Date: 07/06/16 Duration: 00:17:23

Line managers play a crucial role in the development of an organisation’s people. Their management skills have an enormous effect on employee attitudes – commitment, motivation, and satisfaction – and these factors are key in determining an organisation’s business success. But line managers are busy people and often, developing management skills falls lower down on their priority list.

We asked Dr Mark Cole, Head of L&D at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation, Catherine Noel, L&D Manager at Cannon and Jennifer Wrigley, L&D Manager at Discovery Networks International how they tackle line manager training and how L&D professionals could better support and engage with their line managers to increase the success of their learning and development plans.

How does your organisation develop its line managers? Join in the discussion on Twitter @CIPD using the hashtag #cipdpodcasts.

Philippa Lamb: Learning and development professionals know that most training fails when people are back in their role just doing their job. In fact 70% of training fails at that point so there's clearly a widespread problem with embedding learning and making sure it is actually put into practice.

Now clearly line managers play a key role in developing their people and supporting learning and development programmes is part of that. But line managers are busy people so what can L&D professionals do to help join up all these dots?

We headed over to the CIPD’s recent learning and development show at Olympia to try and find some answers to that question and we started by talking to Jennifer Wrigley. She's international L&D Manager at Discovery Networks International, the organisation behind the Discovery Channel and a raft of other media outlets. Right now she's working on exactly this issue and she's finding it a complex task, not least because Discovery has largely grown organically through mergers and acquisitions and now has sights in 67 locations all over the world.

Jennifer Wrigley: And across that we have a real breadth of cultures and types of people and views on management and leadership that are very inconsistent.

PL: Jennifer started at the beginning of 2015 and she's had her work cut out since then.

JW: And one of the key aims is to, I guess, put a baseline in place, what do we even mean by management of teams and people at Discover because up until that point there wasn't anything really consistently talked about or written down or explained or trained in people. So last year was all about the first stage, building some awareness and skills around core people management.

PL: They created a management programme called Leadership Essentials, hitting all the basics like coaching, feedback, managing change and conflict but we’re talking five continents and thousands of people and they’re not new to this.

JW: We didn’t want to come across with “Here’s one way of doing it and you've been doing it wrong even though you've been doing quite well with it, you must do it our way.” It was more a…

PL: That was my question. So you weren't necessarily looking for a unified approach.

JW: Yeah, I guess we were looking for consistency in the main themes.

PL: This is interesting so thinking about line managers and their role specifically in L&D, enabling L&D, it’s hard to ask you how things were because obviously it was so varied but was there a prevalence amongst line managers perhaps that that sort of activity wasn't necessarily core to what they were doing and it was a side thing that they were doing or maybe HR was doing or someone else was doing and so there was quite a lot of work to do in enabling and just delivering the message that actually this is part of your job.

JW: Yeah, and I think that's still a message that we’re delivering. I think I would describe it having been quite a spoon-fed culture, so I guess a bit parent/child in that someone might come to HR and say, “My team’s not working,” or, “This isn’t working,” or “How do I get people to do this?”

PL: Fix it for me.

JW: Come in and fix it. So with people that have been through the programme and they might come to us and say, “Oh, I really want to run a team day,” and we’d say, “Okay let’s go back to what was on the programme what are the key themes you’re trying to do with your team? What are you trying to change behaviourally? What things can you do yourself?” What conversations can you have? What questions can you challenge them with?” It’s saying use the tools you've got, they’re there and available for you. Come back. Show me what you’re thinking about doing. So they build confidence in delivering some kind of offsite or having a really difficult conversation with someone. They’re doing it and planning it themselves.

PL: Dr Mark Cole is Head of Learning and Organisational Development at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust. They have 1,300 people across 40 sites but the challenge for their line managers is a little different to Discovery’s because they by and large come through the system as doctors and clinicians and not as managers.

Dr Mark Cole: For most middle managers and particularly in the NHS there's a terrible convergence of pressures around making sure you’re delivering a really top quality service to service users, meeting the needs of the organisation in terms of data, performance information, being clear with commissioners who are paying for our services of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and looking at the care and containment of your team to protect them in that sense. And I think when you put all those things together the whole middle management piece is pretty unenviable, so it’s really about how we get people to a point where they can think about those in a quite systematic way I think.

PL: Their middle managers are still working in parallel jobs as clinicians so clearly developing their people isn’t realistically going to come top of their to do lists.

MC: For our middle managers part of our job in L&D is convincing them that it’s a completely different skillset that they’re going to have to apply as a manager to the one they have applied as a clinician.

PL: Do you define this L&D role as a performance goal for your management people, so they know they need to do it but do they understand what they need to do?

MC: I think we’re on a journey convincing people of that. We took a strategic position to say we wanted to professionalise management in the organisation. So there's a very clear statement that managers would need to think professionally about that role alongside the role they might have as a nurse or an occupational therapist or whatever. And that meant we wanted to invest time and content to get people up to speed. So we went from a kind of Ground Zero perspective which was saying it’s probably the case that most of these people need to know the essentials of management; so how do you manage your people; how do you look at a process and amend it; how do you manage your budget? And then thinking about how you bundle that all together and get them thinking creatively about it. So we really concentrated on management and we wanted them to have that at their fingertips and able to do it effectively.

PL: So how did they start?

MC: We did a major launch in terms of saying to people, we’re going to equip everybody with the essential skills they need to manage, no matter where you are on your management career, you may be five years in, ten years in, or just starting but as of this date everyone who graduates into a Band 7 position, which is literally the middle management post, will be expected to do our First Line Manager Programme.

PL: Well shall we kick off with just tell us a little bit about your organisation and your role.

Catherine Noel: Okay so I work for Cannon UK & Ireland. We’re the sales and marketing arm of Cannon Ink, the Japanese Company.

PL: Meet Catherine Noel.

CN: In the UK we have 2,100 employees and we have two main routes to market so our consumer business which you’re probably more familiar with, the cameras and that side of things, and then our B2B offer, solutions and software and hardware.

PL: And your role?

CN: My role’s learning and talent development manager for Cannon UK & Ireland.

PL: Okay so obviously from your point of view line managers are the key to everything you’re to achieve. These are busy people, where do you see the challenges for them around developing their people?

CN: Well we have some specific challenges because a lot of our employees are remote or field based. The line managers are critical really because we’ve found from an engagement point of view that the closer and the more qualitative relationship you have with your line manager the more likely you are to be engaged and productive and motivated. So they play an absolutely critical role and they’re also so much closer to the customer and the customer feedback than some of our middle or senior managers.

PL: But presumably this is tricky because they must have a lot of reports and a lot of customers, so just the sheer hours and time in having those conversations which, as you say, are incredibly helpful, how do you make that work?

CN: Well one of the challenges we faced was just raising the awareness of that really and I think what we found in the situation was we measure engagement but the measurement of the engagement had sort of become the means to the end and line managers were dissociated from the fact that actually it’s the day to day interactions that they have with their people that make the difference and it’s just having the conversation that's not necessarily directly related to the task and just taking the time to actually speak to people, which is a challenge but when you can see the benefits, the difference that makes to the bottom line and to the business and to employees’ engagement then raising the awareness and educating line managers about the difference they can make to that has been really key for us.

PL: So this is getting line managers past the idea that they’re sending people off on courses or sending them to do a thing, just talking to them generally.

CN: Yeah.

PL: Developing their people, this isn’t an add-on, this isn’t something else that they do when there's time, it’s really core to what they’re doing.

CN: Yeah and I mean I think we found that line managers were hoping to send people away to be cured, if you like.

PL: Yes and come back better.

CN: And come back better. And unfortunately, you know but they could see for themselves that that really wasn't working. And so I think to some extent we’re pushing on an open door when we’re saying, “Actually the thing that makes the difference is your connectivity with the employee.” And then they could start to see some tangible benefits from actually changing the way they interacted with their staff.

PL: At Discovery too their big focus when it comes to developing staff is all about the power of just talking.

JW: We’ve got rid of ratings this year, the US have decided to take out all performance ratings, so there's a massive amount of work around how can we help people have really meaningful, regular performance conversations. And that's really from now on a bit of a focus, not just in programmes but in our communications, the way we talk about things. It’s about meaningful conversations.

PL: So are you making these objectives part of those line managers’ performance objectives, things they need to do, they need to demonstrate outcomes in order to progress their own career?

JW: That's the plan but the reality is not right now. So with us getting rid of ratings and changing the way that we assess people anyway that's not happened this year and I don't know that it will happen next year either. In my ideal world I’d quite like to do simple pulses, so out to people, have you heard a conversation about your career or your development recently, or have you have a meaningful conversation, have you received feedback in the last three months? And not in a kind of test way, but also to prompt them to think, I can ask for feedback as much as I sit back and wait for it.

PL: So involving line managers in everything you do on the kind of learning and development front from the outset. That's really assisting you in the hearts and minds campaign your on aren’t you?

JW: Yeah I guess so. And I think it’s also just about making things daily, conversations, or easy to have, you know it’s not about sitting down for an hour every week and talking about someone’s career.

PL: And ticking a box.

JW: Yeah and ticking the box so that when I send out a pulse someone’s able to say yes I had a conversation. It’s about meaningful conversations. But they can happen in five minutes.

PL: Jennifer and her team put together some tools to help their line managers get up to speed with this. They had to be slick though Discovery’s people want staff that looks cool with the same high quality production values they bring to their own work as programme makers and broadcasters.

JW: And they don't want something really long-winded either, attention spans are probably the shortest here out of everywhere I've worked. So we’ve been using this tool called Loop and that basically is an app on your mobile. We can curate external content and create internal content and blend them into short topics, really of no longer than five minutes in length, and it takes no time for me to create that because all I'm doing…

PL: Give me an example.

JW: So for example a question like, “How do I have a career coaching conversation?” That might be the topic title. And in there we might connect people to like a Harvard Business Review article or a TED talk that's inspiring, or some ten questions that are great to ask, or here’s our model in Discovery for you to use. So it’s bringing in external and internal expertise into one place, on your mobile, on the go, when you need it. And the most important thing about it is that it’s about topics, real questions that people have rather than an hour e-learning course that covers everything, or a book that no one's going to read because it’s too long.

PL: So people grab them up when they need them?

JW: It’s that ‘just in time’ learning and it’s easy to find the topics that you need.

PL: At Cannon they help their managers to have these development conversations too and they’ve established a forum for managers to meet and share their experiences but what they get from that isn’t always what they’re expecting.

CN: We have what we call a team leader network forum, we would give some people some input around a topic, we would talk to them perhaps for example about having the key conversations, is one of the topics that we ran. So we give them some input and then we get them together and get them to share their experiences and talk about it together. There's some clear learning taking place there and people realising they're not the only ones, they’re not alone in this, there are lots of other managers facing the same challenges, and sharing ideas and thoughts about how other people have managed some of those difficulties around time.

PL: So when you say you get them together you physically get them together or is it this online communities?

CN: We get them all together in a room and we spend a day together going through and kind of using a world café type approach to building some questions, what are the hot topics for them around a particular subject, what are their challenges? And so some peer-coaching and networking.

PL: So you get that collaborative learning snowballing and continuing on for what even presumably if they move roles and get into other roles then they take all that with them.

CN: Absolutely. So it’s been really helpful in breaking down some of the silos within the organisation as well, you know we can point to deals that wouldn’t have happened or sales that wouldn’t have been made as a result of some of those connections taking place.

PL: Measuring the return on investment of this sort of work is far from straightforward. At Camden & Islington NHS Foundation Trust Dr Mark Cole deliberately trains his managers using ongoing live projects because he reckons it kills two birds with one stone.

MC: It helps demonstrate a better return on investment. It’s difficult to quantify in terms of cash but it’s easy from a quality perspective which is for the NHS we’re always balanced between cash and quality. It’s easy from a quality perspective to say, as a result of this intervention service user experience was improved by X, Y, Z so it makes it easier to make a case for these kind of interventions. And it makes it easier to deliver the content I think for some clinical staff because it’s contextualised.

PL: And busy people don't see it as a waste of time.

MC: Absolutely.

PL: According to Jennifer measuring the benefits of focusing on the role of line managers in developing their staff is really hard but then again…

JW: It always is. I guess that's nothing new for us in L&D. You would assume that by having regular conversations that are about specific and meaningful things that people will get feedback and will improve and will develop, will feel more connected and engaged and therefore will be more productive and effective. That's the assumption. How you measure that when you have other industry demands, changes in the market, country changes, buying companies, merging companies, all of that happening in the background, that's going to be hard to separate.

PL: Yes I mean thinking of the other end of this equation how do you demonstrate that to senior management?

JW: We find that our senior leaders are bothered by actually more of the stories that they hear around the organisation so we have to make sure that they get surfaced and they get through to them.

PL: And that's working?

JW: I think so. I mean we have more budget than last year, so that's a good sign. For me that's a good measure.

PL: Always a good sign. For more on how to get this right come to the CIPD website for fact sheets and research reports about line management. Meanwhile if people are every organisation’s most important asset, and who would argue with that? Then where are they in the annual report and accounts? Next month we’re going to be looking at narrative reporting, how organisations can and should measure the value of their people and communicate it to business leaders, shareholders and investors. Join me then.