Training Zone have asked a great question about how effective are employers in supporting new managers. A more interesting question for those of us with responsibility in this area is; How will we know we are as effective as we can be at supporting our new managers? The TZ question  is based on a US survey where only 24% of respondents rated their organisation as good when it came to employees making the transition to a managerial role. The study suggested that this is down to a lack of measurement and promotes 360 degree feedback as a means of developing this key talent in an organisation. There is a slight danger with this survey, as it has been conducted by a company selling 360 feedback, but intuitively it does make sense. Without great feedback, how can a manager judge his or her performance. In addition, all the evidence is that this feedback is much richer and more effective if it comes from a variety of sources such as 360 degree feedback. So I'd endorse this as essential in developing all managers. That said, it is only part of what I think needs to be looked at as part of a bigger picture in terms of the performance of managers.  There's no point in holding up a mirror on performance without having the means available to help managers deal with the feedback. I've written before about different levels of learning that need to be considered when designing support for a manager. Ideally, a new manager will need some ideas and reference points before they begin the role of managing people. In reality, time often doesn't allow for this. Face-to-face coaching or learning is a great way to give feedback about current performance and/or to open up an individual to the possibility of new ways of thinking or doing something. However, once in the role not only do they need feedback to help them measure performance, but they need on-going access to just-in-time resources that can help them solve problems as they arise. The 70-20-10 model is key to understanding this. Depending on the nature of the organisation, informal learning can account for as much as 70%[1] of the learning activity that takes place at work. Learning through others, e.g. coaching, mentoring and formal training make up the balance. Despite this, the focus and spend in most organisations is on the 30%!

70, 20, 10

Many Learning departments cling to the illusion of control they have over their workforce’s learning, but the reality is that informal learning is happening. Managers and employees are adopting new approaches, ideas and skills from colleagues, networks and information sources outside the confines of official learning programmes. Simply ignoring informal learning can mean that the learning occurs with no guidance or quality control resulting in a huge hidden cost implication. On demand resources such as our Toolkit for Managers can help close this gap. Not as a replacement to formal training, nor as a panacea to cure all informal learning’s pitfalls, but as a necessary additive that the learning department can and should use to influence learning and performance. If you are looking at supporting existing or new managers ask yourself:

  1. How will we know when our managers could use additional support (over and above what we already provide) to do their jobs effectively?
  2. How would we know that supporting informal learning would enhance our current performance and what would success look like here?

[1] There are a huge range of figures given to demonstrate the contribution of ‘informal learning’. Tracking down the source of these figures is an extended research project in itself. The most reputable source seems to be a 1994 report for the US Department of Labor Statistics (Informal Training: A Review of Existing Data and Some New Evidence, Lowenstein & Spencer, 1994). However, many commentators cherry pick the data from this fairly technical paper and put the total contribution of informal learning at around 80%. This doesn’t give the whole picture and in some organisations the number will be lower, in many it will be higher. What isn’t really in any doubt is that a significant proportion of learning activity in any given organisation is informal in nature.