The Strategic Training of Employees Model: Balancing Organizational Constraints and Training Content

By Wentland, Dan | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

The Strategic Training of Employees Model: Balancing Organizational Constraints and Training Content


Wentland, Dan, SAM Advanced Management Journal


Introduction

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. …

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