December 4, 2015

The secret learning life of UK managers

When the organisation GoodPractice asks managers how they learn, it doesn’t ask the obvious question: ‘How do you learn?’ Instead, it asks managers how they overcome unfamiliar challenges. That way, the leadership and management training organisation says it gets a really good insight into the real learning habits of leaders and managers.

It is those insights that inform a new report called ‘The Secret Learning Life of UK Managers’, produced by GoodPractice in conjunction with research consultancy, Comres.

One such insight is that when faced with an unfamiliar challenge, the majority of respondents (almost 90%) will turn to colleagues for help. This is followed by Internet search (roughly 75%), on the job support (70%) and external website (just under 70%). Internal online resources are in fifth place (just under 60%), while internal training languishes in tenth place at just over 30%.

Yet, as GoodPractice points out in the report, if it was to ask respondents the more obvious question ‘How do you learn?’, chances are it would receive the more obvious answer back: formal courses.

After this first question, respondents were then asked to rate the effectiveness of different resources available when facing an unfamiliar challenge. Again, conversations with colleagues came out on top at 90%, followed by on the job support (over 85%), internal training (just under 80%), external website (over 75%) and external training (over 70%). Bottom was internal online resources at just under 65%.

When faced with an unfamiliar challenge, most managers want to resolve it as quickly and easily as possible – ease of access and speed of result are the two biggest influencers in their choice of resource. Less of a priority is the perceived efficacy of a method. This means that managers more frequently turn to quick and easy results rather than the most effective.

Interestingly, managers have greater faith in external search engines and websites than internal online resources or e-learning provided by their organisation. They say they are more effective and efficient. Many managers, particularly those over 45, do not think much of the internal online learning options available.

It is clear from this report that internal learning options are not held in high regard by managers and leaders and are commonly disregarded. This is something that L&D teams urgently needs to address, particularly if it wants to ensure employees can access good learning at the point of need.

Training is bottom of the usage list when it comes to addressing a challenge. Why? GoodPractice highlights research from the 2015-16 Towards Maturity Industry Benchmark Report, ‘Embracing Change: Improving Performance for Business, Individuals and the L&D Team’, that shows that 40% of learning occurs at the point of need. Managers and leaders simply cannot afford to wait for a training course.

However, when it comes to efficacy, training scores highly. According to the report, almost 80% of respondents rate internal training as effective, with over a third using it at least once a month. Over 70% rate external training as effective, with roughly a quarter using it at least once a month.

Plenty of managers and leaders are also prepared to just have a go – over half of respondents plump for trial and error when faced with an unfamiliar challenge, with roughly 65% considering this approach effective.

Perhaps one of the most significant insights L&D can take away from this report is that online learning resources need to improve significantly.