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Why Managers are the New Trainers

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The adage “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” might apply to skill building in the office. Managers and company leaders are taking a more proactive role in training their own teams.

“It began with managers using their own budgets and not relying on the formal training budget,” said Halley Bock, [former] CEO of Fierce Inc., a leadership development company. Brock said her company has seen an increase in the number of leaders within organizations looking for tools to advance their teams.

That makes sense. A University of Phoenix survey released in 2013 found 68 percent of respondents had worked in dysfunctional teams, which soured their interest and ability to lend their skills to teams in the future. By having managers deliver training, it not only ensures that all team members are competent enough to contribute the way their leader wants them to, but also managers can finesse programs to perfectly fit specific employee groups.

“If training was left to a CLO or an HR department, there would be more of a template,” said David Garvin, a professor at Harvard Business School who has researched outcomes associated with cohesive teams. “By handing the keys to individual managers, the managers get to put their own stamp on how the team works.”

Making managers responsible for training ensures that content and delivery is personalized to the team and cuts out programs that aren’t necessary. For example, a program teaching Microsoft Excel could be customized by a supervisor to focus only on the types of tables his or her employees need, rather than including all of the functions the software offers.

Managers who take the lead in training skills and leadership behavior can also help the bottom line by cutting out the need to pay a vendor, Garvin said.

But before managers can make employee development an official part of their job description, they have to know how to work with their subordinates in a way that keeps them in charge but also makes them approachable, engaged and open to new ideas.

“A manager needs to ask, ‘Where are we strong? Where are we weak?’ If I’m a manager, I need to know,” Bock said. Managers need to connect with their team on a personal level. “You can’t fake it. I’ve seen people try.”

One of the potential pitfalls of having a manager lead training is that it may be harder for learners to get constructive criticism — especially if a manager is off the mark, the team will be too. Just as a good manager can create a good team, a toxic manager can create one that’s counterproductive.

“Feedback has to come without consequence,” Bock said. However, this doesn’t mean feedback should be anonymous. Face-to-face conversations can go a long way to build an emotional connection.

One of the biggest areas managers can improve is open discussion and hearing employees, regardless of what they’re saying — or not saying, as the case might be. “Team leaders often overstate the candor on their team,” Garvin said. “As a team leader, just because you don’t hear dissent doesn’t mean there isn’t dissent.”

Here are a few more ways managers can better connect with their teams to prime the way for a trainer-trainee relationship.

Hold your tongue. One of the biggest mistakes a manager can make at a meeting is to present his or her idea first. By waiting to present an opinion, a manager can foster a more open discussion. “If I say what I think what we should do, then ask everybody what they think, there’s less conversation,” Garvin said. “Who’s going to disagree with the boss?”

Think like a millennial. Bock said millennials want a more Socratic approach to training, and they’re not alone — the rest of the workforce is just as interested in having a leader tuned into its needs. Get managers to act as guides who involve their followers, not simply couriers for learning materials.

The key is conversation.  “Look at the word conversation. It has the Latin root con, which means ‘with’ or ‘together,’” Bock said. “Leaders aren’t trained go into conversation [with a together mindset]; no one likes being talked at.”

Halley Bock, [former] President & CEO, Fierce, Inc. was interviewed in the Chief Learning Officer article originally shared on and was written by Cameron Songer.


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