Why the 21st century will see the renaissance of the learning manager.

This is a post about learning.  And yes, also about management, as the title suggests.  For somewhere along the lines, we lost something from management.

We diversified HR and created Learning & Development professionals.  I am one of them, I’m proud to say.  We take our role seriously, love it and are there to provide learning fuel for people to outperform, improve, and adapt to change.

We created a task-orientation to everyone’s role and that included managers of people.  Especially when email came along.  Why employ secretarial and admin support when people can do their own?

We thought command and control would last for ever.  Or at least a more sophisticated form of it we labelled leadership in an attempt to move away from dictatorial management practices that appeared to be constraining people in performing.  We wanted inspiring Lieutenants not barking Sergeant-Majors.

We moved mentoring and coaching to be the responsibility of others – largely HR/L&D folks.

We created people management policies and practices, as managers weren’t paying attention to their people and all on their tasks and projects, meetings and emails.

We lost the role of learning enabler, development architect and excellence coach from management.

So all we have now is a series of über-tasked managers now being asked to “engage” their people.  We’ve even seen self-organised teams question the merit of managers at all.  Managers could be the newly axed typing pool.

Unless, there’s a renaissance in this learning manager?  I think managers know they should do more development related work with their people, but they don’t do it.

There’s a marvellous concept which has been written about called the knowing-doing gap.  Read a short extract from the book by Pfeffer and Sutton here.

As with this concept, every manager knows they should do more of their learning and people development activities but they don’t.  Either they don’t have the time, aren’t bothered enough or the company just doesn’t give them the mandate or encouragement to do so nor take them to task if they don’t.  Knowing – Doing gap in my mind anyway.

So whatever the reasons, if we do have people who’ve managed to retain the learning manager mantle, or those who want to rediscover it, what is it that they do that closes the gap regarding the development and enhancement of the capability of their people.

They understand that when new people join, they need to socially bond., especially with you as manager initially maybe.  They can shadow you.  Learn the ropes the people the things that are important to the team through you.  KNOW: context needed.  DO: provide it through experience and gradual build up of knowledge of how things work around here.  Of course the shadowing experience is more than being a spectator of work, conversations, pre- and post- event/meeting discussions with you as manager help make sense of it all.

The learning manager then understands when they need to be let go.  KNOW: people need to feel value and sense of accomplishment.  DO: put them with an experienced hand to learn the ropes of the IT system, the warehouse, how work originates, what quality looks like.  Check in with them by having short chats on “how are you feeling?”  “What improvements can you spot we might make”?  Show interest in their progress.

The learning manager knows when they’re ready for more.  KNOW: people respond well to the stretch assignment to learn from and the challenge of a new project with the safety of others to help them out.  It’s a sign of progress that they aren’t just needed to do the basics of their task list.  DO: include people in fairly distributed allocation to projects and new initiatives.

The learning manager knows when to coach, mentor and intervene.  KNOW: regular chats are key prompted by them and you.  Discover where they might need wisdom, a method or the chance to work out how they get better at dealing with the stubborn logistics clerk on floor 3.  DO: listen, search, explore, share, gently encourage, guide, instruct all as the situation, skill-level and appetite demonstrate.

The learning manager knows when to give tough love.  KNOW: some behaviours or methods need a check in.  Letting them off does nothing more than inculcate low-resolution activities and it does no-one any favours.  DO: use calming and yet straight talking approaches to help them appreciate the impacts of the areas they need to pay attention to.  Use of the coaching model “Continue: Begin” gives learning managers a chance to recognise productive and useful aspects of performance and “begin” invites them to improve in other areas.  Offering help is not mandatory as they may be aware of how to close their own gaps.  Checking whether they need your help is fine of course.  Respect their ability and only intervene if they haven’t quite found the right solution(s).

Knowing how critical managers are to creating a learning-pro group of people capable of adaptation, self-direction, receptive to feedback, improvement focused and confident is SURELY a blissful situation to be in as a manager?  Doing this on the other hand appears to be the missing component.

I read recently how lazy (or maybe efficient) the brain is and that lazy people often find the quickest way to do something.  Lazy brains / managers also seem to let things slide that aren’t going to get them a butt-kicking.  Being a learning manager has been one of those things to slide which is an utter shame.

Before I was an L&D professional I was a line manager.  And as an L&D pro was one too.  I did my best to be the learning manager but felt I was always fighting the inbox, meeting schedule and bosses expectations to do stuff.

I knew I needed to be more of the learning manager.  I did my best but didn’t do as much as I think people deserved.  Since becoming freelance, I’m less the manager and more the learning aspect.  It feels human, adult, natural and rewarding.  The results are clear and obvious: energised, confident aware people doing great things.

Time to act on the knowingdoing gap of being the learning manager?  I believe so.

Perry TimmsPerry Timms is the Director of People & Transformational HR (PTHR), as well as the Community Founder for iPractice.org. He is a Chartered Member of the CIPD and Visiting Fellow at Sheffield Hallam Business School, as well as the Vice Chair of the Northamptonshire CIPD branch and also lectures on HRM at UK and international universities.

His career has journeyed through public and not-for-profit sector HR covering technology & business change, learning, talent and OD for over 20 years. Perry is active on all social media platforms and was voted Top 10 in People Management magazine’s HR tweeters and bloggers for 2012 and 2013.  He is currently the Adviser to the CIPD on Social Media and Engagement and was a Guide for the CIPD’s ‘Hackathon’: an online, open-source innovation platform to create new practices, processes and protocols fir for a modern workplace. Find him on Twitter or on his personal site.

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