Performance-based learning offers many benefits to organizations by completing a cycle where development and performance assessment go hand-in-hand and the knowledge and skills learned are applied where the needs are felt.

Managers play a critical role in the delivery and support of performance-based learning but, many fall short in this area. They may lack motivation or the tools and training to be able to maximize its full value. But, there are some practical tips for organizations to make the most of performance-based learning by better engaging managers.

Engage managers to ensure training achieves the right outcomes 

Motivation to learn and motivation to support learning is strengthened when participants feel the need and anticipate the benefits. In other words, they need to understand “what’s in it for me?”

To get that crucial element right, involve managers in linking identified learning outcomes with organizational and individual needs. This needs assessment can be done as part of the regular talent management cycle linking to goal setting, performance management, rewards and recognition as well as employee development. Managers can ask themselves, their subordinates and learning and development professional’s questions, such as:

  • What business goals have been identified for my organization?
  • What competencies will my employees need to succeed in achieving these goals and their own career goals?
  • What are the gaps between the competencies they already have and the competencies they need?
  • What resources and methods are best for helping workers learn the competencies they lack?

Learn from sports and arts performance training

Whether it is basketball or ballet, we know that the most successful practitioners in sports and arts employ rigorous training to achieve their peak performance. Four key principles can be applied in the business world.

  1. Practice and rigorous application. In performance arts and sports, the hours spent practicing far outnumbers the time spent in the actual event. If we expect learners to deeply embed and apply new knowledge and skills, they will need to practice. Help managers identify opportunities and create space for employees to apply their new learning on the job and practice their new skills in a practical environment.
  2. Resilience. If a high-performing golfer is having trouble with his swing, he gets on the practice range and watches the results as he makes subtle adjustments to his swing.  New learners can’t be expected to master everything all at once – they need feedback to learn to perfect it.  Help managers identify low-risk areas where new skills can be developed step-by-step with all the attendant errors that can themselves become rich sources of learning. This might include teaming up new learners to partner with more experienced workers until they get past the learning curve. A study of college sports teams found that successful coaches helped their teams develop resilience by simulating crises and stressful situations to help them learn how to handle them and by helping them learn and recover when mistakes were made.
  3. The coach.  In his excellent article appearing on this website, Alan Fine points out that effective coaching is a critical success factor in helping performers get the most from their training and apply it successfully on the job.   Managers are uniquely placed to fulfill this essential role by supplying the feedback that shows learners how they are doing and what they need to do to improve.

Teach managers how to observe employees and provide in-the-moment feedback about what they are doing right and what needs to change.  Help them to understand that positive feedback and reinforcement – catching learners taking the first steps toward success – is more powerful than criticizing them for their failures.  And show managers how ongoing, frequent coaching will not only help them head off potential failures and ensure departmental success, but can turn the dreaded annual performance review into a drama-free summary of discussions that have already taken place throughout the year.

  1. Accountability.  Just as sports team members and their coaches know the consequences for success and failure, employees and their managers should be held accountable for learning, developing and improving performance. This can be done by including employee development goals as part of the performance expectations upon which managers and employees are evaluated, recognized and rewarded.  Employees should also see a clear link between achieving performance based learning goals and their next career step.
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