4 min read

The Role of the Manager in Employee Training


One area in which we invest a lot of time with our customers is educating them on the importance of change management and user adoption. Training, learning and development doesn’t end when the training program concludes; it’s only just begun. In fact, the real work, the heavy lifting, begins once your learner or learners have completed their training.  Providing your learners, whether they be front line managers, salespeopleThe Role of the Manager in Employee Training or recruiters, with regular and consistent opportunities to practice applying the skills promotes retention. Learners only change their behavior if their direct managers understand how to effectively lead change and provide continual reinforcement through a user adoption plan that includes a series of communications, tasks, events and activities before, during and after the program concludes.

What Defines Success for Training, Learning & Development?
The actual act of participating in and consuming the training is the easy part and is really just the beginning; it’s what happens after the training concludes.  Putting a sales team through training is more about the leader leading and sustain a sales transformation effort than anything else.  The effectiveness of any training program should be assessed on a combination of knowledge transfer, application of skills and knowledge, adoption of behaviors, and results.  None of this of course can happen without retention. Simply put, retention requires the information to stick, after which it can be recalled, applied and achieve the desired results. Only once the skills and behaviors are inherent, have you reached true success.

Unfortunately, this ideal scenario often isn’t reality. Studies indicate that 70 percent of information is lost in 24 hours and 90 percent within a week, according to Dr. Art Kohn.  

Front Line Managers Need to Get Involved
Adult learning theory, instructional design, video learning and video based coaching and gamification all naturally promote learning retention.  Although these approaches help, they're still not enough.

Imagine you participate in a yoga class. You learn new techniques, receive detailed instruction, participate in the class multiple times and independently, and leave feeling energized and confident. However, you don’t find the time to practice on your own for a week or two. After which, you find yourself trying to recall the flows and feeling sore. Give it a month, and you’re not even sure where you left your yoga mat. How might this scenario differ if you checked in with a yoga practitioner immediately and frequently after each class? It would be harder to let that mat collect dust and you certainly wouldn't forget where you left it. More importantly, this level of support would motivate you and hold you accountable.

By applying this concept of continuous reinforcement to the learning experience, learners will inherently adopt the new skills, knowledge and behaviors.  This is why front line managers are the catalyst for retention and true behavioral change.

The Manager is the Catalyst for Driving Retention
Good managers attract candidates, develop and maximize talent, drive performance, engagement and retention, and increase their value and worth. 

To become a good manager, you must work to increase your employees’ engagement and productivity, which means becoming actively involved in their learning and development. Learning can’t be entirely left to HR or the training department. They don’t have the bandwidth to be continuous facilitators of each individual’s learning and performance improvement plan. More importantly, they don't  (nor should they) work closely enough to the action on a daily basis to provide one on one coaching.  Getting "in the trenches" is where managers can influence the experiences, decisions, and thinking that promote true learning and retention.

Establishing a Coaching Framework Starts on Day One
New employee orientation is the first impression employees get of the quality of the organization and the nature of the relationship with their manager.  However, most managers sit back and enjoy the "honeymoon" by simply ensuring their new hire "likes" them (as their manager). They take them out to lunch and have "soft" conversations.  But research shows that this is a pivotal time in the employee-manager relationship. One of the biggest reasons employees leave a job is because of poor relationships with their managers. Instead, managers should take the time during new hire on-boarding and orientation to establish a coaching framework in which the manager and employee mutually agree upon the role the manager will play in the employee's learning and development including expectations and how they will communicate. It is at this time that managers should take the opportunity to emphasize how important it is to them to develop their new employee including their intentions around helping them achieve their goals.  

Mapping out and establishing clear expectations for your learning and development plan including one-one-coaching is a critical step and one that is often missed by managers.  New hires will get the most out of the plan if the manager empowers their employee to take ownership of the learning and development process. Plans should include action items such as role play and training times, check-ins, coaching and reinforcement activities to facilitate the application of the knowledge. 

Commit to "Teaching Moments" and Coaching Opportunities
An employee's motivation to adopt new skills and behaviors is cultivated during the their learning experience. Not surprisingly, when employees perceive learning as relevant, useful and valuable, they are more likely to apply their newly learned skills. Factors that include this include:

  • Questions the manager asks of his or her employee(s)
  • The manager's ability to model the desired skills and behaviors
  • Acknowledging the need to improve job performance
  • Self-realization that their (learner) current skill or behavior is an obstacle holding back performance
  • Belief that the new skills and change in behavior will help
  • Practicality and ease of adopting skills to improve performance

When establishing a coaching framework with your new hire including their learning and development plan, keep these factors in mind and ask them how how they want/need to grow and develop.  Be sure to document these ideas as part of the individual development plan so you and your employee can refer to them regularly and update accordingly.

Provide Ongoing Feedback and Support
After the training has been delivered and your new hire is in full production, ACTION IS REQUIRED. Even if things seem fine, regularly scheduled coaching sessions are a must; making your employee aware of this process promotes accountability. Check-ins should consist of ongoing affirmation and support and serve as opportunities to demonstrate the new skills being applied. For additional insight you can check out my blog, coaching vs. feedback, what is the difference?

Remember, when an employee participates in training, an investment of capital and time are made. With the average employee investing 34.1 hours in formal training annually, according to ATD research, they certainly don’t want to waste time.  To optimize the outcome and investment, both the learner and his or her manager need to make the effort to to follow up and reinforce the learning. Below are are few action steps that managers and employees can take:

  • Increase Employee Awareness: Make learners aware of the forgetting curve and provide the supporting data.  Simply making them aware can change their perceptions and help them recognize the need for support and the effort required to hit their goals
  • Reinforce: Inform them of the level of effort and activity required to ensure retention, including your role as the manager
  • Drive Accountability: Identifying specific expectations, including actions, goals and timing for both the manager and learner promotes prioritization and accountability

Awareness on behalf of the employee, consistent manager involvement and learner ownership (self empowerment) are the key ingredients to driving retention and learning success. Implementing specific tasks and activities that focus on sustaining the change is what prevents retention loss and and will significantly increase the effectiveness of your training, learning and development program. 

To learn more about the role the manager plays in training, learning and development, download our eBook, The Staffing Leaders Guide to Sales Enablement. Staffing Leader's Guide to Sales Enablement


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