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Coaching the Coaches: A Manager's Role in Company Learning

According to a LinkedIn report, 94% of employees said they would stay at an organization longer if investment in their development was seen as a key priority. It’s not a wholly surprising statistic really – given the rapid need for new skills and unprecedented pace of industry and tech change, it’s no wonder that learning and development (L&D) has emerged as a linchpin in this equation.

But as companies scramble to provide effective training, a glaring realization is emerging: it’s not enough to just provide resources and content, you must also  enable learning. And one of the pivotal (but often neglected) sources of this enablement is managers. These key players are instrumental in creating a culture where learning is accessible and aligned with the strategic direction of the organization. They are catalysts who can inspire an environment of innovation – yet according to recent reports, almost half of managers believe that creating this culture of learning is one of their top 3 challenges.

Whether it’s time constraints, a lack of support from leaders, or a general misunderstanding of the importance, many managers struggle to engage their teams in L&D. In this article, we’ll look at ways an organization can set its managers up for learning success while also digging into how managers themselves can seek to inspire their direct reports. 

The Impact of Managers on L&D

We hear it time and time again at SocialTalent – the customers who find the most success in embedding learning into their DNA are the ones who engage their managers in the rollout.

As HBR state:

“Too few training and skill-building programs create explicit roles for managers. This is a mistake. Managers have much more visibility and control over employees’ priorities than a central HR or L&D team.”

Managers understand their teams better than anyone else in the business, so without their backing and support, L&D programs will scarcely get off the ground. 

If managers haven’t bought into the vision or don’t feel equipped enough to create a culture of learning on their team, it’s so difficult for an individual worker to buck this trend. LinkedIn’s 2023 Learning Report discovered that only 35% of employees were encouraged to learn by their manager in the past six months. There is a clear disconnect here. So how can organizations engage their managers to take a more active role in L&D?

Learn more: 6 Ways to Build a Culture of Learning in Your Workplace

How Can Organizations Better Support Managers?

It’s a tall task to expect your managers to promote learning and development when employees may already be feeling overworked or too busy – even if they know it’s the right thing to do. Senior leadership has a role to play here before managers can take the wheel and drive success. James Coffey, one of SocialTalent’s Senior Account Managers, believes that leadership backing is the single biggest difference-maker when it comes to L&D:

1. Set targets and build structure

If you’re serious about learning, the first step has to be to communicate this importance. Align your L&D activities with business objectives and performance metrics – this then immediately makes it part of managers’ responsibilities. What can this look like?

  • Have the CEO discuss with leaders and managers about the role of learning in the organization.
  • Give managers ownership over their learning programs and have them track and report on progress.
  • Set learning targets and measure these on a quarterly basis to ensure accountability. It could be minutes watched, courses completed, etc.
  • Tie some bonus structures to L&D goals.
  • Allocate company time for learning and development to remove any stigma attached to it.
  • Recognize and reward managers who successfully implement L&D initiatives.

2. Provide leadership training

This may sound redundant, needing training to enable training, but hear us out! Managers set the tone, and if they’re not undertaking regular learning themselves, it can be really difficult for them to champion L&D at a greater, company level. The issue can manifest in two ways:

  • Managers haven’t been trained and therefore don’t understand the importance of team development.
  • Managers aren’t in the habit of incorporating learning into their own schedule, but expect it from their direct reports.

Research we conducted found that 64% of leaders don’t undertake regular training – and a quarter have never received any training whatsoever. In an atmosphere like this, any attempts at learning promotion could well be stifled. Managers who invest in their own development can serve as powerful role models. So before rolling out learning to the wider organization, ensure your managers are living and breathing these values themselves. Deanna Higgins, SocialTalent’s Operations Manager, had this pro tip:

Learn more: SocialTalent’s leadership training will equip your managers with the tools needed to foster a culture of learning.

3. Tools and resources

On a purely practical front, it should go without saying that managers are provided with the tools and resources they need to make learning successful within their teams.

Have managers been trained on the L&D systems? Do they understand the process for employees looking to do external development? Are they aware of the policies in place around how and when learning should take place? Do they have access to reports, budget, and best practice documentation? You must ensure that your managers feel supported on this. Remember – this could be new to them as well, but their involvement can be a huge factor in how learning is adopted. Set your managers up for success!

A Manager’s Role in Learning

So we understand that managers are integral in this process, and that organizations need to do more to support this cohort – but what does positive manager involvement in L&D actually look like? 

  • Specific skill identification: Managers, with their broader perspective on business goals and individual performance, are in a unique position to identify and recommend specific training or development opportunities that align with both the organization’s needs and the employee’s personal growth.
  • Priorities: Outside of the employee themself, who knows and understands workloads, stress levels, timings, and goals more than a team manager? This insight allows for a realistic and achievable approach to L&D. Rather than just mandating from a far-removed source, a manager can find the right balance for their team, making learning accessible. 
  • Encourage reflection and self-assessment: Managers can regularly encourage team members to reflect on their learning experiences, assess their progress, and identify future learning needs. This can be facilitated through L&D check-ins, during team meetings, or 1-to-1s. 
  • Create a safe learning environment: Foster a team culture where it’s safe to ask questions, seek feedback, make mistakes, and learn from them. A psychologically safe environment is crucial for encouraging experimentation and learning. Accountability starts with the manager – you have the power to create this culture. 
  • Facilitating knowledge sharing: Managers can encourage knowledge sharing within the team, ensuring that learning benefits the entire group. This can be through structured events like workshops or informal sessions where team members share insights or learnings from their own experiences. Adding that element of social activity can hugely help the stickiness of learning.

Learn more: See how SocialTalent customer, Engage2Excel, created a culture of learning through a top down, manager and leader approach.


A manager’s role in learning and development is like that of a cog in a machine. You keep the whole show going. A company can have access to state-of-the-art L&D systems and resources, but without the backing of a motivated, aligned, and proactive manager tier, it becomes so difficult to cultivate a culture of learning. 

As the workplace continues to evolve, the role of managers in L&D is set to become more crucial than ever. Organizations and managers who recognize and embrace this role will be well-positioned to thrive in an era where adaptability, innovation, and continuous improvement are not just advantageous but essential.

The SocialTalent learning platform is designed to help you build a better workplace. Talk to us today to find out more.

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