How can we get line managers to engage and support with what their staff are learning

Written by Liz Brant on 6 April 2017

Hi everyone

I am researching the question above for a client and wondered what ideas you have come up with on your various projects.

We are working on a 7 module management programme and for our second cohort we want to strengthen line manager support and commitment to what they direct reports are learning.  Any ideas gratefully received.  Thank you. Liz

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Submitted on 7 April, 2017 - 11:15

Hi Liz,

Great topic! I was on a webinar yesterday about Learning Transfer that included some research about manager support for learning.

If you look here there are the tweets from the webinar, with some screengrabs and the speakers, Emma Weber and Mark Arneill's Twitter details too:

Also, at Learning Technologies this year Emma spoke on the same subject and I did a write up for TJ with a couple of ideas in that might be a nugget for thinking more: How to create effective learning transfer?

You might also find the blog of Charles Jennings, who focuses on 70:20:10, useful, as he talks a lot about manager support:

Jo Cook,
Deputy Editor


Submitted on 9 April, 2017 - 07:58

On the occasions when I'm involved in an ongoing initiative rather than a one-off event (which seems to be increasingly the case now - maybe the subject for a further conversation?) at the beginning of subsequent workshops delegates are required to present to their colleagues a summary of the Action Plan developed during the previous event, how well it's been implemented, what has been achieved as a consequence, and extra lessons that have been learned along the way.  

This is a great opportunity to share, increase learning, and of course recognise and celebrate success.  It also puts some pressure on delegates to DO something with what they learn.  And for their line managers to support them - no manager in their right mind wants to be exposed at having a team member who does not implement learning in the workplace and so achieve a healthy ROI from investment in development.  Particularly when other delegates from other teams do.




Submitted on 9 April, 2017 - 10:20

  Hi, I had a paper published at the Edulearn Conference In Barcelona last July Entitled "The importance of setting up conditions for Industrial course participants to want to complete blended and Online Learning Courses" Whilst it deals with Online or Blended Learning, most of it is, I believe, valid for any kind of learning. In the paper I advocate: 

    Allowing participants sufficient time to undertake the course requirements.
    Setting very firm instructions to supervisors not to impinge on study time, without exceptional reasons and having disciplinary sanctions where these instructions are ignored.
    Giving Course participants access to computers and the Internet away from their offices, but close enough to be able to visit regularly.
    Ensure that all course participants are aware of the costs of these courses and the value that their company puts on such training.
    Course participants are told that they will be expected to submit and ‘End of Course Report outlining what was their Key Learning points and how they are going to use this knowledge in their work.

The rational for each of these pre-course actions is explained more fully in the paper.If anyone want a copy email me at Regards Gerry P








Submitted on 17 April, 2017 - 15:27

Hi Liz,

I have been researching this a lot recently and found lots of stuff about it, some good, some common sense, and some that just misses the mark in my opinion. We often come up against the barrier of people just being too busy, at least in their view, to do any post workshop activities. Therefore the setup and gaining commitment is critical before the training course, and then having some way of measuring whether people are doing what they committed to.

Have a look at Roger Greenaway's site at 

I stumbled across his site and was impressed at the amount of material he shares. He was first interested in reviewing and debriefing activities during a training course, either indoors or outdoors, hence the name of his site. Since then he has added a lot more material about how to get people more involved after a training course.

If you want to talk through learning transfer, and indeed the pros and cons of getting managers involved, and swap ideas, do get in touch :-)

Cheers, Paul



Submitted on 22 April, 2017 - 17:32

Thank you for replying Paul and this resource from Roger Greenaway looks very useful.  I'll email you and hopefully we can exchange ideas in a quick phone call.


Submitted on 25 April, 2017 - 09:36

In an ideal world they'd see the benefits of supporting their direct reports with learning and development. 

If they don't know the benefits, then education is the first step. 

If they still won't support then some form of accountability is required. 


Submitted on 24 August, 2017 - 13:25

Hi all,

Some research around Learning Transfer, which includes involving the managers, was launched recently and might provide some insight:



Submitted on 25 August, 2017 - 14:58

Hi All, 

I think a lot can be done if we make both the learners and line managers more accountable for making sure new learning is applied & displayed in the workplace. We are constantly being asked to supply additional L&D activity which often comes at a huge cost to the business. Why shouldn't we make sure there is real impact post intervention before sending employees on yet more training! 

Just a thought






Hilary Cooke

Submitted on 1 September, 2017 - 18:03

Hi Liz,

Great challenge! I also run extended programmes with participants that attend from the same industry, but different employers so I don't have any real contact with their managers - which is slightly different from the in-company scenario. Also, those managers are incredibly busy people just from a practicalities perspective. That transfer in between blocks is vital to create and maintain change and development, so I want traction to match the action! 

Lots of good advice and ideas above - and Roger Greenaway is a living legend in my opinion :-) It is important however to view review and transfer as discrete activities and different outcomes.

I'm not there yet, but here's some things that work for me:

1) Extend the question - how do you get learners use their learning to engage and support their line managers? Seriously - ask them and challenge them about how they are going to do this in practical ways. What would they like to do and what would get them some benefit? If they are serious about their learning, then negotiating the right level of support is an important skill set muscle to exercise.

2) Then get them practicing what they will do while they are in the learning environment and before they return to the world of getting their own coffee and answering all those emails....

3) I build in a "how have you shared this to the benefit of your manager and / or team?" question into each post-block review some days after they return to work. If they can articulate it, then more likely they are to actually have done it, and once they know what is coming next because...

4) When we reconvene, I randomly pick a few learners at the beginning of each block to share (publicly) what they have done with their line manager since the last time - that soon gets some gulping going on! 

5)  At the beginning of the programme, the learners all prepare a "this is how I want to be at the end" poster. It gets handed back, folded up and sealed in an individual envelope. Every now and again I make a big show of tantalisingly getting the envelopes out (still sealed) - or making a photo of the envelopes subtly appear as a slide pic just before a break - so that I am constantly nudging them with their own learning journey responsibilities.

4) I set them up with pre and post block templates for manager meetings so that the onus is on them to track their manager down to complete it with them. Even better if you can get them to put dates in the managers' diaries too and set up their calendar for the duration of the programme.

5) At the beginning of the programme, I send each manager a breakdown of the learning and the sort of benefits they should be able to gain in the business together with a list of things that they could get their delegates to do to gain further support and learning. (For example getting them involved in the budgeting process, or taking them along to a sales meeting, or getting them to chair a meeting...)  I then send marker reminders - at halfway stage and as we coast into close. I try to make it easy for them - they are mostly pretty busy people to have to think of stuff for themselves, but will happily execute if the benefit is neon-lit or the point is ...pointy.

6) I set projects that require project sponsors from the business and have direct and tangible benefit to the business. Apply belt, braces, chewing gum and string to hold it all together so the canyon between theory and practice is as narrow as possible (and can be nimbly hopped across in the dark.)

7) Run the odd online forum and invite their managers to share knowledge / answer questions. Keep them short and very pointy. Once it's done it's done and the line managers can go ...back to the line. 

8) Set up reverse mentoring relationships so that learners are mentoring each other's managers (with obvious boundary management - and with a big fat fancy public award for the best "mentee manager" if appropriate) 

9) Make it fun and easy to engage with us and our learning community. Include line managers at the beginning of the programme and at the end. 

10) Give each participant a stack of postcards that they can write to their manager at particular way-points on their journey. Can be literally "wish you were here..." 

That's the practical angle.

On the theoretical side, I have done a research study on the transfer of learning for leadership development. Too long and dry for a forum response, but happy to share some of my findings at some time if it helps.

Also, I love the simplicity of the five moments of learning need (Gottfredson and Mosher 2011) and beautifully explained by Donald Taylor in Learning Technologies in the Workplace as:

1) When people learn something for the first time (new)

2) When people expand what they have learned (more) 

3) When they need to act on what they have learned (apply)

4) When problems arise (solve) 

5) When people need to learn a new way of doing things, requiring changing skills and ingrained practices (change)

I think that might be a useful conversation to have to bridge some gaps in some cases to give a bit more steer to those line managers about what it is we want them to do and how they can best support.

Anyway - a few Friday ramblings. Hope it helps

Best wishes




Submitted on 28 September, 2017 - 10:29

Wow Hilary, that is an AWESOME post with lots of sharing - thank you so much!


Hilary Cooke

Submitted on 2 October, 2017 - 11:44

Thanks Jo,

I appreciate the acknowledgement and I wanted to share what this particular post has done for me on a personal basis - to illustrate the giving back culture on this fabulous forum.

Because of what I wrote to support Liz in her original question, I was contacted by Paul (above). We hooked up for a truly inspiring telephone chat and have arranged to meet later this week. It turns out that he has a whole wealth of skills and knowledge that will be extremely helpful for me in future, and in return I may have something of value to offer / share / trade...

He also introduced me to a group of practitioners exploring the concept of authentic charisma in leaders, so as a result I have been invited to a free workshop, which is going to add oodles to my practice and knowledge and I am really looking forward to being a learner in that space. From there...something else will emerge that is equally enriching and serendipitous. This is the pattern of the forum for me and also what tends to happen when we share.

So thank you TJ-forum and all of you who contribute, because I get far far more from you all than I actually put in - that's how this forum works for me. 

Have good a week - and see what you can share before Friday!



Submitted on 3 October, 2017 - 10:36

Once again pretty awesome!



Submitted on 2 October, 2017 - 12:22

Great news Hilary - glad to see the forum generating conversation and business for its members!



Submitted on 3 October, 2017 - 17:56

I don't have anything to add.  I just wanted to say thank you all. 

This is why I love the forum. 

Sometimes there are threads like this.  They capture the imagination.  They get lots of sharing and learning. 

This is one such thread.  It's in my favourites for when or someone I know or work with is pondering how we can freshen out approach and engage managers in this.  Thank you.