Managers and Upskilling of Team Members

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Managers and Upskilling of Team Members


With many corporate organizations grappling with significant challenges of managing, training, and retaining employees, the line manager’s role in employee education has become a focus area of many studies. The overarching view is that line managers (LMs) play a critical role in supporting team development and employee growth. This report calls out three case studies where LMs have played a critical role in corporate training.

Key Takeaways

Case studies

a) Boutique Hospitality Group

  • Due to the fiercely competitive nature of the industry in which it operated, Boutique Hospitality Group saw its profit margins dip thanks to an ineffective sales strategy that was overly focused on price hence a tendency to offer big discounts too quickly.
  • According to the Group’s training manager, the company realized the need to “enthuse and energize the sales team with new skills” to boost sales and sell the company’s value. It achieved this goal via a 90-day sale generation program in which line manager activity relative to employee behavior was a focal area of interest. The blended learning program also included classroom sessions, assignment delegation, and remote learning.
  • The results did not disappoint. The Group Operations Director reported a ten percent rise in sales conversions rates within 90 days of the program's delivery. This yielded a positive return on the company’s initial investment of over £100k in additional sales that the Group Training Manager directly attributed to the development program.
  • Naturally, the involvement of managers in the 90-day learning program underscores the importance of LMs in workplace learning. In the book Telling Training’s Story, professor emeritus Robert O. Brinkerhoff points out that managers can influence learner behavior before and after training. For instance, before training, managers assess the business case by, among other things, evaluating the employee’s appropriateness to the training, timing, costs, etc.
  • These managerial actions ensure that the training is helpful to the learner and is aligned with the company’s goals. After the training, the manager reviews the action plan relative to the new skills learned by the employee to determine if they are aligned. The overall goal is to mitigate scrap learning, which means learning that does not add value to the employee's knowledge set.

b) Defence Logistics Organization & Defence Procurement Agency (DLO/DPA)

  • In the second part of her research on the role of LMs in various aspects of people management, Sue Hutchinson, a senior lecturer in HR Management at Bristol Business School, focused on determining how LMs influence training, employee development, and learning. She researched six organizations, mainly through interviews with HR personnel and LMs at different seniority levels. She also collected additional information from the companies’ websites and documents.
  • DLO has approximately 20,000 employees spread across 80 locations in the UK. The company supports the armed forces in their various operations and exercises. On the other hand, DPA has over 5,400 employees whose mission is to provide the armed forces with new equipment and other procurement-related services.
  • In these organizations, Sue consistently identified a greater emphasis on training, learning, and development activities due to their contribution to employee recruitment and retention. For example, at DLO/DPA, she noted that LMs were embedded in training programs and were crucial in supporting employees. They were primarily involved in developing personal development plans using competency-based frameworks, providing regular feedback on performance, ensuring employees undertake mandatory training, reviewing training and development exercises, releasing staff from regular duties to attend training, and supporting employees deserving promotions.
  • Further, the LMs were themselves trained to sharpen their people management skills. To this end, the companies required all LMs to complete training in equality and diversity and competency-based assessment before being involved in recruitment interviews. DPL/DLA offered various training mediums, including workshops and e-learning.
  • The increased involvement of LMs in solving learning transfer problems has been widely studied. According to John R. Mattox, a research director at KnowledgeAdvisors, most organizations interested in improving job performance almost always focus on manager engagement mainly because managers are better placed to prepare employees for learning before training. Moreover, after training, they control the work environment and, in so doing, accord employees opportunities to apply, practice, and perfect what they learned. Lastly, they often have the tools to reinforce success and correct mistakes. All these attributes place LMs in a unique position to facilitate growth and development among employees.

c) Wiltshire County Council (WCC)

  • At the time of research, WCC was on a major drive to transform its HR management and place greater responsibility in the hands of its LMs. For context, WCC had 7,500 employees serving a population of 433,000 people. The employees were mainly situated in schools and social care institutions, although the workforce comprised various occupations across professional and manual domains, including engineers, lawyers, library assistants, archaeologists, and trading standards officers.
  • Under its ‘Manage2lead’ initiative and talent management program, WCC recognized training and development as a core component of its modernization plan. The ‘Manage2lead’ initiative was a modular training program designed to enhance employee competencies and management skills. Throughout the process, WCC called on its LMs to assume more HR functions.
  • Many studies have explored the relationship between LMs and HR specialists and identified a vital linkage between these two. For example, a study conducted by two researchers at Edwards Hospital (UK) established that LMs played a significant role in facilitating change than previously thought. According to the researchers, this was due to the opportunities LMs had to implement strategies formulated by the top management and their role in spreading information to employees.
  • Subsequent studies have shown that LMs are increasingly taking up HRM. Further, there has been an uptick of discussion on the link between organizational performance and LMs HRM roles at the operational level. This is presumed to be due to their higher responsiveness to staff needs and prevailing workplace conditions — a factor that enables them to assume greater responsibility for HRM in areas that fall under their locus of control. For this reason, researchers opine that LMs are better placed to convert HRM policies into practice and influence teams toward achieving organizational goals.

Research strategy

We focused on case studies where LMs were involved in corporate training. While acknowledging the importance of using current sources, the sources used herein were preferred because they provided examples that met the exact research criteria, i.e., instances where LMs were wholly integrated into corporate training. In addition, the research team used a mix of scholarly sources and websites for enhanced credibility and relevance to the subject matter. As such, our keywords were 'line managers' and 'corporate training' and their associated synonyms.

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