July 28, 2021

The journey never ends: Why even seasoned managers need development

Melissa Malec

Developing leaders is a pressing issue, with the 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey ranking leadership as the top driver of organisational change.

Although many companies make sure they train new management, especially at junior levels, managers with all levels of experience need continuous development. Accomplished middle and senior managers are often overlooked when it comes to upskilling.

Learning and development is vital for managers at all levels because people’s roles differ as they progress through a company’s ranks.

Frequent training for all managers is also important because companies are constantly changing with the world around them. Technological advancement has never been faster or more relentless, and leaders don’t always know how to respond immediately and effectively to new industry norms. 



Leadership is a skill like any other, and it doesn’t always develop automatically with experience. This is especially important to remember in environments where people are promoted for technically excelling at their jobs, but not necessarily because they have existing management acumen. 

Nobody is a perfect leader, nor can they ever become one. No matter how much training and experience one has, one can always improve, and purposeful workplace development programmes are a great way to do this.

The ROI of L&D

A number of studies have been published demonstrating a high return on investment for companies implementing L&D programmes. Where management is concerned, it can also be significantly cheaper in the long term to develop and promote people internally than to hire managers from outside the company.

Excellent leadership has also been found to have a strong positive correlation with a company’s bottom line. A strong leader will have better abilities to reduce costs, find and drive new lines of revenue, and improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

A highly developed leader will also be able to attract great people and boost their productivity and the quality of their work by keeping them engaged and inspired. A manager with underdeveloped leadership skills will likely struggle to attract and retain the most sought-after talent.

Barriers to development

Despite the proven value of L&D for middle and senior managers, numerous obstacles can stand in the way of leadership development. 

Firstly, it can be a struggle to get middle and senior management to commit to L&D plans, often because they feel they don’t have enough time. 

Harvard Business Publishing’s 2018 State of Leadership Development Report found time constraints to be a major barrier to successful leadership development, with 43% of respondents saying this was a key obstacle.

Other barriers to leadership development cited by respondents were:

  • Disruptive organisational change interfering with people’s ability to focus on L&D (26%)
  • A lack of proven ROI for L&D (25%) 
  • A lack of funding for L&D initiatives (24%)
  • Leadership development not being a business priority (23%)

The report also found low levels of satisfaction with the L&D opportunities that leaders are offered, and doubt as to whether these programmes actually improve their management. 

In the 2018 report, 80% of respondents said that greater innovation is needed in the learning techniques used in development programmes. This figure increased from the 2016 version of the report, in which 75% of respondents called for greater learning innovation. 

This rising dissatisfaction with leadership development programmes may indicate that they are generally failing to keep up with generational shifts in education demands. The report found that whereas 67% of baby boomers (born 1946-1964) described current programmes as “excellent”, only 40% of millennials (born 1981-1996) said the same.

In summary, many businesses and managers do not prioritise management L&D and are increasingly dubious about its effectiveness, despite its proven worth.

Cultivating workplace learning

Although many managers say time is the key obstacle to their development, we think the real issue is insufficient value being placed on L&D. 

When people don’t have enough time to do everything they need or want to do, they don’t just neglect certain tasks at random: they prioritise which tasks to do first and which ones to get round to later if they can, or to leave unfinished.

If people say they don’t have enough time to invest in leadership development, what they’re actually saying is that they have more pressing priorities. This might be because they don’t personally prioritise learning, but it could also be because they feel that their workplace wouldn’t view learning as the best use of their time.

This is why carving out time and designating funding for L&D is not enough to close a serious leadership development gap. To reap the benefits of effective and consistent L&D, companies need to foster a learning culture.

A learning culture is a work environment in which members of an organisation are provided with meaningful learning opportunities, share what they have learnt, and encourage others to learn as well. It’s difficult to keep learning initiatives going outside of a culture that actively encourages them. We have an article that walks you through how to build a culture of learning at your organisation.

Without a learning culture, workplace learning would only be carried out by a select few for whom it is immediately vital, or who are very passionate about it. Even then, these few determined workplace learners might struggle with resistance from their colleagues or managers, for example in terms of justifying the time and expense.

Managers at all levels are key drivers (or hinderers) of workplace learning culture. Leaders must understand the importance of learning culture and sincerely commit to developing it within their workplace. 

Making L&D speak for itself

Although a strong workplace learning culture is an essential ingredient for effective L&D, it can’t work wonders on its own. It needs to be supporting strong L&D functions that excite and inspire people, and which yield clear results.

Common problems with existing workplace learning solutions include content that isn’t directly relevant to everyone, and learning delivered at a time or in a format that doesn’t suit people’s needs and schedules. 

Effective workplace learning should help people build knowledge that is directly relevant to their work, and skills that are immediately useful. People across the organisation are more likely to be enthusiastic about learning what they want to learn, in a way that they find applicable and helpful day-to-day.

Leadership is a highly personal skill, and so leadership learning should be tailored to each individual and the idiosyncratic needs of their position and their organisation.

It’s also a good idea to let people craft their own learning schedules by deciding not only what they want to learn, but when and via what kind of content. People learn most effectively in different ways, and everybody has different learning speeds and times in their schedule when they are best able to focus on L&D. 


Learning and Development marketplaces like Learnerbly allow for people to explore and choose resources based on the format, the topic, the availability and the pace. This is crucial to meeting individual learning needs and getting the most out of L&D. By providing access to a breadth of opportunities you will garner engagement and maximise absorption of knowledge.

It’s also important to make sure people have the opportunities they need to apply what they have learnt as soon as possible. Of course to do so, you should have established psychological safety and ensure employee performance and development don’t overlap. This helps their learning to have an immediate and measurable impact while allowing a safe space to grow.

To make the value of L&D more clear and measurable, it can also help to chart learning plans which record each employee’s acquisition and application of new knowledge and skills.

Summary

Continuous leadership development is important for managers at all levels, and can have a massive positive impact on a company’s bottom line. 

Despite its benefits, managers often don’t spend as much time developing their leadership skills as they should, and it can be difficult to get them to commit to L&D plans. 

This tends to be because they are not convinced about the worth of L&D to the business in general and the effectiveness of existing L&D plans. It can also be due to L&D activities being underfunded. 

Developing a strong workplace learning culture is a key component to resolving this issue. However, culture alone is not enough: it needs to support effective L&D facilities that yield obvious value and results.

The most effective L&D solutions—especially for leaders—are highly personalised, allowing people to choose what they want to learn and when, and at a pace that matches their learning speed. These solutions frame learning as something that benefits individuals and their work, rather than yet another chore they have to get done.

To see how Learnerbly can benefit your organisation, book a demo and speak with one of our learning and development specialists. 

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