Manager buy-in is critical to learning, but how do you get it?

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LinkedIn Learning recently published the findings of a study on employee training that indicated employees won’t take training seriously unless managers do, too. Companies may feel they have two choices: either hope that employees voluntarily accept the training and participate or enforce the training with disincentives from superiors.

But there's a better way. Management buy-in is the key to gaining cooperation and participation from employees in their own training. How can organizations ensure that they are sending the right message from the C-suite?

To get to the root of this issue, HR Dive spoke with Rachel Lefkowitz, content marketing manager at LinkedIn, about the report findings.

"Time and time again studies show that a top reason professionals leave a company is because of their relationship with their manager (or lack thereof)," Lefkowitz told HR Dive. "In fact, according to a Gallup poll, a whopping 50% of employees quit for the sole reason of breaking ties with their boss."

Why managers matter

Managers are tasked with coaching employees, and so they need to be fully engaged with why training matters.

“A manager's role as a coach is a pivotal piece of retaining top talent and a powerful tool in the learning process," Lefkowitz said. "Managers are directly responsible for developing their people and teams, which, when done right, can reduce turnover and increase engagement and profitability. Given their influence, it’s of the utmost importance these professionals support and empower their employees to engage in ongoing learning."

To get employees to participate in voluntary learning activities, managers also need to demonstrate a willingness to do the same. Organizations can facilitate this by making it easier for employees to access learning content on-the-go around their already busy schedules.

"The pace of modern business doesn't allow employees to wait for an instructor-led class. They need help when and where the problem arises — whether that's in the office, on their commute, or when they get a panicked email at 2 am,” Lefkowitz said.

An ongoing, creative and robust communications plan should be in place to help employees grow. Companies need to reinforce and provide support for a growth mindset, and employees need to feel comfortable taking intelligent risks, asking questions and taking time to learn, she added.

"There are many ways to do this whether you incorporate growth mindset into your performance management system, get executives to talk about the importance of learning or provide incentives for learning,” she said.

Making learning part of the culture

Kris Allshouse, executive director at Los Angeles County Regional Training Center, agreed on many of these points. For learning to be successful, he said, it needs to become a core value of the organization — something that is seen as a positive force rather than a stick by which to cajole employees. By establishing a strong learning culture, it becomes a part of the norms of the organization.

Getting employees to participate in their own career development comes down to management viewing them as stakeholders in the organization’s success, says Allshouse. To do so, leaders must be objective, positive forces in the workplace and recognize that "behavior and potential are two different things."

 Making mandatory training more interesting 

The same theory can be applied to mandatory training, which can induce plenty of eye rolls and resistance from employees. For example, employees may know that they must participate in safety training each year, but they drag their feet on it because it’s something they already know.

Maureen Vogel, senior manager of public relations for the National Safety Council, shared some tips on how to encourage employees to participate. Management buy-in is especially critical in this case, she said, calling it “sweeping the stairs from the top”.

“Management must hold themselves to the same, if not higher, standards as employees," Vogel said. "Employee engagement comes from engaged employers. If the C-suite is showing a commitment to training, then employees will buy in too.”

Conveying the value of mandatory training is important too, because it is often viewed as dull, but data can play a powerful role.

"For example, each year more than 4,600 workers are killed and more than 1 million injured in workplace incidents," Vogel said. "Employees who learn of this hard data are likely to do what it takes to reduce the risk to themselves by taking the training more seriously."

By letting employees problem-solve various scenarios, they can be a more active participant in understanding how important the training is to their well-being, Allshouse said. In general, learning can be improved if employers focus on outcomes and highlight successes.

In all, companies should treat this seriously by creating a strong safety culture, Vogel said. “Safety is a journey with no end point. It should be a constant vigil to protect workers and prevent unnecessary deaths," she said. "Every organization that accomplishes this should be proud of this journey.”

The same can be said for all types of employee learning and development.

Tess T.

Tess T.

Binghamton, New York, United States

Tess C. Taylor, SHRM-CP, CCC, CPC, founder of HR Knows, is a seasoned human resource and career coaching professional with nearly 2 decades of corporate experience. She regular contributes to, Forbes, HRDive, Compensation Today, HR Gazette, US News Caree...

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