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6 ways managers can support employee training

Managing a team can be tough. When it comes to developing their team, 75% of managers were dissatisfied with their company’s Learning and Development function as the training provided didn't help them close the gap in achieving business goals. 

Yet providing opportunities for employees to develop new skills is essential for teams and businesses to thrive. Studies show that employees who are offered internal progression and professional development opportunities are more likely to stay with a business than those who are not, and training plays a large part in enabling this internal mobility and boosting staff retention.

For managers, the cost of training can seem like a significant financial investment — the annual global spend on training in 2020 was $357.7 billion dollars. However, the cost of high staff turnover can be even greater, as replacing a team member can cost up to 16-20% of their annual salary, including the cost of recruitment, induction training, and loss of productivity during onboarding. 

By actively supporting training initiatives, and encouraging a continuous learning environment, managers can help to retain valuable staff members. Research shows that it is well worth the money, as investment in training has been linked to significant organizational performance gains.

So why is training not always seen as worthwhile?

Many organizations view training as a one-time event, such as a course or a workshop. In reality, opportunities for learning should be woven into an employee's everyday tasks. The best person to support the learning process is often an employee’s manager, yet they don’t always have the learning and development knowledge and experience they need to do this effectively. 

What should managers do to support training? Here are 6 ways in which managers can support their team members’ learning journeys. 

1. Decide if training is really the best solution

Formal training can be the best solution for closing the employee skills gap. Especially if an employee needs to gain new knowledge relating to a product or service, or if they need to develop a new skill, such as learning how to use a new system. In fact, 59% of learning and development professionals around the globe identified upskilling and reskilling employees as their number one priority for 2021. However, formal training is often used to plaster over cracks in employee performance. If a team member is lacking confidence or practice, then other developmental strategies may be more suited to the desired outcome.

Team member demonstrating learning outcomes on a laptop while two other team members watch thoughtfully

A few approaches managers can try include: 

  • Buddying and shadowing 

  • On-the-job coaching 

  • Job aids, like step-by-step guides and cheat sheets

  • Video tutorials, from sites like YouTube

  • Providing a safe space for practice (to learn more about effective ways to do this, check out our post on Mistake Based Learning

Managers may also find that employees lack motivation or engagement. If this is the case, training is unlikely to resolve the underlying causes. 

There are many ways to find out if formal training is the right approach. Conducting regular informal manager check-ins, carrying out skills audits and gap analysis, and discussing objectives with internal learning and development teams can all help managers to make an informed decision. 

2. Collaboratively set a goal 

Setting goals can have many positive effects. Having a goal can help to boost motivation, improve focus, provide a metric to measure progress against, and signpost success. When it comes to enrolling in a training program, having a concrete, relevant goal can help employees be more successful during the training course, and in applying their learnings when they return to their role. At Quadmark, we use OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to help identify training needs, and to set learning objectives for training courses. 

Goals should be collaborative, and managers should set goals with their team members before the training takes place. Goals should be: 

  • Relevant to business, department, or team OKRs and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

  • Measurable 

  • Aligned with the topic of the training

  • Achievable

  • Time-bound, giving the team member time to consolidate and apply their learnings 

For example, if a team member attends a course on how to make a successful pitch, their goal could be to win three new pieces of work within the twelve weeks following the training. After the training, their progress towards the goal should be revisited regularly, with support from their manager. 

3. Take an interest (and be positive)

Training that doesn’t support employee goals is unlikely to improve performance, and when training doesn’t solve an immediate problem, it can be easy to think that training simply doesn’t work. This mindset can be self-fulfilling.

Managers can instead encourage a culture of learning within their teams by taking an interest in, and actively promoting the benefits of, training. They can do this by:

Manager excitedly explaining learning outcomes to an engaged group of colleagues

  • Discussing why they think the training will be beneficial

  • Explaining how the training relates to business, department, and team OKRs and KPIs

  • Exploring what they want the team member to gain from the training and how it applies to their role 

  • Scheduling a post-training meeting to discuss the experience

  • Asking the team member to share the points they found most beneficial

  • Scheduling additional meetings to discuss how the training has helped to improve the team member’s performance, and any additional support they may need

Adult learning theory tells us that adults want to learn when there is a reason to, such as when it may boost their job performance. Showing a positive interest in a team member’s training gives them a stronger reason to learn. 

4. Practice makes perfect 

Another lesson from adult learning theory is that adults want to learn practical skills that they can apply immediately and frequently.1 As we mentioned earlier, most companies view training as an event rather than a process. This means that the opportunities to apply training in the workplace are often neither immediate nor frequent. Without practice, team members quickly forget what they learned. 

To make training really effective, managers can give their employees projects to work on that coincide with the training event. In the case of multi-module training — training that spans multiple weeks or months —  the project(s) should last the duration of the training period. The project should be:

  • Relevant to the subject of the training 

  • Hands-on, and allow the team member to apply the training 

  • Aligned with business, department, or team OKRs and KPIs 

  • Clearly beneficial to the employee, team, department, or business

  • Supported by the manager or an experienced team member 

  • Assigned before the training begins 

Creating a project that fits the criteria above can improve learner motivation, increase the application of newly gained skills to everyday tasks, and help with knowledge retention.

5. Share the learning 

The cost of training programs can be off-putting for many companies, particularly when more than one team member needs development. On top of course fees there are travel fees, expenses, and loss of productivity when team members are away from their role — so a loss of potential revenue generation. 

However, this does not mean that training is not worth it. Asking a team member to share the learnings from their training with the wider team doubles the benefits; not only does it help to cement the learner’s knowledge, but it may also help to develop other team members without the additional costs.

Group of colleagues taking a group selfie at a Google training session. Everyone is wearing Google branded baseball shirts and smiling or laughingThe way the information is shared will vary depending on the topic of the training, but here are a few of our suggestions: 

  • Add daily or weekly ‘Top Tips’ to team newsletters or bulletin emails

  • Share 3-5 high-level learnings in a morning briefing

  • Demonstrate a new skill to individual colleagues or the whole team

  • Run a masterclass 

  • Write a report 

Just make sure to set expectations in advance, so that employees are aware that they will need to share their learnings when they get back. This adds another layer of motivation and active learning when employees take the training, enabling them to set concrete goals. 

6. Set aside some time to digest

The final way managers can help training to have more of an impact is to allocate more time for it. Studies show that training can have a real impact on job performance, despite being difficult to fit in. 

Perhaps surprisingly, that doesn’t mean attending longer or more frequent training sessions. Employees usually return from training and dive straight back into their daily routine. Between emails, spreadsheets, customers, and sales targets, there is little time to digest what they have learned. To really get the most out of the investment into training, managers can help employees to block out time to reflect. How long depends on the length and depth of the training, but a good estimate is around 20% of the total training time.1

Reflection is a powerful tool. It can help to cement learnings and also encourage further, self-directed learning. It should be a practical activity with tangible results. To help employees reflect, they could: 

  • Identify 3 things they can implement immediately

  • Organize and type up their notes

  • Identify areas they need more support with 

  • Revisit their plans for the goals and projects you set together

  • Begin to structure how they will share information with their team

  • Post about their experience on company social media 

  • Create a short, medium, and long term plan of action

  • Read more about the topics

These reflections can also inform employee conversations with their managers, and focus on how they will apply their training in their role. 

Once managers have the knowledge to support their teams’ learning, more companies will see the positive impact training can have on achieving business objectives.


Get in touch to find out more about how Quadmark can help your managers implement effective training programs in your company.

1 What makes training really work: 12 levers of transfer effectiveness by Ina Weinbauer-Heidel and Masha Ibeschitz-Manderbach

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