No Image Available

Ksenia Zheltoukhova


Research Adviser

Read more about Ksenia Zheltoukhova

Developing managers for sustainable people outcomes


Line managers are the secret

There is an abundance of evidence showing that the relationship with the line manager is key to employee engagement and wellbeing, particularly important for ensuring sustainability of positive people outcomes.

Understandably, organisations are investing in developing line manager capability with 88% of organisations in a CIPD survey saying they provide some form of management and leadership training to their employees (CIPD 2013).

Yet, many continue to report that the application of managerial skills is not visible in practice, with as many as 70% of organisations saying front-line supervisors lack capability to manage difficult conversations, and 65% pointing at gaps in performance management capability (CIPD 2013).

Manager development programmes – getting better results

A new research by Affinity Health at Work, sponsored by the CIPD, IOSH and the Affinity Health at Work Research Consortium, looked at how organisations can improve the return on their investment in manager development programmes.

Using an evidence-based approach (where insights are derived both from academic and practitioner literature, as well as consultation with stakeholders), it considered the factors that can affect the success of such programme across three areas: 1) the training itself; 2) characteristics of managers who are expected to learn new skills and adopt new behaviours; and 3) the organisational context. By being aware of these factors, and addressing the ones that can be controlled, organisations would be better prepared to design and implement more effective management development programmes.

Designing better training programmes

From the programme design point of view, some of the important considerations include clarity, consistency and relevance of the development goals. It is crucial that the participants are able to practise new knowledge and skills in their work, rather than simply learn the theory that is not immediately transferrable into their day-to-day job.

Fundamentally, managers should take away some form of accountability for applying the learning, for example, through pledges, commitment to teach others what they have learned, and establishing a feedback loop to monitor the managers’ progress. Interestingly, choosing the right name for the programme emerged as an important factor – so as to get the participants’ buy-in and signal the relevance of the development programme to the overall organisational direction and individual manager needs.

Improving preparedness and outcomes for participants

Characteristics of manager participants is the second area of focus in understanding how to maximise the success of a development programme. Here practitioners should consider manager self-awareness with regard to their skills and their role (in managing positive employee outcomes), as well as the degree of value that managers attach to learning and development. Improving self-awareness and helping the  participants understand the benefits of the programme are again important in gaining their buy-in, and in tackling some of the practical barriers they may have in applying their skills in practice (for example, lack of time, work-life balance priorities, or conflicting role goals).

Ensuring training programmes are linked back to the organisation

Finally, an area frequently overlooked when designing and embedding development programmes is the organisational context. Our previous research has shown that even where managers have the knowledge and skills that can improve employee engagement and wellbeing, they sometimes struggle to demonstrate the relevant behaviours due to the contextual barriers, such as lack of empowerment, perverse incentives, and lack of clarity in the job design (CIPD 2014).

Current research points at specific enablers of manager development programme success at the organisational level. This includes, most importantly, visibility of support for the development programme, recognition and commitment to its outcomes, particularly among the senior leadership team. Role-modelling and clarity of standards and expectations are necessary, as is ongoing support from the HR and other stakeholders at the embedding stage, so that the managers are not discouraged from applying the new skills and demonstrating appropriate behaviours by the early hurdles after their training.

Barriers and enablers

The range of both barriers and enablers that affect manager learning highlights the fact that manager development cannot be delivered successfully through a sticking plaster approach. Training alone – even designed well – cannot guarantee the transfer of the learning in the organisational context. Instead a considered, systemic approach is required to understand the specific challenges that an individual manager may face in applying learning in practise, so as to ensure that the necessary supporting mechanisms are put in place in alignment with training, either through HR or organisational design and development point of view.

Useful checklists

The checklists intended to aid practitioners in designing and implementing more effective manager development programmes are now available.

Understanding that organisations might be at different stages of their journey in developing managers, the checklists are tailored to those who are:

  • considering conducting a development programme but haven’t started yet
  • have started designing or are currently implementing a development programme
  • have already implemented a development programme in order to support the embedding of learning into the workplace


CIPD (2013) Real-life leaders: closing the knowing-doing gap. London: CIPD.

CIPD (2014) Leadership – easier said than done. London: CIPD.

No Image Available
Ksenia Zheltoukhova

Research Adviser

Read more from Ksenia Zheltoukhova

Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.