Managers as Staff Trainers

As part of manager training I’ve been considering values – what I’m prepared to stand up for.  There are a few obvious ones for me: fairness/equality, honesty, integrity; if you’re in a position to help, you help (particularly if it’s part of your job), and you don’t leave people in the lurch.

That final one has led me to a rather specific rule I’m not prepared to compromise on:

You don’t ignore a training request without addressing the need that prompted it.

I consider it part of the manager’s role to ensure that employees have the skills, knowledge and resources to do their job.  No employee comes into a job with all the skills they need.  At the very least, they will have to get to know new staff and adapt to new ways of working.

Besides, in an increasingly complex working environment and a climate of constant change, no role stays the same for long: technology changes; expectations from customers increase; laws change; the organisation has to adapt and introduces new ways of working; new work is added to your current role.  While you may have been on top of things before, that doesn’t mean that you won’t require some training or development at some point in the future.  Your learning needs don’t stop when you’re hired.

So if you, as a manager, are not sitting down with your employees regularly to monitor their development needs, then you’re probably letting them fall behind.  And you’re short-changing the organisation too by not maximising your human resource.

Yes, employees can and should take charge of their own development, and these days they have many more options available to train themselves, with plenty of free online learning, MOOCs and blogs.

But if your employee has come to you with a request for training, it means they are offering training as a solution to a perceived problem.  As a manager you have no idea of how big this problem may be, or how it’s affecting them or their work, until you ask them and listen to the answer.

There may be many reasons that you can’t support that request for training at that time – perhaps there’s no budget, no training provider, no places on the course.  But that doesn’t mean you can then ignore the request and hope everything will sort itself out.

You need to understand what prompted that request.  What problem is the employee trying to solve?  How does it affect the quality of their work now or in the future? Is there a wider issue there?  Is training the best solution anyway?

There are always several solutions to any given problem.  If training isn’t available, sit down with the employee to discuss what those might be and how you, as their manager, might support the employee to gain those skills.

Here are a few obvious options.  Do you have the skills yourself – can you teach them?  Can you use your contacts in the organisation to introduce them to a mentor?  Is there anyone you can buddy them with to get informal training?  Can they shadow someone?  Is there a manual or book available?  Are there alternative training options such as online courses? Is coaching an option? Does the employee themselves have any other options or suggestions to solve the problem?

Don’t leave the employee stranded and frustrated, trying to do a job without the skills they need to do it well.  Have a conversation and make a plan for the employee to develop those skills within a given timeframe.  And then follow up.

Asking people to do a job without the necessary skills or knowledge for extended periods of time leads not just to inefficiency, but potentially to stress and burnout.  There are always several solutions to any given problem.  And one of the solutions for the employee, if you leave them stranded in an unsustainable position, is to leave.

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