The “weakest link” in organisational learning

The weakest link in organisational learning is often its irrelevance to daily activities people do on the job. Learning materials to be “generally applicable” usually are made around abstract concepts and set of correct actions learner should take in typical situations. It may seem that these manipulations make learning applicable to wider audience, however the opposite is truth. There no single way of applying gained knowledge and skills to specific working situations where real people, not “roles”.

Any learning initiative, would it be eLearning, blended learning or any other form of learning should never be standalone – it should be regularly assessed on how acquired skills and knowledge are applied on the job.

Line managers as coaches

Research shows that direct managers can have more impact on the results of training than trainers themselves. If the manager supports a training initiative, it would have positive impact, if the manager considers the specific training as “waste of time” it would probably be useless.

Managers can exercise more negative impact on eLearning and ant other forms of technology enabled training. They can do it before the training when identifying learning goals and completing entry assessments or after training – when their direct reports and HR professionals require feedback form them.

In the worst-case scenario indifference or bad will of managers makes the training useless: not only irrelevant learning goals are set, but also employees who have acquired knowledge and skills against all odds can’t apply it on the job due to their own managers’ resistance.

Top- and line managers don’t like to discuss this. Otherwise it means that they should take some responsibility of training their employees. Many companies have difficulties trying to force their managers to adopt a coaching approach to employee development just because this.

Organisation can benefit greatly if it would engage line managers into the employee development. Who can be better at giving feedback and making sure everything that was learned is applied on the job?

Managers, however, are often reluctant to take a coaching role – they lack knowledge or time (often both).

What tools can support coaching?

Systems, designed for distance learning, can be easily sabotaged by direct managers if they don’t want their reports to be involved in learning.

On the other hand, technology such as an employee development system can engage direct managers in the learning process better than any human intervention like a motivational speaker.

The secret sauce is simple: technology can have embedded tools that support coaching by providing hints on how to communicate with report in the most efficient way. Let’s have a look at the ingredients of this secret sauce. The coaching supporting tool to be effective should provide the following:

  • environment for assessment: identified objectives, forms, relevant data for assessment,
  • consistency: assessments plans,
  • link to practice: how can employees apply what was learned.

Environment for assessment

Today’s employees are busy, and their managers are even busier. Line managers should make sure they spend their time as efficiency as possible, especially when it comes to something new. If they take a coaching role, they should understand what problems and opportunities for a specific employee are and what actions are required from them.

In other words, they shouldn’t keep it all in their heads – the system should tactfully guide them through the process, softly pushing to what they have to do.

Managers should have everything at hand: employees list, competency standards, target competency profiles, assessment forms, analytics etc


Calendars or daily planners of line managers shouldn’t have too many remainders like “Do not forget to assess employee X on her delegation skills!” Ideally, as soon as the employee X completes self-assessment, the system should send a friendly reminder to completer the assessment, based on the same questions.

And here the magic happens. The manager, facing the need to complete the assessment form, would need to step out of his/her daily routine and do the following:

  • first, attention of the manager is switched to employee X – the manager should consider how good is the latter at delegation,
  • second, the manager should compare their own assessment and the self-assessment of employee X,
  • third, think over why there is a difference in assessments,
  • (yes, there are usually differences and managers are usually surprised).

After reviewing the assessment and self-assessment result and considering what can cause the difference the manager has a starting point in communication, something he/she can begin a meeting with.

There is no better way to force the manager to draw attention to the development of their direct reports and think about why and how their employee are trained and developed. It is important that it’s not happening once or twice a year, but periodically, according to the individual learning path.

Link to practice

Ready-made assessment forms allow the manager to meet two important challenges without putting too much efforts in it:

  • track application of knowledge and skills gained,
  • stimulate an employee to apply what was learned.

If done right, working in employee development system doesn’t feel like extra burden for managers as they don’t need to overthink – everything is done to make managerial overview of training as easy as possible.

The manager can use the data the employee development system presents to him for guidance – they know what they should pay attention to when analysing working situations of their direct reports, what behaviours should be corrected and what should be encouraged.

How does this strategy help HR managers and L&D professionals?

  • First, it allows to engage managers into employee development and share the responsibility with them.
  • Second, HR and L&D professionals can track real-time how knowledge and skills gained are transformed into behaviours on the job.
  • Third, the data gained allows to form reports on how learning impacts increase of skills levels.

How does this strategy help employees?

  • First, employees get more support in increasing their efficiency form their direct managers.
  • Second, they can track their own progress and how skills are applied before and after taking a training.