Managers are the most high impact trainers in an organization
In recent articles, I’ve explored how a manager’s subtle or not-so-subtle behaviors can influence how a team operates. Think about this – the manager, through the subtle power of suggestion or through overt directive action, can shape how a team performs, make a difference as to whether the team succeed or fails, establish whether it is a good working environment or not, and contribute to whether the organization is successful or not.
This is because the manager is the most high impact trainer in the organization, and should be treated as such.
Many organizations have robust training departments. These departments might offer a series of training classes on technical skills, soft skills, legal compliance, team building, job safety, and the like. These classes might last as long as week or be as short as one-hour. Increasingly, “eLearning” offerings offer a tutorial on how to do something or stay in compliance. In many cases, these training organizations track whether or not the employees have taken a series of classes, and it is tracked with great robustness on the employee’s record in what is called a Learning Management System (LMS).
But note that these classes last for a finite period of time. The class, no matter how interactive or high impact learning the design may be, ends. The employee always leaves the training arena, whether it was eLearning or classroom, and then goes back to the job.
Then what happens? It’s now entirely dependent on what the manager reinforces or punishes.
Whatever cues the manager makes, no matter how subtle, will determine whether the employee will apply what was discussed, trained, practiced and reinforced in the training class.
Let’s look at one example.
Jim decides to take a class on communication styles. Why did he take it? Perhaps it was discovered in an annual review discussion that one of Jim’s weaknesses is his ability to communicate. So the action plan is to solve for Jim’s weakness and have him go to communications training. (Loyal readers of this blog will know that I am not big on focusing on weaknesses unless there is a strategic need for the organization).
Jim goes to the class and learns some great techniques for improving his communication with his manager and his peers. For example, he learns that he needs to start saying, “I hear what you are saying” to indicate that he is listening actively. He also learns that it helps to says, “Yes. . . and” instead of “No, but” when discussing an issue, as it fosters more open discussion and keeps dialog going rather than shutting it down.
So Jim starts doing this back on the job.
When he gets back, he is in a discussion with his boss and he says, “I hear what you are saying. Let me tell you my thoughts” instead of the more typical “I can’t do that.” Then, in a team meeting, Jim says in response to Lianne’s suggestion for how to solve a problem, “Yes, and we should also consider that the budget for this project is not available until next fiscal year.”
Wow! Jim’s applied his training perfectly! Amazing (really, this is amazing).
Jim’s boss, Art, then says, “Yes, and, I can hear that Jim is applying that stupid communications training mumbo jumbo that they force you though. That was a stupid class.” (Even though Art actually sponsored that Jim go through this class. Yes, Art has issues in this example.)
Everyone laughs. Jim immediately ceases to apply these techniques and reverts to his previous communications style, which was, interestingly enough, to say that people’s ideas are “stupid,” “impossible,” and peppered with “I don’t care what you have to say.”
Art, the Manager, has succinctly and immediately re-trained Jim in communications techniques in 10 seconds. He has reinforced Jim’s more difficult and less collaborative communications style and will continue to do so over time.
The chances of Jim applying the techniques learned in the communications training class are now zero.
And this is why the manager is the most high impact trainer in your organization.
Have you ever attended a training class only to have your manager subvert what you learned? What did the manager do?