and documented by Hutchinson and Purcell: far too few employees receive much needed one-on-one coaching or training from supervisors because many supervisors and managers are not comfortable placing themselves in the role of trainer (p. 4). Furthermore, managers and supervisors who are uncomfortable in a training role provide little more than “short-term learning related to a current job…at the expense of longer-term career development” (p. 5).
Within organizations where training is effective, the writers note, several things are in place (p. 8): new staff shadows or works alongside more experienced staff to gain the skills they need; “good performers go the cutting-edge work that provided the best route for learning new things by doing”; line managers provide coaching and guidance; informal training activities, often over lunch, are part of the mix; and staff are encouraged to attend conferences and formal training sessions.
“Line managers always have conflicting priorities and role overload,” Hutchinson and Purcell acknowledge (p. 14). The best organizations, they add, supply managers and supervisors with the skills they need to provide “short-term job-relevant learning and development” and “longer-term career development.”
Perhaps one major shift we all have to make is to broaden the formal definition of trainer-educator so that it extends far beyond the walls of administrative and staff-training offices.
Do you have your own examples of front-line managers trained as trainers? Please share them with our colleagues by posting a comment here.