Research Paper: Training and development is an often-overlooked element

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Training and development is an often-overlooked element of human resources, yet it might be the most important. The people that the organization brings in come with specific skills and traits, but it is what the organization can do with those skills and traits that distinguishes the organization. Thus, training and development can be a source of sustainable competitive advantage for companies, if they can take workers similar in caliber to those of their competitors, and give them additional training that enhances their skill level, so that the output is a higher level of talent than that of the competitors. This paper will provide an overview of how training and development works, what it accomplishes for an organization and some of the best practices are among the world's leading organizations.

Competitive Advantage

There is a considerable body of research that highlights the competitive benefits of training and development. An organization gains competitive advantage when it does something better than its competitors. This competitive advantage can often be matched, but in some cases sustainable competitive advantage can be developed where a competitive advantage forms part of a positive feedback loop. So if a company excels at the training and development function, its workers will have a higher skill level and more positive attributes. When this training enhances the ability of the company to fulfill its strategic objectives, this highlights the strategic nature of training and development (Lado & Wilson, 1994).

When those lead to higher levels of innovation, the company can gain more patents, which provide long-lasting competitive advantage. When those skills and attributes are passed throughout the organization, this makes it even more difficult for competitors to match the advantage. An example is this -- if your organization has ten skilled people who drive the business, the organization might suffer if a competitor hires them away, or develops their own equivalent talent. If your organization has 10,000 highly skilled people, it is much more difficult for employers to match that, because it takes a lot more effort to train 10,000 people to a high level than it does to train 10. Furthermore, when these 10,000 people are all capable of disseminating that knowledge and training to others, the expansion of knowledge in the organization can at that point be exponential.

This principle is known as knowledge transfer, where organizations benefit from having knowledge that is disseminated freely throughout the organization. A higher level of training and development will allow for the employees to play a critical role in knowledge transfer, as opposed to having only a handful of people involved in knowledge transfer. The knowledge that is embedded within the organization is a significant contributor to any organization's success. Training and development unlocks that knowledge and ensure that as many people as possible throughout the organization possess it (Argote & Ingram, 2000).

Barney & Wright (1997) studied the role of training and development as a source of sustained competitive advantage by using the resource-based framework. Human resources are one of the most significant inputs a business has, especially in today's knowledge-based economy. While human resources arrive with education and work experience, these are not necessarily tailored specifically to the company. Most companies realize that they must train the employees to do their jobs, but then stop at that point. Yet, the most successful companies have employees that are capable of growing beyond that point. Companies typically determine what to train employees through a skills audit, a perspective that focuses on what the company is missing, but sustainable competitive advantage implies that companies should focus on what they need to excel, and train for that. Doing so will create employees with enhanced skill sets and traits that are able to adapt and create. This is because such employees will be a more capable resource, which makes them a more valuable resource. Companies will often embark on training will little understanding about how it affects their competitiveness, Barney and Wright (1997) argue, but if they focus on enhancing their existing human resources, they will derive sustained competitive advantage because of knowledge transfer, problem-recognition and solving, and the fact that these skills and traits are difficult to replicate once they become established at the organization-wide level.

It has also been found that the value of training and development exists in small companies as well as large. Smaller, more entrepreneurial companies often feel that they lack the resources to have a coherent training program, or that their businesses evolve too quickly. Yet it has been shown that small companies that pay attention to broader strategic issues and find a way to enhance their existing human resources enjoy more success, and those that fail to pay attention to these things have less desirable outcomes (Jennings & Beaver, 1997).

Needs Assessment

While many companies have a somewhat ad hoc system of needs assessment, this is clearly far from ideal. One common method that actually has merit is the skills audit. This process seeks to examine what skills and knowledge exist within the organization and then to compare this with the skills and knowledge that the organization needs to thrive, and to meet its strategic objectives (Liebowitz et al., 2000). This process takes into account the job descriptions within the organization, the key success factors and other observations, usually gathered through formal process. An example of how this might work is that a company may see competitors beginning to have a high level of innovation and start winning market share. The managers would look at this trend and realize that their company also needed a higher level of innovation in order to thrive in the industry going forward. At that point, they might look within the company and realize that there are very few people with a background in innovation and that the company has traditionally not been all that innovative. This would lead management to create training programs that emphasize innovation.

Maximizing Learning

Organizational learning is a concept that came into vogue in the late 90s. The idea is tied to a growth in the profile of the idea of strategic human resources management. While many organizations have in the past operated on the assumption that experience was a key determinant of organizational learning, research has shown this not to be the case (Simonin, 1997). Experience, when internalized into the organization, can be powerful. This highlights the value of training and development, in that it provides a way for the experience within the organization to become internalized. One person having skills and experience is not that useful -- the organization is more useful when many people have skills and experience.

It has also been noted that an organization can maximize learning by having a learning culture. The role of culture in training and development is sometimes understated. Culture is important in maximizing learning in a few different ways. The first is that organizational culture provides a strong complement to existing training and development programs. A culture that emphasizes learning means that the company is going to have a high level of learning even when it is not engaged in active training. So an employee can exit training but will not stop learning. They will instead build on the things that they learned during formal training. Furthermore, the people within the organization will help each other to enhance their learning, as people will tend to provide support and assistance to each other -- a culture that emphasizes learning will result in people who are more engaged in organizational learning than a company that does not have such a culture.


In terms of formal training, there are a number of tactics that companies have with respect to formal training. The effectiveness of training can be difficult to pinpoint. Among the factors are those relating to trainee characteristics, training design and the work environment Trainee characteristics include cognitive ability, self-efficacy, motivation and perceived utility of training (Grossman & Salas, 2011). While the first two of those traits are dealt with at the hiring level, the second two are quite relevant for the training design. Successful training design requires an explanation of why the training is being done and how it ties into the broader organizational strategies. While the company surely understands these things, they often do not communicate them. That communication is essential.

Training design is also very important to the effectiveness of training. There are a few types of training design -- classroom, experiential and online. Within these, there are a number of theoretical models that are used to explain the best design method. With experiential designs, there needs to be a high level of compatibility between that raining and the actual job. Where the training is less realistic it will be less effective. Role playing is a type of experiential design that can be effective, but again only when the role playing results in a realistic scenario that can later be recalled and put into practice (Chapman, 2014).

Classroom designs and online designs are in many ways… [END OF PREVIEW]

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