Making or Breaking Training: The Role of the Manager

Managers are the make-or-break element in achieving behavior change and measurable results when it comes to training.

By Sharon Parker

Training money is often the first budget cut when the economy slows because many managers remain unconvinced of its value. They cite previous experiences when money was spent on a good curriculum, the participants gave favorable reviews and cited something from the class they planned to use in the future, and then it was over. There were no follow-up sessions, refreshers, or skills practices. Under the pressure to react quickly to both customer and manager demands, the attendees fell back into old habits believing it was easier to do things the old way than to face the learning curve needed for the new skills.

Training as an event is the dating equivalent of a one-night stand when what you really want is a committed relationship. You spend the money hoping for more investment and improved results. A Right Management survey conducted earlier this year that found nearly two-thirds of respondents said they were not happy at work and 44 percent said they were “unsatisfied.” While the Baby Boomer generation was fond of saying, “If it was fun, they wouldn’t call it work,” today’s workforce expects an investment in their career, and that’s where training can make the difference.

But there are factors that affect your outcomes. Those factors are:

  1. A committed management team that participates in and models the process
  2. A defined implementation plan for reinforcement and follow-through
  3. A management team trained in how and when to coach to the process that’s been taught

In sales training, for example, only giving a sales force product training results in feature/benefit selling and reinforces customers’ negative sales stereotypes. Trainees must understand what customers buy, but also why and how. The why focuses behavior on aligning around a customer goal and then understanding the process the buyer will complete in order to make a decision. When combined with skills practices and reinforcement activities, teaching a sales force how people buy, the steps they must complete emotionally and financially to make a decision, and how to align with the customer’s goals results in greater customer satisfaction, increased loyalty, and higher revenues.

  1. A Management Team Committed to and Participating in the Training. Without management participation and support, training will not stick. Employees joke about the “training du jour” and may pay lip service to the effort. They will only embrace the new skills if their managers hold them accountable for the learning and embed it in their performance evaluations. In addition to reinforcing the learning, managers must model the behavior. If you give your sales and support staff a great customer-focused training program to strengthen their customer loyalty but don’t teach the managers how to support that culture, the employees will feel whipsawed between conflicting messages. Instead of building a sales-focused culture, you will create more stress and job dissatisfaction.
  2. An Implementation Plan for Reinforcement and Further Training. After class we face a pile of messages, situations that have become urgent while we were away, and our quota. In addition, we feel less than competent at the new skills we have learned. To overcome the pain of the learning curve and incorporate the training into the culture, managers need an implementation plan to reinforce it. Reviews, skills practices, and incorporation of the new expectations into employee reviews are needed. Whether these are face-to-face, teleconferences, or Webinars is less important than that they happen regularly and that each session is debriefed with the trainer and feedback is incorporated into the next session. Collecting and recognizing successful examples of how the skills have been used by some of the employees, and offering additional or advanced training down the road or an opportunity to serve as a coach for a subsequent class are ways to provide both positive reinforcement and recognition before peers. The key to an implementation plan is to do it. Letting it get pushed aside for various crises defeats your original message and tells the employees it’s not important anymore after all. 
  3. A Management Team Trained in How and When to Coach to the New Process. Teaching managers how to coach, as well as manage, is the other essential side of training that needs to be addressed. The role of coach is different from the role of manager, but both are necessary for maximizing training investment. Most managers are not taught how to coach. They are not trained in the fundamental coaching model, understanding and leveraging personality differences, and helping employees set goals and remain motivated to achieve them. While the same person performs both manager and coach roles, they are different: A manager conveys information, sets quotas and goals, evaluates performance, and solves problems. A manager is primarily in a “telling” role, while a coach leverages effective questioning, discovery, and contextual listening to help employees find their own solution to a problem or their own next step to growth. It is an iterative developmental process based on a relationship of trust and positive intention. To use a selling example, a manager might tell a salesperson he is required to make five new contacts each week to determine whether he has potential for new business. The manager may require a call plan or a weekly report to measure whether that happens. Many people can employ creative writing when necessary to meet the minimum requirement, but they may not participate in a meaningful way to achieve actual results. In this case, the manager as coach might start with the question of how do they plan to meet the goal, what are the obstacles they see, what steps can they take to overcome the obstacles or gain confidence with a new skill and what is the follow-up action plan and time frame?

While there are many training programs that offer sound intellectual property, the managers are the make-or-break element in achieving behavior change and measurable results. Their ability to participate, model the desired behavior, reinforce the learning, and switch as needed from a manager to a coaching role will determine the success of the investment. Unlike an event, a process that addresses these critical needs generates confidence in both the employees and the managers and increases their appreciation for and commitment to training as a necessary component of building a culture of success.

Sharon Parker successfully sold high-tech products and services for 25 years.  She is the author of “Selling with Soul Version 2.0: Achieving Career Success without Sacrificing Personal and Spiritual Growth,” which she wrote to counter many of the negative notions of selling by explaining why selling is an honorable profession that creates value when it is done with empathy for the customer and a firm commitment to principles. For more information, visit http://www.sparkercoaching.com.

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