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How to Turn “Know-It-All” Managers Into “Learn-It-Alls”

Andy Stannage 

August 14, 2019

To climb the ladder at any organization you need to learn, develop and master a host of key skills. But what about after promotion into a management role? Is there still time and room for learning?

As an L&D professional, the more senior your learner becomes, the harder it can be to boost their engagement with the resources you offer. To find out more about addressing these challenges, we sat down with Avinash Chandarana, global learning and development director at meetings, events and conference management company, MCI Group.

Engagement: Fundamental, not Luxury

First, we wanted to get some context about the workforce at MCI. What are their day-to-day problems, and what effect do they have on learning and development?

Avinash explained, “Our managers are always on, time-poor, and overwhelmed with information. They have to execute multiple client events and conferences and juggle with multiple deadlines. Learning can all too often be relegated to a luxury moment.”

And what about the change in mindset that can occur when people step into more senior positions? Do some people believe that their days of formal education are now behind them?

Avinash has seen this happen. “People may fall into the trap of complacency when it comes to their development,” he said.

“This is a dangerous trap to fall into, especially at higher levels. Setting an example of staying sharp, ahead of the curve, and hungry to evolve can directly influence those reporting to you.”

And he added, “Most managers have progressed from being an individual contributor into a management role without having the necessary skills and abilities to manage one or more staff. These are deficiencies which can negatively impact a team’s performance over the mid to long term.”

Curated Learning Assets

So how do L&D departments help their learners to avoid these pitfalls and drive engagement with the resources they offer?

Avinash is an advocate of L&D professionals developing their marketing and communication competencies. They can also use Design Thinking concepts to understand, create and deliver appropriate solutions.

He said, “First, understand who your learners are, and what their pain points are. Ask yourself what they need to achieve and empathize with their situation.

“No matter what the issue, challenge or development need, create an environment where staff can easily engage with a portfolio of learning solutions which tap into their learning preference and motivation – when they need it.

“Whether it’s bite-sized content, AI-driven personalized engines which contextualize content to a job role or function, or access to videos or podcasts, make sure your offering is timely, relevant and simple!”

The MCI Learning and Development team of just two people supports an organization of over 2,600 staff across 61 offices in 31 countries.  

Avinash said, “When you’re in a small team, based on opposite sides of the globe, you need to find ways of coordinating and streamlining your efforts. One way is to use technology to automate the process. This is helping us to scale and be more effective.”

One example is weekly “Boost” emails. These are automatically generated mails that pull together curated learning assets from a range of internal and external resources to get the message to its management target group.

Self-Directed Learning

The conversation then turned to the subject of learner empowerment, and how managers in the past had little autonomy over learning.

Avinash told us, “Our approach is to provide learners with resources for themselves and their teams. We tell them it’s there and showcase the value of L&D, but let them run it by themselves based on their own needs and context.

“Empowerment is about promoting a self-directed, bottom-up learning culture. Don’t control it – create, guide and support it. This way seems to get a more positive response than telling learners exactly what they have to do.”

L&D Ecosystem

To deliver engagement with different learner types, MCI uses a blended approach as part of its latest MDP (Management Development Program). And they believe this is vital to the program’s success.

As Avinash said, “Learning and the development of skills and capabilities stem from multiple sources or channels.

“From formal to informal, online to offline, on the job or through engaging with peers, coaches and mentors, creating a blended experience can reap tremendous value for the talent pool.

“Our goal with limited resources is to establish a well-oiled L&D ecosystem, which nourishes a wide demographic.”

Empowering Staff

So, any other advice for L&D teams?

According to Avinash, “There is no one size fits all, no magic formula. We all struggle with the engagement side of things.

“But it really is about raising awareness and communicating the true value of the resources. It’s about making it as easy as possible for learners to develop the required capabilities to perform at their optimum level.”

As for who inspired him, Avinash readily points to Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella (who also inspired the title of this blog post).

He said, “I love the Microsoft story when Satya Nadella talks about becoming CEO, and how he shifted a mindset of being ‘know-it-alls’ into a culture of ‘learn-it-alls.’ He did this by instilling a growth mindset and empowering staff and leadership to take control of their development.

“This is a great philosophy and we actively find ways of bringing this mindset into our organization.”

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One comment on “How to Turn “Know-It-All” Managers Into “Learn-It-Alls””:

  1. Megan L. wrote:

    Great input! Lifelong learning helps us in our careers and personal lives, and builds stronger relationships with peers, family, and friends.