How to best involve managers in learning transfer

Managers are frequently seen as being central to solving all learning transfer issues. Significant research and in-field studies have pointed to increased levels of transfer once managers are even perceived as being involved in the learning and development process. Let’s not knock that – of course managers are important for the development and support of their teams. 

Managers know something that research misses

What the research doesn’t tell you is how managers ‘feel’ about being involved. Imagine a hard-working but already overburdened manager being asked to increase her workload to satisfy learning transfer needs. A surprisingly common scenario. It doesn’t matter how supportive she is or how dedicated she is to the success of the team – there are only so many hours in the day. What managers really want is to be involved on a level where they can make a difference to the performance of their team members. So, instead of asking managers to get involved with every learning project, try targeting the use of a manager’s time and expertise. 

At Practical Training Transfer we advise that managers are brought into the transfer plan when they can satisfy the following three criteria.

  • They are able to support guided practice and give feedback relevant to the course
  • They have some experience applying associated skills learned on the course 
  • They know that the particular skills learned are important for the development of their team member

What should managers do to support learning transfer?

Manager involvement works best when they can get involved with helping their team members practice new skills and giving constructive feedback. We refer to this as situational transfer. In other words, creating a situation to practice new skills with a trusted advisor that leads to the adoption and correct use of new skills in work.

Not all training requires a situation to practice a set of skills before going live. So, knowing which training needs this kind of support and which doesn’t is the starting point to deciding when or even if to actively involve managers. 

What to do next

Start by thinking about which training programs don’t need managers to get involved with creating situations for practice and feedback. Things like building habits or retaining knowledge immediately spring to mind. Eliminate those then plan how to support programs that do need practice, with advice and job aids for not just the participant but for the manager too. After that you’ll at least have taken the first step towards a customised learning transfer approach. 

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