If you could snap your fingers and do one thing to improve your organization’s learning culture, would you:

  • Get more funding for learning initiatives?
  • Get better, or more appropriate, learning content?
  • Or get managers to be more committed to their coaching role?

We put that question to hundreds of learning pros, and the response was overwhelming. Nearly 60% said they’d get managers to be more committed, compared with 25% who want better content and 16% who want more funding.

A cry for help
Okay, we weren’t all that surprised by these results. We talk to hundreds of companies every month about their sales training needs, and hear all sorts of reasons about why they struggle to meet their training goals. Almost inevitably, manager involvement is the number-one issue. It’s not that these managers don’t believe that a well-trained sales force will bring in more sales. They do. But they’re faced with countless demands: That big sale is about to close. The VP of Sales needs those projections. A customer calls up, angry that their shipment didn’t arrive on time. Sure, training is important. But it’s seldom urgent.

Training professionals often lament the fact that they lack the big stick: They can’t force sales managers to make training a priority, since the managers don’t report to them. But I don’t think that’s really the issue.


Instead, I would encourage sales trainers to think of their role like that of a personal trainer. Personal trainers can’t force their clients to drop down and give them twenty. They can’t make the client eat better or go to the gym. The client is the boss.

But what the client is really saying to the personal trainer is this: “I do want to get in shape. I do want to eat healthier and exercise regularly. But I know I can’t do it by myself. So I’m hiring you, my trainer, to hold me accountable. I’m willing to do what you tell me, even when I’d rather be doing something else, because fitness is important to me.”

Sales trainers and other learning professionals can adopt a similar approach. Our research also shows that the vast majority of managers want to do a better job of training their people. They just can’t get it done on their own. So let them “hire” you, the trainer, to hold them accountable. Ask them, “If you’re truly serious about training, what commitments are you willing to make? And are you willing to let me help you meet those commitments?”

So, for example, if a manager commits to provide two hours of one-on-one coaching a month for each rep, you, as their personal trainer, should have a “contract” with the manager to follow up every month. “Hey, Bill,” you might say, “it’s already the 20th and you haven’t scheduled your coaching sessions yet. Let’s get that done.” You’re not “forcing” the manager to do training. You’re not ratting them out senior management if they miss their goals. But you are holding their feet to the fire, because that’s what they hired you to do.

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