8 Ways L&D can Help Managers and Leaders with Workplace Learning

steve jobs

Towards Maturity’s latest report “Excellence in Leadership development – Energising Leaders Through Technology” identifies how senior managers and line managers actually learn what they need to do their job more effectively. Whilst formal courses remain important, they found that leaders and managers are also strong self-directed and informal learners. So if you’re in L&D, how can you help them?

How managers and leaders stay smart

Managers are typically more experienced and make greater use of informal, workplace learning than course-based training.
The more experience you have, the less formal, course-based learning you need. The chart below summarises the general increase in the use of informal learning as you move from novice to expert:


So if you’re in L&D, there’s not a lot of value in creating more formal learning for managers. This is confirmed by the Towards Maturity research which found:

  • 91% find collaboration with others essential/very useful (in fact, 55% are motivated by technologies that will help them network with others)
  • 70% find Google or other web search essential/very useful
  • 40% join networks and communities to help them learn
  • 80% are willing to share what they know with others ( although 23% say they need help getting started)
  • Over 70% are using mobile devices for learning
  • 70% learn on their way to work and 50% learn in the evenings and at weekends.

Not enough time, not the right tools: are your managers missing things?

But despite their self-directed preferences, almost two thirds of leaders say that they struggle with finding the time to learn. Another 44% can’t find what they need, despite having the desire to do this. This should be a concern. Managers and leaders are the people that we mainly rely on to scan the outside world for signals, and alert the business to risks or opportunities on the horizon. As Harvard Business Review put it, the best leaders are constantly in seek / sense  / share mode: finding what’s relevant, sensing how it applies to the team or business, and bringing others up to speed. If they can’t find what they need, there’s a risk we’re being led into blind spots.

8 ways L&D can help managers and leaders in workplace learning

How can L&D department’s help line managers and leaders? They’re already in the main following a great model of self-directed, continuous learning. The temptation might be to just leave them to do their thing. That’s a missed opportunity, for managers, their teams and certainly for the learning team. Instead, here are 8 ways L&D can help:

  1. Find better tools to help managers efficiently seek and filter content. Push new and relevant content to them directly rather than managers having to search for it. The content needs to be comprehensive so managers are confident they are not missing new articles.
  2. Curate content which is personalised to the manager, for example it is about the specific topics they are interested in, it is content shared by experts they like, content published by sites they respect, content that supports and augments courses they have been doing, and content shared by their peers. They’re under time pressure, so why not set up filters for them and let them tweak?
  3. Provide a daily briefing or digest of relevant content they can scan each morning. 70% of managers learn on their way to work and in the morning. Make it easier for them.
  4. daily-briefingProvide mobile access to the content quickly and easily for the 70%+ managers that are using their mobiles for learning. This allows them to read it anytime, anywhere.
  5. Get them to share their daily learning habits with their team. They may be so natural at scanning and collaborating that they’re not recognising those as key workplace skills. They can and should be role models. As Jane Hart puts it, they should be helping to build a ‘learning worker mindset’ in their teams.
  6. Provide a place for them to share what they’re finding, more efficiently. If they’re experts at scanning and bringing in ideas, make sure you have good tools for capturing and retaining those ideas, which are probably not in email. Tools that enable content flagging, annotation and saving are valuable here. Find the tools and help the managers become power users.
  7. share-ideasSupport their teams in learning how to scan, sense and share. These are key workplace skills.
  8. Encourage them to ‘work out loud’ – to reflect actively on what they’re finding, what’s working, what could be better. Managers influence the tone of sharing and openness in their teams, support them in doing so (and of course, be an example of working out loud in L&D).

Managers are out in front of the rest when it comes to building modern daily workplace learning habits. The research shows they are networking, searching and learning on the way to work, in their evenings and at weekends. L&D departments need to leverage this enthusiasm for learning and help them drive change through their teams. Make them the heroes, and help them set the tone.