Managers' roles in the facilitation of workplace learning


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Slides of my presentation at Researching Work and Learning 2011 Conference, December 7, Shanghai, China.

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  • My name is Anoush Margaryan and I work as a lecturer at the Caledonian Academy, a Centre for Research in Technology-Enhanced Professional Learning at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. My co-authors are Allison Littlejohn who is in the audience, and Colin Milligan who unfortunately couldn’t join us. The work I’m going to talk about is part of a larger research project we conducted in collaboration with the Royal Dutch Shell in the Netherlands. The project focused broadly on examining the ways in which professionals learn in the context of work, and how they draw upon digital technologies to support their learning. In the larger study, we examined a range of research questions related to various aspect of professional learning, including what people learned through engagement in everyday work, how they learned and with whom and how knowledge sharing in online communities of practices related to and supported their learning and development. Our respondents are primarily highly-skilled professionals from a variety of technical and commercial disciplines from across the company – research engineers, geologists, geophysicists, business analysts, HR advisors, learning designers, procurement specialists, and so on- most of whom are educated either to Masters ’ or PhD level. This particular area of this research examined managers’ roles in the facilitation of workplace learning and knowledge sharing. We are still analysing the data, and today I will present some of our preliminary findings.
  • In the workplace, other people provide an important resource for knowledge and learning support. The term ‘ siginficant others ’ has been used by Eraut and some others to characterise these people workplace learners draw upon. Managers are one such key workplace learning actor. While the significance of supervisors in the facilitation of workplace learning has been established in the literature and the types of facilitative roles they carry out to support learning have been examined to some extent, it is less well understood how these roles are perceived by the supervisees. Most research tends to discuss managers’ facilitative roles only conceptually (ie what these roles should be), whilst the limited empirical research focused primarily on elucidation of the actual roles from the perspective of managers themselves. Also, it is not well understood whether and how managers facilitative roles are perceived and valued by employees at different stages in their career, in particular novices, experts and mid-career professionals.
  • The concept of facilitative leadership has been put forward in the past decades to signal a departure - at least in rhetoric - from the command and control style management. With transition to knowledge economy in the Western world, alternative conceptions of organisations - such as learning organisation (Senge, 1990a) - have become increasingly popular, necessitating reconsideration of the roles and responsibilities of managers and leaders. The quote here conveys the general sentiment characteristic to the discourse in the management literature.
  • Typologies of managers’ facilitative roles have been developed, for example by Mintzberg, who suggested there were 10 roles categorised into three groups: three interpersonal roles; three informational roles; and four decision-making roles Mintzberg’s typology however only partially or indirectly relates to learning roles, through the elements of the informational and decision-making roles.
  • Another typology was devised by de Jong and colleagues. They clustered the roles into three categories: analytic, supportive and those related to training. In contrast to Mintzberg’s typology, learning-related roles are explicit here.
  • The literature has also highlighted tensions arising from managers ’ involvement in facilitating workplace learning. You can find the specific references in the full paper in the proceedings. But just to highlight some key issues: For instance, it has been argued that a facilitative supervisory role may not be realistic due to issues of identity and trust between supervisors and those being supervised. Some argued that supervisors ’ role in workplace learning is indirectly, rather than directly exercised, through traditional supervisory activities. Hughes for example argued that “ assumptions of supervision, even if intentionally integrative, are ultimately coercive, since the supervisor represents the organisational interest in the relationship with staff ” . Another tension is the asymmetrical nature of trust in both supervisory and facilitative relationship. In supervisory relationship, the burden of trust falls on supervisor who needs to trust staff to perform, otherwise they will require constant and coercive supervision. In learning relationship, in contrast, the burden of trust is on learner, and the facilitator is the one who needs to prove trustworthy. The implication of this asymmetry is that “ the suggestion that supervisors act as facilitators may impose double and counteracting burden of trust on each party ” . Other issues include managers ’ concerns about the adequacy of their skills in facilitating learning; Managers’ conceptions of their roles, in particular that they should focus on the technical aspects of supervision rather than learning-related aspects which they argue should be taken care of by others for example the HR; Motivational issues managers may have due to lack of support from their managers;
  • The study employed a mixed methods research approach, with a quantitative phase followed by a qualitative phase. The data was collected using a questionnaire survey and semi-structured interviews. Both instruments are available from the full paper. The follow-up interviews were based on the critical incident method, whereby the respondents were asked to think about their most significant learning experience in the past year - the project or task from which they had learned the most, with the interview questions designed to elicit data about the ways in which they learned to complete the project/task. Among other aspects, they were specifically asked to describe the role other people in the workplace and beyond played in supporting their learning. Respondents were free to mention and discuss any person who supported them, and were not steered specifically towards discussing managers. However, the majority of the respondents did talk at significant length about their line managers. They were then prompted by the interviewer to describe the specific ways in which they were supported. We defined as experts those who had 11 and more years of experience and novices as those who had up to 3 years of experience in their discipline. Those who had 4-10 years of experience were defined as mid-career professionals.
  • Both interview and survey samples are somewhat skewed towards experts, and the majority of the respondents in both phases had no managerial responsibilities.
  • Firstly, expanding on the question about their most significant learning experience in the past year, we asked the interviewees to indicate other people within or outside the company who played an important role in their learning. Eight categories of ‘significant others’ emerged, with line managers as the most frequently mentioned category. Line managers were mentioned more frequently by novices than by experts or mid-career professionals.
  • This is the preliminary typology… While the types of support managers provide appear to be broadly similar across the three groups, there a re also differences. F or example , in case of novices counselling, being a role model, hands-on support and regular assessment of progress against learning goals, which are agreed annually as part of the performance review and development planning. In case of experts, the focus of managers ’ contribution appears to shift more towar ds advice on company-specific technical aspects and where experts ’ participation in learning opportunities is concerned, m anager ’ s role is more focused on formalities of approving access to these, rather than structuring or monitoring experts ’ personal development planning as in the case of novices and midcareer professionals. In the case of mid-career workers, the types of learning support are more similar to those that no vices described , with the addition of coaching on the technical aspects of the job rather than more generic career development focused coaching. These findings suggest that managers provide a wide variety of types of learning support. A question we may ask is whether or not line managers are well prepared to provide such a wide range of support and whether they have the required specialist skills for things like counselling, in addition to more technical advice (operational, coaching) that they appear to provide.
  • Managers' roles in the facilitation of workplace learning

    1. 1. Managers ’ role in the facilitation of workplace learning Anoush Margaryan, Colin Milligan and Allison Littlejohn Caledonian Academy, Glasgow Caledonian University ,UK This presentation is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence
    2. 2. Rationale & research questions <ul><li>In the workplace other people are an important source of learning - ‘significant others’ </li></ul><ul><li>Managers are key actors </li></ul><ul><li>How are managers ’ facilitative roles perceived by those they supervise? </li></ul><ul><li>What are the similarities and differences in how these roles are experienced by novices, experts and mid-career professionals? </li></ul>
    3. 3. Managers are responsible for “ building organisations where people are continually expanding their capabilities to shape their future - that is leaders are responsible for learning ” (Senge, 1990, p. 9). ‘ Managers are the only people who can be truly effective in making learning happen ” (ibid, p. 46).
    4. 4. Managers’ facilitative roles <ul><li>Interpersonal : figurehead, leader, liaison; </li></ul><ul><li>Informationa l: monitorer [sic], disseminator, spokesperson; and </li></ul><ul><li>Decision-making : entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, negotiator. </li></ul><ul><li>(Mintzberg, 1990) </li></ul>
    5. 5. Managers’ facilitative roles <ul><li>Analytic : ‘ analysing and solving performance problems’ </li></ul><ul><li>Supportive : ‘ creating favourable conditions for learning ’ </li></ul><ul><li>Training : ‘ directly influencing work behaviour ’ (de Jong et al, 1999) </li></ul>
    6. 6. Tensions <ul><li>Identity </li></ul><ul><li>Asymmetrical trust </li></ul><ul><li>Adequacy of skills to facilitate learning </li></ul><ul><li>Conception of managerial role </li></ul><ul><li>Motivation </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of clear communication of expectations </li></ul>
    7. 7. Methodology <ul><li>Mixed-method study: QUAN  QUAL </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Phase 1: Web-based questionnaire (n=459) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Phase 2: Semi-structured interviews (n=29) </li></ul></ul>
    8. 8. Respondents Category Survey Interview Novices 137 (29.8%) 10/29 Experts 211 (46%) 12/29 Mid-career 111 (24.2%) 7/29 Managerial responsibility 98 (21.5%) 3/29 No managerial responsibility 358 (78.5%) 26/29
    9. 9. ‘ Significant others’
    10. 10. Typology of managers’ facilitative roles NOVICES EXPERTS MID-CAREER <ul><li>Advice on learning opportunities </li></ul><ul><li>Structuring personal development programme </li></ul><ul><li>Coaching </li></ul><ul><li>Regular assessment of performance & progress against learning goals </li></ul><ul><li>Career development guidance </li></ul><ul><li>Hands-on support with operational tasks </li></ul><ul><li>Counseling in stressful situations </li></ul><ul><li>Being a role model </li></ul><ul><li>Advice on learning opportunities </li></ul><ul><li>Advice on company-specific knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Approving course enrolment </li></ul><ul><li>Approving participation in knowledge sharing networks </li></ul><ul><li>Advice on personal development planning </li></ul><ul><li>Career development guidance </li></ul><ul><li>Coaching and mentoring </li></ul><ul><li>First port of call for advice on operational matters   </li></ul><ul><li>Advice on learning opportunities </li></ul><ul><li>Coaching </li></ul><ul><li>Technical coaching and mentoring </li></ul><ul><li>Structuring personal development programme </li></ul>
    11. 11. Next steps <ul><li>Further analysis of the survey data: managers’ roles in supporting knowledge sharing </li></ul><ul><li>Examining similarities and differences in the responses of those with and without managerial responsibility </li></ul><ul><li>Integration of the survey and interview data </li></ul><ul><li>Refinement of the typology </li></ul>