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The strategic training of employees model: balancing organizational constraints and training content.


In the early 1980s U.S. Steel (now USX) underwent massive downsizing and invested more than $1 billion to upgrade and computerize its production processes. Worker skills needed to be upgraded, for the new technology to pay off. But as part of its restructuring, the company had eliminated an apprenticeship program that provided in-depth training in a number of crafts. Now the company needed a training program that would cut across craft lines. USX found that an investment in physical resources often requires an investment in human resources (Gomez-Mejia, Balkin and Cardy, 1995).

The extent to which organizations will support employee training and development certainly varies, and that variability leads to an interesting question--why do some organizations value training more than others? Of course, organizational constraints can limit the amount of training regardless of how much the company values it.

This article develops the Strategic Training of Employees Model (STEM). STEM advances the literature by giving human resource practitioners a comprehensive framework that balances the need for training against the organizational constraints. STEM assumes that an organization consists of three components people, a goal or goals, and structure (Robbin, 1998). Of the three, the people factor is the most important because without them the other two cannot exist. People form the structure of an organization and set the goals or standards. Any product value an organization brings to the marketplace is fundamentally dependent upon the abilities of the employees at all levels. As the USX example illustrated it is the decisions and capabilities of management and nonmanagerial personnel that ultimately determine organizational results.

Historical Perspective

When establishing a training program it is important to determine the content. However, because of organizational constraints, usable content tends to be less than the potential content. Constraints can include restrictions on time, personnel and spending; lack of training facilities, materials or equipment; and the attitude of senior management. The relationship between potential and usable training content can be expressed in the following equation (Finch, 1989, p. 161):

The Training Content Decision-Making Equation

UC = PC - C

Where: UC = usable content, PC = potential content, C = constraints

Therefore, any training program must balance the need to provide the proper level of training against organizational constraints. A tilt one way or the other could be detrimental. Too much training is a waste of resources, but too little could damage an organization's competitive position. Any training model that does not reflect this delicate balance will be useless for human resources practitioners. A training model that captures the reality of organizational constraints is needed because, despite spending more than $50 billion per year on training, the effectiveness of American companies' training is questionable compared with many other countries (Hicks, 2000; Idhammar, 1997). Much of the training in the U.S. is the "follow Joe" type.

This means new employees are teamed with experienced employees and are expected to learn on the job. However, this method does not always ensure that all the necessary information is passed along to the new employee. For instance, let us suppose that Joe, an experienced worker, is responsible for teaching Mike, who is new. First of all, Joe might only possess a certain percentage of the knowledge he should have. In addition, Joe might not teach Mike everything he knows, keeping some skills to himself because of pride or job security. However, even if Joe teaches Mike everything he knows, Mike might not be able to remember all of it (Idhammar, 1997).

To improve the effectiveness of the training function, a systematic process is needed that provides a framework for evaluating training goals and techniques subject to organizational constraints.

Literature Review

As background, this paper will briefly review research relating to the development of human capital and pertaining to the learning process, with an emphasis on adult learning and the implications for organizational training.

* Economic literature and human capital

Following the publication of Becker's work, most of the research regarding workplace analysis examined physical capital issues; recently, however, several researchers (Elbaum, 1990; Parson, 1990; Lynch, 1991, 1992; Bishop and Kang, 1996; and Loewenstein and Spletzer, 1997, 1998a, 1999) have begun investigating topics relating to human capital development. In sum, this line of research serves as a valuable reminder of the tug of war between employee training and the associated costs. Most organizations (with the exception of academic institutions) do not exist for the sole purpose of educating their employees, so a managerial decision must be made regarding the level of training that will be provided. This dilemma once again focuses attention on the concepts of potential and usable content as outlined by Finch (1989) in the "Training Content Decision-Making Equation."

In his seminal article, Gary Becker (1962) laid the foundation for the study of human capital acquisition when he distinguished between "general human capital" and "specific human capital." General human capital has multiple uses and is portable, while specific human capital is useful in a narrow line of work and has limited portability (Loewenstein and Spletzer, 1999; Bassi, 1994). Accordingly, any "completely general training" is an investment in human capital that increases an employee's overall productivity and could be transferred to any employment situation, while "completely specific training" only increases worker productivity for the employer who provided it. Becker concluded that within a perfectly competitive market any general human capital formulation would be financed by the individual while any specific human capital acquisition would be shared by individuals and firms (Bassi, 1994).

* Learning theories and training implications Learning is defined as a relatively permanent change in human capabilities that is not a result of growth processes. These capabilities are related to specific learning outcomes (verbal information, intellectual skills, motor skills, attitudes and cognitive strategies). Several learning theories can provide a foundation for understanding how a trainee is motivated to learn.

1. Reinforcement theory emphasizes that people are motivated to perform or avoid certain behaviors because of past outcomes that have resulted from those behaviors. From a training perspective, reinforcement theory suggests that the trainer needs to identify what outcomes the learner perceives as being positive (or negative). Trainers then need to link these outcomes to learners' acquiring knowledge, skills, or new behaviors (Noe, 1999; Robbins, 1998).

2. Social learning theory suggests that learners first watch others who act as models. In a training scenario, a group of trainees can be presented with models of effective behaviors, such as serving customers or performing managerial analyses, as well as the relationship between these behaviors and favorable consequences, such as praise, promotions, or customer satisfaction. Trainees then rehearse the behaviors and consequences, building cognitive maps that intensify the links and set the stage for future behaviors. The learning impact occurs when the subject tries the behavior and experiences a positive result (Gordon, 1996).

3. Goal-setting theory implies that establishing and committing to specific and challenging goals can influence an individual's behavior. From a training perspective, goal-setting could be utilized to identify the specific outcomes that should be achieved from the training (Heliriegel, Slocum and Woodman, 1995).

4. Need theories (Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Alderfer's ERG Theory, Herzberg's DualStructure Theory and David McClelland's Need Theory) assume that need deficiencies cause behavior. Need theories suggest that to motivate learning, trainers should identify trainees' needs and communicate how training program content relates to fulfilling those needs (Noe, 1999; Moorhead and Griffin, 1995).

5. Expectancy theory implies that an individual's behavior is a function of three factors (expectancy, instrumentality, and valence). The expectancy factor refers to an individual's belief that effort will lead to a particular performance level, that the performance level is associated with a particular outcome (instrumentality factor), and that the outcome is valued by the individual (valence factor). From a training perspective, expectancy theory suggests that learning is most likely to occur when employees believe they can learn the content of the program (expectancy), when learning is linked to outcome such as better job performance, a salary increase, or peer recognition (instrumentality), and when employees value the outcomes (Noe, 1999).

* Adult learning theory (andragogy) and implications for workplace training Traditionally, pedagogy dominated the literature in education. More recently, educational psychologists recognized the need to focus on adult learning and developed the theory of adult learning, andragogy. Malcolm Knowles (1990) is most frequently associated with adult learning theory. Some implications regarding adult learning theory for workplace training are summarized below (Noe, 1999):

* Employees learn best when they understand the objective of the training program. The training objective should have three components: an explanation of what the employee is expected to do (performance); a statement of the quality or level of performance that is acceptable (criterion); and, finally, a declaration of the conditions under which the trainee is expected to perform the desired outcome (conditions).

* Employees tend to learn better when the training is linked to their current job experiences, because this enhances the meaningfulness of the training. By providing trainees with opportunities to choose their practice strategy as well as other characteristics of the learning situation the training experience can be further enhanced.

* Employees learn best when they have the opportunity to practice. In addition, the trainer should identify what the trainees will be doing when practicing the objectives (performance), the criteria for attaining the objective, and the conditions under which the practice sessions will be conducted.

* Employees need feedback, and, to be effective, the feedback should focus on specific behaviors and be provided as soon as possible after the trainee's behavior.

* Employees learn by observing and imitating the actions of a model. To be effective, the model's desired behaviors or skills need to be clearly specified and the model should have characteristics (such as age or position) similar to the target audience. After observing the model, trainees should have the opportunity to reproduce the skills and behaviors shown.

* Employees need the training program to be properly coordinated and arranged. Good coordination ensures that trainees are not distracted by events (such as an uncomfortable room or poorly organized materials) that could interfere with learning.

The linking of adult learning theory with the strategic objectives of the organization is referred to as high-leverage training. High-leverage training helps to establish a corporate culture that encourages continuous learning. Continuous learning requires employees to understand the entire work system, including the relationships among their jobs, work units, and the overall company. Employees are expected to acquire new skills and knowledge, apply them on the job, and share them with other employees (Noe, 1999).

The Foundations of the Strategic Training of Employees Model (STEM)

The concept of high-leverage training is embedded the framework of STEM. The model is built on the realization that organizations have limited resources (capital, financial, human) and those resources must be allocated in an efficient manner. STEM directly links employee training and career development with the strategic objectives set by management so that the focus of any workplace training will be centered on organizational goals. This fundamental bond defines the content direction for the entire training development process. Specifically, the usable content can be defined by modifying Finch's earlier equation.

The Strategic Training Decision-Making Equation

USC = PC - NSC - C

Where USC = Usable Strategic Content, PC Potential Content, NSC = Non-Strategic Content, C = Constraints

Usable strategic training content can alternatively be identified as employee training plus career development associated with obtaining strategic organizational goals.


Where USC = Usable Strategic Content, SET = Strategic Employee Training, SCD = Strategic Career Development

Therefore, the strategic decision-making equation can be rewritten as

SET + SCD = PC - NSC - C

Where SET = Strategic Employee Training, SCD = Strategic Career Development, PC = Potential Content, NSC = Non-Strategic Content, C = Constraints

STEM directs the flow of the training process by focusing on the organization's strategic objectives and then designing specific training and career development activities to obtain those goals. By effectively and efficiently allocating training content (as well as dollars), an organization should be able to improve the value of the products that it brings to the marketplace.

To make sure that training content and dollars are properly allocated, the training function is analyzed at two levels. The first is the macro-organizational training level while the second is the micro-organizational training level. At the macro level, the focus is on identifying the strategic objective of the organization or business unit as well as task analysis. At the micro level, specific training content is developed to support the outcomes of the macro-level analysis. Following macro and micro level analysis, training programs are implemented. After implementation, the next step is to obtain feedback and evaluate the quality of the training.

Macro-Organizational Training Level Analysis

The macro-organizational training level begins by incorporating the business strategy (or strategies) formulated by senior management. Business strategies have been classified into four general categories: (1) concentration, (2) internal growth, (3) external growth, and (4) disinvestment (Noe, 1999). A concentration strategy focuses on increasing market share, reducing costs, or creating and maintaining a market niche for products and services. An internal growth strategy focuses on new markets and product development, innovation, and joint ventures. An external growth strategy (acquisitions) emphasizes acquiring vendors and suppliers or buying businesses that allow the organization to expand into new markets. A disinvestment strategy stresses liquidation and divestiture of businesses. These business strategies are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and once management has determined the organization's course of action the training function should concentrate on developing employee capabilities that will hel p achieve these objectives.

Given the business strategy, a task analysis should then be conducted to evaluate what jobs, tasks, and abilities are necessary to accomplish that strategy. A task analysis generally has four steps. The first is deciding which jobs to analyze. Second, a preliminary list of the tasks needed to perform a job is drawn up. Third, this list should be validated or confirmed. Finally, the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform the job are identified.

Macro-organizational training level analysis (Four Business Strategies and Task Analysis)

Task Analysis

Concentration Strategy

Internal Growth Strategy

External Growth Strategy


Micro-organizational Training Level Analysis

After the task analysis, the focus of the training function is shifted toward developing specific training programs based on the task analysis. At this micro-organizational level, the training process includes identifying who needs to be trained (targeting) and the appropriate training content. The task analysis would have resulted in a list of specific jobs and the tasks and skills required to perform those jobs. Based on that information, the training function next targets specific employees for training and designs content to assist them in performing their jobs for the ultimate purpose of achieving management's objectives. When determining specific training content, a four P's approach can be utilized.

The Four P's of Micro-organizational Training Level Analysis

Four key variables (place, product, promotion, and price) provide a framework for guiding training content decisions. Micro-organizational analysis using these four variables is a useful managerial and planning tool.

* Place

"Place" analysis refers to location decisions such as on-the-job (OJT) or off-the-job training as well as equipment and other facilities criteria. OJT means trainee works in the actual work setting usually under the supervision of an experienced worker, supervisor, or trainer. Examples of OJT programs include job rotation, apprenticeships, and internships. An alternative is off-the-job training, such as formal courses or simulations and role playing in a classroom setting. In selecting a site, numerous factors should be evaluated: noise level, colors, room structure, lighting, wall and floor coverings, type of chairs, glare, ceiling height, electrical outlets, and acoustics. The seating arrangement should also be considered, such as fan-type, classroom-type, conference-type, or horseshoe.

Equipment decisions focus on any multimedia learning tools that may be required including audiovisual, computer-based, and possibly intelligent tutoring or expert systems equipment. In sum, a proper training location is comfortable, accessible, quiet, private, free from interruptions, and has sufficient space and equipment to ensure that a quality-training environment is created (Noe, 1999).

* Product

Product analysis focuses on issues such as the purpose of the training. How should the training be presented? What organizational constraints limit the amount of training?

Two factors need to be considered regarding the training's purpose. The first is deciding whether the training is for its own sake or career development. Training typically provides employees with specific skills or helps to correct deficiencies in their performance, while development is an effort to provide employees with abilities the organization will need in the future (Gomez-Mejia, Balldn and Cardy, 1995). The second factor is to have a clear understanding of the type of skills the training is attempting to develop. Skill development could include improving basic literacy, technological know-how, interpersonal communication, or problem-solving abilities (Robbins, 1995). When a training program is being designed, the purpose behind it must be reflected in the content. For example, if the purpose is career development then several training activities are applicable, such as mentoring, coaching, job rotation, and tuition assistance) Gomez-Mejia, Balkin and Cardy, 1995).

Along with content decisions, the method of presentation should be determined. Training methodologies utilized by various companies include classroom training, videos, role-play, case studies, computer-based training, games, and adventure learning (Noe, 1999).

Besides determining methodologies, an overriding issue regarding training content is the "organizational reality" illustrated by the strategic decision-making equation. Any training program will be subject to organizational constraints that will affect the length and breadth of the content. By tying training activities into the strategic management process, some organizational constraints might be eased because the training function becomes an integral part of efforts to obtain management goals.

One final product consideration involves deciding whether training should be provided by an outside source. If a particular training activity can be provided by an outside vendor at a lower cost while ensuring quality, then it should be subcontracted.

* Promotion

The main objective of the promotion element should be to build a relationship of trust between the training area and other departments so that the training function will be supported and viewed as a valuable asset to the organization. The level of management support for training can range from low, which means managers generally accept training and allow employees to attend training sessions, to high, where managers actually participate in the process (Noe, 1999).

The most effective method of promoting the training function is for the HR department to become more strategic and improve its overall image (HR Focus Survey, 2001). Other promotional avenues include the company newsletter (to report training events) and having training administrators and the trainers visit managers throughout the organization to promote the benefits of training. Finally, the best form of promotion is positive word-of-mouth communication among employees, which is only generated by providing a quality training experience.

* Price

Price analysis focuses on budgetary considerations, and budgetary analysis begins with identifying the costs associated with a training activity. The seven traditional cost sources include: program development or purchase, instructional materials, equipment and hardware, facilities, travel and lodging, salary of trainer and support staff, and loss of productivity while trainees attend the program plus the cost of any temporary employees who replace the trainees while they are at training (Noe, 1999). Using these cost sources, an aggregate annual training budget can be determined by identifying each of these costs for a specific training activity and then multiplying the total cost of each by the number of training sessions forecasted for the year.

Once determined, the costs must be weighed against the benefits received from the training. To identify the benefits, it may help to review the technical, academic, or practitioner literature that summarizes the benefits of a specific training program. Additionally, pilot training programs or observing on-the-job performance of employees after training can also help with the cost/benefit analysis (Noe, 1999).

* Implementation, feedback, and evaluation

If the benefits of a training program exceed its costs, the program should be implemented. Following implementation, feedback will be needed, and an ongoing evaluation process should ensure that the quality does not diminish.

Implementation, Feedback and Evaluation

(The complete model is depicted in a diagram in appendix 1)

Suggestions for Future Research and the Conclusion

A range of future research possibilities can be developed from this initial presentation of STEM. First, the tug-of-war relationship between recognizing the importance of training and actually providing it requires additional exploration. This focuses on the difference between potential strategic content and usable strategic content and why management talks a good game about the need for training but, in many cases, will not support a thorough training process (remember the USX example). Second, a specific training activity based on the Four P's could be designed, and employee performance before and after receiving training can be compared to assess the value of the STEM approach. Third, since STEM links training activities to the strategic objectives established by management, the various operational goals that flow from the strategic planning process should be achieved in a more effective and efficient manner. This, in turn, should improve overall financial performance. To test this, financial performance, such as earnings per share, sales volume, return on equity, stock price, and so forth, could be compared before and after implementing the STEM approach.

Other research possibilities could include 1) surveying employee opinion regarding the STEM approach; 2) developing additional criteria for each of the Four P's; 3) using case studies to evaluate the impact of the STEM approach on specific organizations or industries; 4) studying the effect of the STEM approach on employee motivation at all levels within the organization; 5) further refining the model in terms of how STEM can be used to develop specific training activities for employees at all levels of the organization; 6) analyzing how diversity and pre-training differences can affect the STEM approach; 7) and researching how online and other computer technologies can influence the STEM approach.

In conclusion, employee capabilities and the strategic objectives are bound together in a relationship that ultimately determines an organization's competitiveness. By utilizing STEM, an organization can achieve its strategic objectives in a cost-efficient manner while also providing a quality training process that nourishes employee skills and abilities that enable an organization to flourish in today's global economy.


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Micro-organizational training level analysis (Targeting and the Four

Target Market - Who will be receiving the training (executive, upper
middle management, lower middle management, supervisory,

Place (location factors) Product (content of
 training program)

* On-the-job * Purpose of training
* Off-the-job * Content and constraint
* Equipment required factors
 * Presentation options

Promotion (communicating Price (cost considerations)
information about training
programs) * Budget allocation

* Strategic planning * Employees
 involvement * Facility
* Company newsletter * Material
* Personal communication * Equipment
* Word-of-mouth * Travel

Dan Wentland, who is a doctoral candidate, has eight years of administrative experience at Citigroup and has published several articles.
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Date:Jan 1, 2003
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