One of the frustrations in Learning & Development is the reality of what happens when the worker returns to the job. A thousand things stand between a learner and performance; among the biggest of these is the learner’s manager.

When developing and launching a new training initiative – traditional classroom, virtual classroom, asynchronous, or a mix – or suggesting a training solution for an individual worker or group, it’s vital to gain management commitment. As with so many issues in training and development, this is another of those “easier said than done” challenges. Here are some tips:

  1. Involve management in course design. Developers often ask managers for information during the needs assessment phase, but usually less so during actual design. Invite their input into creating real-world scenarios and simulations, case studies, and what-ifs. This will support their understanding of what the course will and won’t cover, and develop their vested interest in seeing the training succeed. Collateral benefits will be an increased understanding about the reality of what training can and can’t “fix,” and help in informing those managers who – surprise! – really don’t understand the employee’s work.
  2. Beware of fads and easy answers. Odds are that the magical four-letter-personality/coping skills/talents inventory, or the Cute Little Furry Animal Metaphor book, will not do any good. Worse, it could exacerbate problems and attitudes toward fixing them. Invest time in working with managers to identify root causes and real solutions.
  3. No mandatory classes. While some seem to think that a mandate communicates importance, nothing sends the message “we’re about to make you sit through something awful and unnecessary” more quickly than making a course mandatory. In the words of Online Learning Handbook author Patti Shank, “If your instruction isn’t good enough for folks to want to attend, you aren’t doing your job, and managers can only do so much to support you. Even if law or something else mandates the course, you don’t need to announce it. In the optimal world, mandated courses would be outlawed. Mandated knowledge and skills, on the other hand, are quite another story.”
  4. Involve managers in completion and evaluation processes. Require that they sign off that the training has occurred. Establish them as final assessors, and provide them with tools to support them in that role.
  5. Provide orientation sessions for managers on new training initiatives. Emphasize the “what’s in it for you” factor.
  6. Work inside the organization to establish managers as the ones primarily responsible for development of their own staff. Work to establish partnerships and deliver training that complements and extends – but doesn’t replace – the efforts made by managers.
  7. Make an explicit link between your training and your marketing materials and the organization’s mission, vision, goals, and values. Also, work to help learners make connections between their performance and the organization’s goals.
  8. Invite managers to serve as co-trainers. One of the biggest successes of my career came when I asked a couple of middle managers to serve as instructors for several modules of a leadership course. They brought instant credibility to the program and were completely dedicated to helping the learners and the course succeed.
  9. Be credible. Often there is a reason that management does not support training efforts. Shadow workers around, listen to managers, and pay attention to how the organization really works. Deliver quality products focused on real performance improvement. And don’t make promises you can’t keep!
  10. (Some material adapted from Bozarth, J. (2008). From Analysis to Evaluation: Tools, Tips, and Techniques for Trainers. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.)