Just whose business is it ??

Just how do leaders and managers prefer to learn?  No, this hasn’t got anything to do with ‘learning styles’ or anything of that ilk!  This is about the views of a key group of end users of learning provision, ie managers of people, and the findings of a recent study that could have profound implications for the Learning and Development community.

The study in question, The Learning Habits of Leaders and Managers (GoodPractice, 2012), sought to:

*  identify common themes in relation to the key challenges that managers of people face

*  identify where these managers go for advice and support to help them meet the challenges of their roles

* establish whether the support that managers find is effective in improving their overall performance.

Eight organisations of different sizes from both public and private sectors were involved in the study.  These included two large financial services institutions, a brewing company, a county council, a broadband and telecommunications provider, a legal services provider, a university and a motoring membership organisation.  Participants (consisting of a minimum of two managers per organisation) took part in 36 one-to-one telephone and face-to-face semi-structured interviews, which were conducted in June and July 2011.  An important part of the interview process was asking managers to describe their actual behaviours and actions in real situations, as opposed to providing a hypothetical description of what they could or might do.

So what were the findings of this qualitative study?  The five greatest challenges faced by those interviewed, in order of decreasing concern, were:

  1. Having difficult conversations with their team members.
  2. Managing the capability and (under) performance of their teams.
  3. Coaching and training team members.
  4. Dealing with negative reactions and resistance to change.
  5. Managing remote teams effectively.

When it came to support, the managers had a variety of support options available to help them to meet the above challenges.  These included:

*  approaching a range of people from within their own organisational networks and externally

*  using various technology-based learning tools, such as corporate intranets and learning management systems, and seeking support from the Internet via both PCs and smartphones

*  attending formal training courses and workshops, plus other more traditional face-to-face learning options.

However, more than half of the managers surveyed indicated a strong preference for informal face-to-face or telephone discussions with their peers, more senior managers and informal experts, to help them meet the challenges of their roles.  In particular, these managers mentioned specifically the benefits of speaking directly to their peers in order to share their experiences and to highlight best practice.  This strong tendency to choose informal learning is directly at odds with the perceptions of learning professionals as shown in some recent reports (eg the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Learning and Talent Development Survey, April 2012), which show that L&D provision still tends to use traditional methods of formal classes and classroom and trainer-led instruction.  In which case it would appear that there is an obvious imbalance between what learners want and what L&D is currently providing.

“L&D’s role should not be to try to prescriptively ‘manage’ informal learning but to find out what informal learning is taking place in order to build up a picture of how it is contributing to performance.  As well as encouraging people to engage with effective forms of informal learning, L&D can nurture the development of internal networks and communities of practice, and develop high quality resources to support informal experts and mentors.” (p.8).

When it comes to learning then, ask yourself this:  just whose business is it?

Useful links:

The GoodPractice research report (June 2012):


The CIPD Learning and Talent Development report (April 2012):


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