How to develop your managers

Do managers ever tell you they don’t have time to learn?

Written by Mind Tools for Business
Published 07 June 2021
How to develop your managers

It’s not just you. Our research reveals that 45% of managers say they’re too busy for learning and development. But when we dug deeper, we found what they really mean is they don’t see the value of L&D. 

They feel it’s inaccessible, irrelevant or unlikely to reward. [1]

At the same time, 87% of managers admit they have skill gaps now – or expect them in the next few years. [2] Let’s explore what management development is, how to set it up, and get learners on board.

Why is management development important?

L&D helps give all employees the skills, competencies and knowledge they need to do their jobs. But managers must also learn how to develop others, contribute to an organization’s strategy, and equip their teams to deliver on these goals. 

And if managers don’t make time to learn, disinterest can spread. Especially when you consider they’re the most likely people to inspire other employees to learn. [3]

What does management development look like?

Every organization is different. You’ll doubtless have unique skill gaps to plug and opportunities to tap.

But some managerial competencies are universal. Like communication, emotional intelligence, and the ability to motivate others. Or facilitating business needs, problem-solving and managing conflict.  

To develop in these areas, managers can attend external programs with courses, seminars and workshops. Or take part in internal programs with coaching, job shadowing and e-learning, for instance. 

But even before the pandemic, the lines between external and internal, formal and informal learning were blurring. Today, for example, communities of practice can meet virtually, face-to-face or both.  

What’s more, managers can benefit from a mix of development opportunities enabled by technology. Like on-demand digital resources that allow them to learn when, where and how they want to. 

In fact, our research reveals that a blended approach works better at putting learning into practice than online or classroom learning alone. [4]   

How to create a management development program

Our research reveals that 44% of L&D professionals are “extremely concerned” about managers’ engagement with learning – making it their single biggest concern. [5] Here’s how to put a development program in place that engages your managers. 

1. Help managers align personal with business goals

McKinsey reports that just 40% of companies align their learning strategy with business goals. [6]

It advises you evaluate employee capabilities each year to determine the most essential skills to tackle. You can also encourage managers to: 

  • Make the most of performance reviews to discuss their pain points and development opportunities.  

  • Complete a competency framework to identify the skills and values required by them and their teams – now and in the future.  

  • Use 30-degree feedback to rate themselves, see how others perceive them, and identify areas to work on. 

2. Work with managers to design your L&D 

Feeling like they’ve not been consulted about an L&D program is one of the main reasons that managers skip L&D. [7] So, it pays to ask for their input before you make that MOOC. 

Our research reveals that 71% of “high-impact learning cultures” involve employees at the design stage of an L&D solution – compared to the 21% average. They listen to what and how managers want to learn before making it. [8] 

3. Show managers the value of learning

If managers don’t see the value of L&D, they won’t make time to learn. So, help show the value! Whatever metrics you choose to measure learning impact, involve managers in the discussion.  

That way, you’ll better understand what they need and increase buy-in. Our research reveals that leaders who collaborate with their L&D teams to identify learning goals are four times more likely to see the strategic value. [9]  

4. Make learning more accessible 

Managers are humans, too. They’ll switch off if a presenter is dull or an e-learning course is a log-in labyrinth. To help grab and hold their attention:  

  • Make learning easy to find. 91% of top-performing organizations have online learning content at the ready for learners (compared to the 28% average) [10] 

  • Help fit learning around their day. A podcast on the morning commute, an in-depth article to digest in some downtime, or a quick video to solve an issue in the flow of work. When you offer a wide range of engaging learning formats, “making time” becomes less of an issue. 

  • Nudge learners. During the pandemic, our research found that employees are twice as likely to access work-related resources when alerted by email and other updates. [11] 

So, next time a manager tells you they don’t have time to learn, ask them some further questions, and try these tips to get them on-board with your L&D efforts. 


[1] [3] [10] [11]‘Learner Intelligence Report: Addressing the disconnect between strategy and practice’. Available here

[4] [7] [8] ‘Back to the Future: Why tomorrow's workforce needs a learning culture’. Available here

[2] [5] [9] ‘Same team, different sides?’. Available here.   

[6] Beyond hiring: How companies are reskilling to address talent gaps, McKinsey, 2020. Available here.  

About the author

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business brings accessible, on-demand performance tools and resources focused on leadership, management and personal effectiveness that empower colleagues to perform in today’s progressive workplaces. Helping them build happy and successful careers and to contribute positively to the success of organizations, the world over. At Mind Tools for Business, empowering people to thrive at work has been our passion for 25 years.

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