Line managers – gotta love them

by Viv on September 18, 2009

Francis Marshall in the Sept issues of TJ reminds us how line managers have a vital role in the success of L&D within organisations. The business drivers within a professional services firm make it challenging for line managers (partners & middle management) to spend time engaging with L&D and the increased focus on chargeable hours during the recession can’t be helping. Here’s my take on a well worn theme.

Since 2006 Charles Jennings (former head of L&D at Reuters) has talked about the “conspiracy of convenience” which has evolved to mean that line managers opt out of enagaging with L&D. The “conspiracy of convenience” is “that the manager comes to the training manager and says, ‘I’ve got a problem, my people need training’. The training manager says, ‘Fine, we’ll develop a training programme’. So, the training manager develops a training programme, delivers that training programme, no-one measures it. The business manager is happy because he or she feels that they’ve fulfilled the requirement that they had – which was the training problem. The training manager feels happy because he or she has done what their job is all about – i.e. have delivered training. And because no-one measures it, nothing necessarily happens, but everyone’s happy. So it really is a conspiracy and I think that what we need to do, looking forward, is to break that conspiracy, which is no mean task, but does require changes on both sides.”

The long term product of this conspiracy is that line managers disengage from developing their staff (“that’s Training’s job”). The relentless emphasis on chargeability in professional services, whilst sensible in lots of ways, can at its worst, encourage line managers to opt out of developing their staff altogether. If a person is being managed on multiple projects by several managers, each manager has an incentive to “free-ride” by not spend time developing them. One senior manager that I knew made it to partner in double quick time by ruthlessly focusing on business development and not the staff working for him – staff solved their problems and developed themselves by consuming an unfair amount of time from other managers and peers. The pressure on chargeable hours means that a manager’s best business case for developing a more junior member of staff if the junior is putting in extra hours (unpaid) and if they have a large chunk of time working together so that the manager directly benefits from the improvements in performance.

Interestingly, I heard recently that at Procter & Gamble there is a policy that if you want promotion, you have to recruit/ develop someone to take over your current job.

It’s should be a  fairly straightforward relationship – L&D need to know that what they’re offering is relevant and produces enough ROI for the firm. Line managers need to enhance the capability of their staff to deliver the business goals. As the L&D world tends away from large chunks of face to face training and hours of e-learning towards a more bite-sized approach, it will be even more vital that line managers are engaged…after all they’re probably going to be creating the bulk of the learning content one day. If the relationship is not working, the business model means that 99% of the time it will rest with L&D to make the first move.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: