We’ve written several articles about how to engage staff in your learning and development opportunities, and how to explain the benefits of L&D to your senior management team. As part of this, we’ve briefly discussed ways you can better engage senior managers, but now it’s time to explore this in more depth.
According to LinkedIn, 61% of talent developers attend meetings with executives or senior partners to help identify which are the most important skills to train for, but 69% of L&D professionals also say that getting managers actively involved or engaged is one of their biggest challenges. However, as three quarters of employees would be more likely to attend a course assigned by their manager, taking deliberate action to secure managerial engagement with ongoing learning can help foster a genuine culture of L&D in an organisation.1
What’s in it for them?
It’s a generally accepted fact of the modern world that people are always busy. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that people always feel busy – which isn’t necessarily the same thing. For many, being busy is a status symbol of how much they’ve got going on, and they can’t be seen to have the free time for “frivolities”, such as workplace learning. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that the majority of workers say they’d like to learn but don’t have the time.2 It’s therefore important to make sure all of your potential learners, and especially your busier senior managers, can see why L&D is a good and productive use of their time.
As almost one third of all senior executives believe employee retention and training are the two main talent concerns facing their industry in 2020,3 this justification might mean proving how L&D can help employee retention or showing how learning will improve their team’s efficiency. We’ve already written about L&D’s return on investment, and making sure your senior management team actually recognises these benefits is an important step in getting their attention focused properly on L&D.
However, this approach may just get the manager to push their team into learning, without persuading them to get personally engaged themselves. Make sure they understand how your L&D opportunities will specifically help them.
Give them the opportunities they want
A large number of organisations don’t focus their L&D on senior managers at all, with 34% of senior managers and executives saying that there’s either poor or no training provided for them and 41% saying that the older they get, the less their organisation wants to spend on them.4 How can you expect your more senior staff – both in hierarchy and in age – to engage with L&D if the learning opportunities available don’t apply to them?
It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of assessing an organisation’s skills gap and assuming that any related learning will be relevant for everyone working in that area of the company. Instead, it’s important to remember that people in different levels of an organisation need training for different skills, and managers aren’t going to appreciate you trying to get them on a course for something basic or unnecessary.
Always think about your target audience and what they actually need. Tailor your learning opportunities around them, their existing competencies and what they need to learn. Senior management have usually reached their position because they’re good at their job, so respect their intelligence when planning your L&D.
However, people tend to be promoted for being technically skilled at their job, not necessarily because they have the best management or organisational skills. Senior managers are supposed to lead, inspire, present with impact, delegate and represent the company, and helping them with these types of skills may lead to higher engagement as it becomes directly relevant and necessary for them.
Match their values and set the culture
All L&D interventions should work alongside your organisation’s values, helping to promote them. Many workers now judge the organisations they work at, or are considering working at, based on their culture as much as on anything else. In a global survey, 77% of respondents said that they consider a company’s culture before applying for a job, and 56% rated culture as more important to them than salary.5 But, an organisation’s culture and values have to filter down from those at the top of the company. The senior management team aren’t the ones judging the company culture, they’re the ones setting it.
Workers are more effective and rate their organisation more positively when they understand and feel aligned with its vision, values and operating principles, and become more productive and engaged when they’re aware of how their day-to-day tasks help the bigger picture.6 Senior management teams and L&D are directly and symbiotically involved in this process – either positively or negatively.
L&D can, of course, be used to fill in skill gaps and develop employees’ soft skills, but it’s also an opportunity to discuss the company, its cultures and its structures and processes. The most effective method for this is to work alongside the senior management team to plan out what every employee ought to know. Taking an active hand in the L&D content, and seeing specific benefits, should get the senior management team much more engaged with your L&D.
Listen to their feedback
Senior managers should be looking at an organisation’s bigger picture. In a similar way to L&D professionals looking at an organisation’s skills gap to see what needs addressing, senior management look at an organisation to see what works, what doesn’t work and what needs fixing or replacing. As much as you can analyse company data to pick the most necessary training topic for the next course, managers should also have their ear to the ground and have a good feel for the company, potentially on a more macro scale. This means that if you hear them saying that the organisation needs to be more efficient, or that a particular team need to improve their teamwork, then you should start suggesting training related to these issues.
Many senior managers may feel some distance from L&D. It lives either in the realm of HR or with dedicated L&D professionals, and they leave it to them. By bringing them into the decision-making process, and actively listening to their comments and feedback, you can start closing this gap. So, don’t just talk to your senior team in advance of the training, but ask them afterwards for their thoughts and comments too. Keep this feedback in mind when organising their next learning session. The more actively involved they are the better.
This extends far beyond just course topics. If your senior managers aren’t engaging with your L&D, there’s a reason. We’ve already addressed the issues of time and content, but things can be forgotten. Managers are busy people and some things simply aren’t going to be priorities for them unless they see a direct impact on business results.
If this is the feedback you receive, then think of new ways to promote your learning opportunities to them. If you’re sending out a weekly email reminder, consider sending a reminder the day or even morning before the learning session. For senior team members you could even send a personalised email that you probably wouldn’t send to the more general staff. You should also think about whether you should mention the session in particular meetings, put up posters and make sure you market your L&D opportunities effectively.