Getting Support

The manager — as is becoming increasingly obvious to organizational experts — is crucial to the process of learning. Learning takes time, give and take on real problems, systems thinking across boundaries, trial and error, and reflection. Managers are in the best position to:
  • involve employees in setting goals,

  • structure the chance to learn,

  • offer feedback and support,

  • provide tools and ideas,

  • and stay out of the way.22

Peter Senge sees the role of line managers as one of significant responsibility because they have a bottom-line focus and can undertake meaningful change at their level. Moreover, line managers can sanction new experiments to enhance results, and they have the knowledge and practical experience needed to become teachers.23

Managers do not and should not work alone and unaided in facilitating the learning process. You can and should get support from a wide range of sources. This chapter describes those sources and the types of help they provide. Specifically, you can get support:

  • from employees,

  • from executive leaders,

  • from HRD offices,

  • by outsourcing and/or collaborating,

  • by using the ideas of others,

  • and by keeping an eye on the future.

Employees as a Source of Support

Employees have a stake in sharing the responsibility with the manager for learning. They are beginning to realize the need for career resilience, that is, for staying on the cutting edge in their fields if they want to be marketable and stay productive.

Employees are also recognizing the value of being multiskilled, particularly in the downsized, streamlined environment of today's government. With multiple skills, not only do they have more value in the positions they hold, they can also move more easily across functional boundaries and to different assignments as workloads shift.

Managers can increase employees' awareness of how important it is to update their skills and do whatever it takes to provide value to the organization. This understanding comes when employees become more knowledgeable of business management practices and are treated as trusted members of the team.

You can expect motivated employees to:

  • lead work teams, work projects, and cross-functional teams;

  • write their own individual development plans, set goals for themselves, and define the steps they must take to meet those goals;

  • seek out training and development programs and assignments they know they need to progress in their careers;

  • read books, magazines, and journals that address current issues or needs of the organization, and look for opportunities to apply what they learn;

  • serve as coaches, counselors, and mentors to less senior colleagues; and

  • identify problems that can be solved with organizational learning strategies.

Managers can promote and promulgate these behaviors by creating an environment in which employees feel secure in making suggestions and by rewarding employees who aggressively seek out learning opportunities for themselves and their organization.

All employees have a need for lifelong learning, and when they are convinced of the benefits that can be derived from workplace learning activities, they will be enthusiastic helpers and participants in the process.

Executive Leaders as a Source of Support

Executive leaders must support and recognize your learning initiatives, build the infrastructure, and create a climate conducive to performance and growth. They support their managers by:

  • encouraging work across organizational boundaries;

  • rewarding your efforts to experiment and innovate;

  • recognizing learning initiatives that produce results; and

  • engaging in open, continuous interchange of ideas and information.

Executive leaders can build the all-important infrastructure in the organization to sustain continuous learning by:

  • making reference to learning and human capital as part of the organization mission, vision, and values statement;

  • identifying the core competencies of the organization; institutionalizing a process, which includes the HRD office, to integrate the organization's business strategy with its human capital plan;

  • making major investments in training and development that support strategic objectives;

  • creating an organizationwide learning council that oversees the organization's priorities for growth, investment, change, and performance;

  • developing policy to preserve or increase investment in human capital during downturns;

  • establishing performance management systems that reward managers and employees for achieving learning goals;

  • designing flexible structures and processes that facilitate integrated learning in different organizational subsets;

  • installing systems to measure the effectiveness of training related to organizational performance indicators;

  • funding technology that facilitates communication and learning across organizational boundaries; and

  • staffing the HRD function with specialists who can support managers.

Executive leaders can strengthen organizational performance and growth by:

  • promoting a climate of openness and truth,
  • placing a high value on the generation and rapid dissemination of knowledge,
  • rewarding learning through performance systems from the top down, and
  • sharing ownership of results.

HRD Offices as a Source of Support

The HRD office and its staff of HRD professionals should be a valuable resource for every facet of learning. Some agency HRD offices, however, are still working to acquire the new competencies and capabilities needed to provide you with learning services. They are in a state of transition, moving from a world made up exclusively of traditional training programs to a new world where training is just one of several modes of learning.

The HRD community is reinventing itself to play new, valuable roles in the organization. For example, when learning moves from the classroom into the workplace, HRD professionals become learning facilitators and advisors to managers. Instead of being in charge of the classroom, HRD professionals are in service to the workplace. They play a strategic role in linking learning to the organization's performance goals. They serve as the protectors and developers of the core competencies of the organization.  They thus must understand the business of that organization.

In the reinvented HRD office, HRD professionals are consultants on organizational change and performance interventions. They know how to develop formal and informal learning activities, and have a good command of new learning tools and technology. They can facilitate work teams, create mechanisms for sharing learning, and assess the value of learning initiatives. They can structure competency-based career systems and needs assessment tools that enable employees to develop along career paths that enhance their contribution to the organization. All the while, these HRD practitioners continue to ensure that the major learning programs throughout the organization follow a standardized instructional systems development process and are linked to organizational goals and outcomes.

The HRD profession has changed because the whole notion of learning has shifted, technology has advanced, and jobs have evolved. It is not surprising that people in the HRD field are highly concerned about developing new competencies of their own and obtaining more training to increase their expertise. They must be proficient in new instructional technologies, team learning strategies, cost benefit analysis, and organizational performance outcome measures, to name but a few of the requisite competencies in the field. In sum, then, the HRD office provides support in:

  • planning,

  • estimating costs,

  • selecting,

  • designing,

  • developing,

  • procuring,

  • conducting, and

  • evaluating

learning at every level of the organization.

Outsourcing and Collaborating

The recent emphasis on downsizing the federal payroll has made contracting out for services a very appealing prospect. While it is not a panacea, outsourcing is frequently a highly useful mechanism. But managers need to keep in mind that when they contract out for training — whether for the design, development, implementation, administration, or evaluation of training — they are contracting out the work, not the accountability. Consequently, managers need to plan carefully and factor the time and costs of managing the resulting contract. The goal should be to reduce costs, improve productivity, and maintain or develop the capability to respond to emerging requirements. An effort should be made, too, to concentrate on retaining core business competencies and outsourcing those functions that are readily available from external sources.

Successful outsourcing depends on close attention to contract requirements, good communication with vendors, and careful oversight of contract performance. When determining whether to perform work in-house or outsource it, follow a solid business model. Cost should not always be the determining factor. At a minimum, consider the following:

  • Off-the-shelf vs. unique product — If this is a need common to many organizations, it is probably cheaper to outsource. In the case of a unique requirement, the answer may not be so simple.

  • Recurring vs. one-time requirement — If this is going to be a long-term requirement, it might be advantageous to develop the capability to do it in- house. Consider outsourcing pieces or have a contractor train in-house personnel to perform the work.

  • Size and capability of in-house resources — Can existing staff do the work without costly retraining? Can personnel be added or detailed from other organizations?

Many organizations have arrangements with colleges and universities to deliver courses on- site, either with local faculty or through satellite networks. These arrangements have enhanced learning value because faculty gain knowledge about the agency, and employees build networks and alliances that endure back on the job.

Explore the possibility of partnering with one or more organizations that have the same need. This approach is particularly useful when training is needed but there are not enough employees to justify holding a class. Various types of partnerships exist. some are very formalized and involve complex arrangements; others can be quite simple.

Using the Ideas of Others

In the pressured environment in which most government managers find themselves, the need for effective responses to organizational challenges is constant. Need a new training program for your employees in two weeks? Want to develop a mentoring initiative ASAP? Or a strategic plan by the end of the month?

The time and resources to develop responses are limited, but managers rise to the challenge every day. Often, the successes of others can be adopted or adapted to your needs, saving time, effort, and money. The objective is accessing what other agencies have accomplished in terms of policies, programs, products, and experience. Networking is the key. The media for this networking range from quick phone conversations to surfing the Web for the right home page to attending a professional society's monthly meeting.

The HRD office in your organization should maintain contacts with sister HRD offices in other agencies. In addition, encouraging your own staff to participate in professional activities—and doing so yourself—to meet colleagues in government and the private sector is an investment likely to pay substantial returns.

    Sample Policies, Programs, and Products

The resources within the government community are vast. And, best of all, excellent advice, ideas, and resources are free. Following are examples of policies, programs, and products developed by various federal agencies that could be useful to you and your organization. Bear in mind that this is only a sampling, and there are many more examples out there. Also, various bulletin boards and on- line services can get you and your staff quick access to new, useful information and networks.

  • National Instructor System — The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Instructor Systems Branch, has an accredited instructor training program open to colleagues in other public service agencies. Attendees learn how to develop, deliver, and administer training in workgroups and in the classroom.

  • Bartered Consultant Services — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Human Resources Services Division, Great Lakes Region, shares its expertise in reengineering, self-managed teams, benchmarking, automation, training, etc., in return for consultant and training services from other agencies and FAA regions.

  • Process Consultation — Organizational development consultants in FAA's Great Lakes Region observe managers and/or teams as they hold meetings. Their role is to help assess strengths and weaknesses, and determine how to effect positive change.

  • Mentoring Program — The Training Academy of the Department of Housing and Urban Development pairs voluntary mentors and employees; training is provided for both parties, and a memorandum of understanding is provided to clarify responsibilities in the mentoring relationship and ensure career enhancement.

  • Curriculum for Change — This Department of Transportation HRD effort is a comprehensive curriculum for change management with a three-tier learning and development framework: (1) dynamics of transformation, (2) assessment against desired performance dimensions, and (3) individual learning and development opportunities for nine critical elements. The curriculum is used to prepare employees for changes in the work environment as a result of reengineering and downsizing.

  • Quality of Worklife Strategy — This comprehensive strategy from Health and Human Services was developed at the Department level in response to concerns about employee commitment and morale during a period of tremendous change and uncertainty. The strategy has three objectives: (1) increase employee satisfaction, (2) strengthen workplace learning, and (3) better manage ongoing change and transition. The strategy includes a wide range of initiatives to improve communications, become a learning organization, and promote family- friendly workplace programs.

  • Action Work-Outs — The U.S. Air Combat Command (ACC) uses the work-out technique pioneered by GE to rapidly reengineer its work processes. (Work-outs are a form of organizational learning described in Getting Better Results.) In "Action Work-Outs," teams of ACC employees are assigned to analyze their work processes within one week's time and to present their recommendations for change to top managers. Their changes helped ACC set new records for efficiency — for example, slashing the time it takes to inspect B1-B bombers by 42 percent, and cutting in half the time it takes to get F-15 fighter jets ready for combat.24

  • Mentoring Handbook — The Department of the Navy developed a comprehensive handbook to support its agencywide mentoring program. Developed by a workgroup of the Navy Civilian Leadership Board, the handbook covers: (1) questions and answers about mentoring, (2) the stages of mentoring, and (3) building mentoring skills. The handbook is part of a training program provided to all mentors and employees.

  • Training Policy Handbook: Authorities and Guidelines — This Office of Personnel Management publication covers essential legal information managers and practitioners need in making decisions about establishing, funding, implementing and evaluating HRD programs. Easy to read, it summarizes the legal foundation of training and provides legal references by topic area.

  • TEAM Handbook — This Department of Education publication was developed to help employees understand teams and move to a team-based structure. Managers use it to decide whether to establish teams and as a guide for effectively overseeing and developing teams. Employees use it to understand the different types of teams and team dynamics.

  • Human Resources Strategic Planning — The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has developed a Human Resources Strategic Plan. Through this process, key human resource imperatives were identified that were aligned with DISA's mission and corporate goals. The document serves as a roadmap for the organization and provides a clear rationale as to why human resource programs exist, and how they relate to the vision and mission of the organization. The plan allowed DISA to set priorities for training across the organization and assign resources accordingly.

  • DOT Connection — This one-stop customer service center was created by consolidating three different centers that provide service to the entire Department of Transportation. The center offers a variety of employment, career development, and worklife services to help balance work and personal responsibilities. These services help managers and employees gain the tools they need to enhance their development and benefit their organization. Other federal agencies can take advantage of these services on a fee basis.

  • PTO University — The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has partnered with several local colleges and universities to provide a series of academic programs designed for PTO employees. All courses are funded by the agency, held at the agency's offices, and aim to help employees in future career paths at PTO. Counseling, tutoring, and peer assistance programs are available to all students.

    Federal Learning Technology Resources

Technology can increase the power and efficiency of learning many times over. Satellite networks can broadcast across great distances, bringing top experts into the workplace for just-in-time training. Computer-based instruction sits resident at employee workstations until it is needed. While technology requires a large upfront investment, the payoffs to management are well-documented. Many federal organizations have made major investments in technology and have created centers of excellence. You will find them very willing to share their lessons learned and—very often—their resources as well. Here are some examples of agencies' technology-based delivery systems.



  • Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service
Central Intelligence Agency
  • Federal Language Training Laboratory
  • National Technical Information Service
  • National AudioVisual Center
  • FedWorld
  • Census Bureau: Educational Services Branch Multimedia Center
  • Air Force Institute of Technology: Center for Distance Education; Air Technology Network Defense Training and Performance Data Center
  • DOD Distance Learning Action Team
  • Center for Software (Defense Information Systems Agency joint effort)
  • National Defense University
  • Defense Acquisition University
  • Skills Assessment Center
  • Technology Resource Center
  • Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC)
  • Special Education Software Clearinghouse
  • Training Resource and DataExchange (TRADE)
Environmental Protection Agency
  • EPA Learning Laboratory
  • Safety, Health and Environmental Management Division Multi-Media Library
General Accounting Office
  • Learning Center
  • Video Teletraining
Health and Human Services
  • Center for Substance Abuse Prevention: CTS Staff College
  • Public Health Service: Instructional Television System
  • MED Training Programs
  • Multi-Media Learning Center
  • National Library of Medicine Multimedia Laboratory
Housing and Urban Development
  • Satellite Training Network
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Classroom of the Future
Small Business Administration
  • Online Training Guides
  • Americans Communicating Electronically (ACE)
  • Government SysOp Organization
Social Security Administration
  • National Satellite Network (NSN)
  • Foreign Language Institute
  • Federal Aviation Administration: Interactive Video Teletraining
  • Customs Service: Video Training Center
  • IRS: Electronic Performance Support Systems
Keeping an Eye on the Future

Coping with today often seems an overwhelming challenge. But looking out at the horizon, anticipating needs, and projecting solutions are what it takes to get a bigger share of available resources and to keep your employees from being swamped by new workload demands. Taking time to scan the horizon and identify future trends that will affect your organization may appear to be an impossible luxury. But much of this work has already been done for you. Let others identify the trends and tools of tomorrow while you dedicate your time and energy in applying them to your situation.

BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune, The Government Executive, and Harvard Business Review are among the many magazines that run articles on trends and ideas for the workplace of the future. Newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post also have good articles on these topics. These are tailored for busy managers, and take little time to read and digest. You can access some of these resources on-line, or from your agency or public library. You could also ask your HRD office to collect articles and bring them to your attention. Then you will both be learning the same information on improving workplace performance.

Learning Trends

Here are some key trends business and work experts are saying will have an impact in the near future. How do you think they will reshape your world and that of your organization?

1. As government becomes customer focused, it will become extremely important to learn ways to get feedback directly from customers served, not only on past performance but for future needs.25

2. Learning how to learn will affect what people learn, how they will learn it, and how they will apply it. Challenging assumptions, values, and how work gets done results in very different learning approaches than "information dump" and passive learning methods.26

3. Career paths are focused outward rather than upward. Employees take responsibility for their own learning in order to leverage themselves in an environment when downsizing and flattening restrict upward mobility.27

4. The training trend that is expected to have the biggest effect on the organization is just-in-time training, or training accessible to the employee at the very moment it is needed to do the job.28

"Learning and performing will become one and the
same thing. Everything you say about learning will
be about performance.  People will get the point that
learning is everything."
— Peter Block

Getting Better Results       Notes and Quotes       Table of Contents