Monday, February 6, 2012

Training as an Intervention

Training is a critical component in the field of Human Performance Technology (HPT). Pershing (2006) defined HPT as “the study and ethical practice of improving productivity in organizations by designing and developing effective interventions that are results-oriented, comprehensive, and systemic” (p. 6). Unfortunately, training is often looked at as the end-all solution to correcting/fixing performance problems. This fallacy of ‘training can fix it’ has lead to a large number of training interventions, along with their expenditures, that have fallen short of promised expectations.

Training programs are often selected as a matter of convenience rather than as a planned systematic intervention with a specified goal or outcome.  At times it feels as though training programs are selected primarily, as Landis and Bhagat (1996) stated, "because they are well advertised, not because they are well designed" (as cited in Weber, S., 2008, p. 51).  Often times, trainers and those in charge of training, resort to already established training programs.  Rossett (2009) highlighted this problem by sounding the following alarm: “It is time for human resources and training professionals to turn from their habitually favored interventions, like training, to solutions that match the customer and situation” (p. 19).  Additionally, training is often considered to be a quick-fix to a misunderstood performance problem. Rothwell, Stavros, and Sullivan (2010) identified the problem where quick-fix solutions are inappropriate in resolving the source of the problem as “employee training is often inappropriately perceived to be” (OD defined).

HPT takes a counter-intuitive approach when dealing with training. Training is often considered the last step in the problem resolution intervention. Thus, training should only be applied in those instances where no other cheaper and less timely intervention will work. Robinson and Robison (1995) highlight: “solutions to performance problems should be based upon a thorough analysis of causes of the problem” (p. 4). The point here is not that training is ineffective, but that training needs to address the right performance objective for it to be effective.

Training needs analyses, or performance analyses, should be conducted before any training intervention is designed.  These analyses are conducted to determine what is termed the performance gap.  This gap is the difference between what should be to what is.  Rummler and Brache (1995) view process maps that compare processes in their current state (the ‘as-is’ state) compared to how these should be (the ‘should-be’ state). The differences between the should-be and the as-is represents the performance or process gap - this is where the resolution needs to be directed.    Robinson and Robinson (1995) use a performance relationship map to determine the needs for four key performance drivers: business needs, performance needs, training needs, and work environment needs. Their performance relationship map distinguishes between the type of performance that should be demonstrated with those that is being demonstrated. The difference is the performance gap that needs to be attended to. 

When the identified performance gap identifies a deficiency in employees knowledge and skills in which new knowledge could resolve the gap then training could be a final resolving intervention.  Robinson and Robinson (1995) identified training needs as those “areas where performers lack skill or knowledge to perform satisfactorily” (p. 26). If the performance gap identifies a deficiency in either of the other three drivers (business needs, performance needs, work environment needs) then training is probably not the best intervention to resolve the performance gap.  

Selecting training as an intervention when the performance deficiency relates to employees knowledge and skills will most certainly guide you on the path to resolving the performance gap.  Selecting training as an intervention when the source of the problem is not related to knowledge or skills, or when the problem has not been identified through need analysis, will most likely lead to waisted expenditures and waisted effort from those involved.  Additionally, improperly selecting training could potentially decrease performance while lowering the motivation of the employees in the long-term. 

Pershing, J. A. (2006). Human performance technology fundamentals. In Pershing, J. A. (Ed.), Handbook of human performance technology: Principles, practices, potential. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Robinson, D. G., & Robinson, J. C. (1995). Performance consulting: Moving beyond training. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Rothwell, W. J., Stavros, J. M., & Sullivan, A. (2009). Organization development and change. In Rothwell, W. J., Stavros, J.M., & Sullivan, A. (Eds.). Practicing organization development: A guide for leading change (3rd ed.) (Chapter 1). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Rossett, A. (2009). First things fast: A handbook of performance analysis (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Rummler, G. A., Brache, A. P. (1995). Improving performance: How to manage the white space on the organization chart (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Weber, S. (2008).  Intercultural learning in business and human resource education. In Nijhof, W. J., & Nieuwenhuis, L. F.M. (Eds.), The learning potential of the workplace (pp. 47 - 69). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
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