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Nuts and Bolts: Getting Management Support for Training

by Jane Bozarth

July 6, 2010

Column

by Jane Bozarth

July 6, 2010

You, the instructional designer, are on the same team as the managers of the learners. It’s important to do this double handful of things so that the managers know that fact, and so that they can play their position in getting the results that everyone wants.

One of the frustrations in Learning & Development is the reality of what happens when the worker returns to the job. A thousand things stand between a learner and performance; among the biggest of these is the learner’s manager.

When developing and launching a new training initiative – traditional classroom, virtual classroom, asynchronous, or a mix – or suggesting a training solution for an individual worker or group, it’s vital to gain management commitment. As with so many issues in training and development, this is another of those “easier said than done” challenges. Here are some tips:

  1. Involve management in course design. Developers often ask managers for information during the needs assessment phase, but usually less so during actual design. Invite their input into creating real-world scenarios and simulations, case studies, and what-ifs. This will support their understanding of what the course will and won’t cover, and develop their vested interest in seeing the training succeed. Collateral benefits will be an increased understanding about the reality of what training can and can’t “fix,” and help in informing those managers who – surprise! – really don’t understand the employee’s work.
  2. Beware of fads and easy answers. Odds are that the magical four-letter-personality/coping skills/talents inventory, or the Cute Little Furry Animal Metaphor book, will not do any good. Worse, it could exacerbate problems and attitudes toward fixing them. Invest time in working with managers to identify root causes and real solutions.
  3. No mandatory classes. While some seem to think that a mandate communicates importance, nothing sends the message “we’re about to make you sit through something awful and unnecessary” more quickly than making a course mandatory. In the words of Online Learning Handbook author Patti Shank, “If your instruction isn’t good enough for folks to want to attend, you aren’t doing your job, and managers can only do so much to support you. Even if law or something else mandates the course, you don’t need to announce it. In the optimal world, mandated courses would be outlawed. Mandated knowledge and skills, on the other hand, are quite another story.”
  4. Involve managers in completion and evaluation processes. Require that they sign off that the training has occurred. Establish them as final assessors, and provide them with tools to support them in that role.
  5. Provide orientation sessions for managers on new training initiatives. Emphasize the “what’s in it for you” factor.
  6. Work inside the organization to establish managers as the ones primarily responsible for development of their own staff. Work to establish partnerships and deliver training that complements and extends – but doesn’t replace – the efforts made by managers.
  7. Make an explicit link between your training and your marketing materials and the organization’s mission, vision, goals, and values. Also, work to help learners make connections between their performance and the organization’s goals.
  8. Invite managers to serve as co-trainers. One of the biggest successes of my career came when I asked a couple of middle managers to serve as instructors for several modules of a leadership course. They brought instant credibility to the program and were completely dedicated to helping the learners and the course succeed.
  9. Be credible. Often there is a reason that management does not support training efforts. Shadow workers around, listen to managers, and pay attention to how the organization really works. Deliver quality products focused on real performance improvement. And don’t make promises you can’t keep!
  10. (Some material adapted from Bozarth, J. (2008). From Analysis to Evaluation: Tools, Tips, and Techniques for Trainers. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.)


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Jane,
I'm really glad that you addressed this topic. I've seen too many times a great training program fall apart because of lack of management buy in.

I did want to comment that though I like the list overall I do have reservations about two items. The item on no mandatory classes (#3) is nice for optional classes that don’t directly affect on-the-job performance, but for any fundamental competency of the job, especially one related to health and safety, mandatory training is a must and not to be left to the trainee; we wouldn’t want our pilots or surgeons skipping training because it wasn’t required. The other item of concern is about managers being trainers (#8). This item is great in theory but managers teaching is more about the company culture and resources than it is a general expectation. If the managers go through certification, just like any other facilitator, it is the absolute best. But if we just have the individual there because they carry the title, then we are just pushing buy in at a superficial level.

Again, I appreciate you bringing this topic up. I’d love to hear what others say about the list.

Thanks,
Mark Burke
Accurate Assessments
Hi, Mark, I'm sorry I didn't see this until now. The system here doesn't notify me about comments. As this column length is set at about 750 words I am sometimes forced to sacrifice detail. The instructors I mentioned in item 8 DID complete an extensive certification process in learning to be facilitators for the course, and I was often a co-trainer when they taught. They were also chosen partly for their reputations as good coaches and mentors in their work units. I agree that just sending any manager in to "do" training is inadvisable.
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