Over the years I have served as an external consultant to many US domestic and overseas corporations using training as a primary intervention to solve organization problems and correct operational deficiencies. I have found that organizations who have achieved a maximum return on their training investment are characterized by the following described below:
1. Senior management sets the General Direction and Priorities for the Training Department and Staff
The senior management of an organization plays a major role in assuring that the training of its employees is contributing to organizational effectiveness by setting the general direction and priorities for the training function. The three most common ways of establishing the type of direction useful to the training function include:
a. Identifying the training function's role in meeting a corporate objective. For example, assume that one of the corporate objectives is to convert manufacturing facilities from overall operational units into individualized profit centers. The training function's role in contributing to the accomplishment of this objective could be to develop a training program for facility management designed to enhance the necessary skills and competencies required to run an effective profit center. Senior management would provide the necessary information to construct a profile of the ideal "profit center" manager, and the training staff through a training needs analysis would assess present levels of these skills and competencies among existing facilities managers. The content of the training program would result from this initial assessment.
b. Determining specific manpower requirements short and long term to accomplish the corporation's strategic business plan
c. Identifying priority corporate / organization problems needing to be addressed. Some examples could be that facility human resource managers are not performing their job effectively and lack a business perspective, or facility managers spend most of their time on work that should be delegated.
These examples of setting general direction and priorities are natural outgrowths of senior management's planning activity. In the examples provided, senior management does not assume the role of the training function. The training staff professionals are in a position to determine the specific content of the required programs or to evaluate if training is needed at all.
This kind of direction-setting is distinctly different from that represented by senior management saying to the training director "design a program for facility managers to improve their management and interpersonal skills."
2. Training is used in Combination with Other Tools or Methods to Solve Organizational Problems
When organizations use training as a panacea for solving problems involving the organization's human resources, the potential impact of training as a tool for increasing organizational effectiveness decreases.
Organizations can avoid being trapped in the “panacea approach" by:
a. Always conducting an adequate problem analysis diagnostic,
b. Using training in combination with other methods to solve identified problems. Whenever training occurs without an adequate problem analysis, two dangers exist. The first is that the training will be a waste of time and money because it cannot solve the problem it was meant to solve, or second the training may compound the problem or create more frustration by raising expectations that cannot be met.
Although most significant organization problems manifest themselves in the behavior and performance of the company's human resources, the problem can stem from any of three sources:
a. Deficiencies or weaknesses in the system, e.g. structure procedures, business processes, incentive programs, or organization policies and procedures.
b. Inability or unwillingness of employees to use the skills and abilities they possess due to on-the-job conditions such as low morale, inadequate supervision, a tense environment with high conflict, and lack of motivation
c. The employees lack of appropriate skills and abilities.
Many complex problems stem from all three sources. In these cases, training aimed at developing the appropriate skills and abilities will have more of an impact if it is used in combination with other methods, tools, strategies appropriate for eliminating deficiencies in the system or solving on-the-job problems.
Training becomes a tool for increasing organizational effectiveness when senior management and the training function work hand in hand. The training staff should be skilled in program analysis and design of programs to develop skills. However, the expertise of the training staff will not be properly utilized unless senior management sets the general direction and coordinates and integrates its efforts towards solving organizational problems and accomplishing strategic objectives.
3. Line Managers are Accountable for the Development of Subordinates. The Training Function Serves as a Support to the Line Organization
Training serves as a tool for increasing organizational effectiveness in organizations that place emphasis in the self-development of individual. However in many instances the role and responsibility of the manager in contributing to the self-development process of his or her subordinates is overlooked or de-emphasized.
The success of a training program is very much dependent on the attitude, actions, and behavior of the manager before and after the training program.
Self-development and particularly that development resulting in improved job performance does not happen automatically nor in a vacuum. The manager plays a major role in facilitating self-development by creating conditions which encourage the employees to examine his or her strengths and weaknesses, to compare present job behavior and performance to the ideal, and to identify appropriate developmental learning experiences.
If the manager has effectively created conditions which encourage self-development the employee will attend a training program knowing why he or she is there, what he or she wants to learn, and will possess a high degree of motivation to learn. However in many cases, the trainer must spend half of the time trying to create these conditions and attitudes before proceeding to conduct the training program.
The manager also plays a crucial role in assuring on the job application of skills employees develop during training programs. This suggests that a manager should fully understand the objectives of the training program, discuss the training experience with the employees, and provide the necessary help to assist employees in transferring the skills learned in the program to their respective jobs. Finally the manager should build the application of these skills into the employee's performance review discussion.
The effectiveness of training programs is maximized if the manager is carrying out his or her responsibility of developing subordinates. Training functions should provide active support to the organization’s line managers. Training programs should provide a relevant developmental experience for employees. But neither can be totally a substitute for the manager's role in creating the conditions and climate for self-development to occur.
4. Training Programs are Designed for Adult Learners and Focus on Skills Development and On-the-Job Application
Training programs that are designed for adult learners contribute to the self-development process of the participant. Training programs that focus on skills development and on-the-job application contribute to improved job performance which ultimately affects the accomplishment of the function's and organization's objectives.
Training programs designed for adult learners are characterized by such things as:
a. Participant involvement in diagnosing their learning needs, the setting of their learning goals, the design of the learning experience, and the learning evaluation process.
b. Learning objectives that are trainee and participant centered.
c. Learning / teaching methods which tap the experiences of the participants and actively involve them during the training program.
d. A flexibility on the part of the trainer to adjust to the participant’s feedback and needs.