The home-grown philosophy

The manager’s role is critical in cultivating a learning culture. Stephanie Sparrow takes a look at the part they play as developers in the workplace

Organisations must recognise that the single most important thing they can do to promote employee development is to acknowledge the role of managers in creating a learning culture.

So says initial feedback from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Annual Training Survey, released to HRD conference-goers today.

“Getting managers on board is critical,” says Jessica Rolph, learning, training and development adviser at the CIPD. “The survey shows that managers need a very clear understanding of their part in developing staff, as HR and training professionals move from their traditional role as providers of training into facilitators of learning.”

The survey results crystallise the mood of the time and coincide with a separate piece of research, Managers as Developers of Others, produced by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), which sets out to find what development by managers really looks like. It identified the characteristics of both good and bad development support and their impact.

The IES research shows how invaluable a good manager can be to the learning culture of an organisation, partly because the best ones have an unfettered view.

Wendy Hirsh, associate fellow of the IES, says: “Although managers rarely make the ‘human capital’ argument and do not use that phrase, managers who are good at it felt that it was good for the organisation and for safeguarding it in the medium term. The rhetoric in organisations and in HR can still be short-term.”

The IES study emphasises the supportive relationships needed for a learning environment, and so uses the nurturing terms ‘givers’ or ‘developers’ for the manager supporting the employee’s development, and ‘receivers’ or ‘individuals’ for the employee. Terms such as mentor or coach, which are becoming commonplace but are overloaded with connotations, were deliberately avoided.

“Some managers develop people all the time but do not want to be bound by rules,” explains Hirsh.

The research found that good developers make a difference to employee or organisational performance when the support is focused on certain types of situations, such as an employee who is new to an organisation and who has specific skill gaps, or an employee who has the potential for more challenging work or promotion but who needs the support to make this transition.

The developers set up a cycle of good behaviour that is carried on when the ‘receivers’ become managers and developers themselves. The IES study found examples of increased skills and knowledge, work experience, self-confidence, improved motivation, job performance and job satisfaction – all thanks to ‘the givers’.

Less positive though is the picture of bad experiences, when receivers complained that little development support was given to them once they were established in a job.

Barriers to development in such instances were identified as mechanistic HR processes and conflicting objectives for line managers.

“HR has a long way to go in enabling better people support. The whole community hasn’t got it yet,” says Hirsh. “If you want people to perform better at work, half the battle is to get them to feel better about work,” she says. “Unlocking confidence makes people better at their jobs.”

So how can the HR community respond to such challenges? At Shell International, UK Country HR leader, Nic Turner, has identified the key processes and makes them live through devices such as Shell’s leadership competency framework and its performance appraisal system.

“In our organisation, it is recognised as absolutely critical that managers make a great contribution to the development of people,” he says.

He believes that the role of manager as developer should become ‘second nature’ in any organisation. “It is up to the HR professional to promote the adoption of these values in the organisation. It is an enabling thing,” he says.

And conversely, there is a psychological contract between an employee and an organisation. “For an employee, there is a deal that says: ‘I’ll give you my skills and you’ll help me to develop,” he says.

Turner suggests a way ahead for other organisations looking to nurture managers as developers.

“Make it clear to managers that it is part of their responsibility to develop their staff and provide the tools to help them, such as creating development competency frameworks so that managers and employees can have a common language about what development means and lead to proper conversations. Get as much precision and shared understanding as possible,” he says.

He also stresses how important it is to measure the organisation’s success in seeing managers as developers of others. For Turner, the measurement comes from both individual success and regular attitude surveys. “Regular attitude surveys, among other things, should test whether people are receiving the development guidance they need,” he says.

Encouraging developers

The HR function needs to:

  • provide a range of formal training for staff

  • give advice to managers on staff development

  • incorporate training architecture across different business units

  • analyse training needs through competence frameworks or a holistic analysis of the person and the job demands

  • make sure that performance appraisal processes are embedded

  • train managers in people development and coaching skills.

The managers themselves need to:

  • set a welcoming climate for people whenever they need help

  • allow themselves to take pleasure in developing others

  • treat staff development as a business priority

  • be explicit about standards of work and behaviour

  • make sure that development priorities are actively pursued

  • use delegation consciously to develop others.

Source: Managers as developers of Others – a research study from the Institute for Employment Studies

For more on managers, read the following articles on our website go to

– UK Line Managers – Are they good enough?, exclusive research by Personnel Today, sponsored by Computers In Personnel and conducted in association with Richmond Events go to

– How organisations are helping line managers to support staff with flexible working policies  go to

– Frontline managers make the crucial difference between high-performing and low-performing firms, according to research of 1,000 employees by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) go to

– Research by Henley Management College and the Hay Group among managers within 212 public and private sector organisations – including those in the FTSE 100 – reports that people measurement is on the increase and is not demotivating managers, despite that perception among sceptics go to

– HR is successfully devolving responsibilities to line managers, and most employees are happy to let their immediate bosses handle workplace issues, according to a report by HR and payroll software provider Snowdrop Systems go to

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