Learning and development of human resources

1. METHODS OF LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT

1.1. Off-job methods: education and training courses

Educational courses undertaken during a career are frequently done on a part-time basis leading to a diploma or master’s degree with a management or business label, and/or qualification for a professional body. It is considered that such courses provide value for both the employer and the participant – and MBA study is a popular route. For advant­ages of such a course for the employee see, for example, Baruch and Leeming (2001). An alternative approach to qualification is the NVQ route which we discussed in the pre­vious chapter, which is more closely tied to on-job experiences and not concerned with ‘education’.

In addition there are consultancy courses. Varying from a half-day to several weeks in length, they are run by consultants or professional bodies for all comers. They have the advantage that they bring together people from varying occupational backgrounds and are not, therefore, as introspective as in-house courses and are popular for topical issues. They are, however, often relatively expensive and superficial, despite their value as sources of industrial folklore, by which we mean the swapping of experiences among course members.

The most valuable courses of this type are those that concentrate on specific skills or knowledge, such as developing time management, interviewing or disciplinary skills, or being introduced to a new national initiative. This short-course approach is probably the only way for individuals to come to terms with some new development, such as a change in legislation, because they need not only to find an interpretation of the devel­opment, but also to share views and reactions with fellow employees to ensure that their own feelings are not idiosyncratic or perverse.

In-house courses are often similar in nature to the consultancy courses, and are some­times run with the benefit of some external expertise. In-house courses can be particu­larly useful if the training needs to relate to specific organisational procedures and structures, or if it is geared to encouraging employees to work more effectively together in the organisational environment. The drawbacks of in-house courses are that they suffer from a lack of breadth of content, and there is no possibility of learning from people in other organisations.

Alternatively, there are outdoor-type courses (sometimes known as Outward Bound, after the organisation that pioneered them). Outdoor courses attempt to develop skills involved in working with and through others, and aim to increase self-awareness and self-confidence through a variety of experiences, including outdoor physical challenges. Courses like these continue to be increasingly used, and their differential value is assumed to hinge on their separation from the political, organisational environment. A natural, challenging and different environment is assumed to encourage individuals to forsake political strategising, act as their raw selves and be more open to new ideas. Burleston and Grint (1996), based on ethnographic research into outdoor programmes, found that while most participants did gain from the experience, the idea of providing a de-politicised environment is a naive hope rather than a reality. Ibbetson and Newell (1999) did find, however, that non-competitive outdoor programmes were more effec­tive in meeting teambuilding objectives than competitive programmes. More recently learning experiences based on drama have increasingly been used; in these particip­ants are engaged in improvisation through role play and exercises. For a fascinating insight into the variety of forms this may take see Monks et al. (2001). There are other forms of simulation in addition to role play, such as games and computer simulations; for a good discussion of definitions and outcomes of such approaches see Feinstein et al. (2002).

One of the major concerns with these different types of off-job courses and activities is the difficulty of ensuring transfer of learning back to the workplace. As part of their research on the contribution of off-job courses to managers Longenecker and Ariss (2002) asked managers what helped them retain what they had learned and transfer it to the workplace. Developing goals/plans for implementing new skills was most frequently identified. In addition managers said that it helped to review materials immediately after the programme; be actively involved in the learning itself; make a report to peers/ superiors on what they had learned; review material and development plans with their mentor/manager; and include development goals in performance reviews. It is generally agreed that a supportive climate helps transfer (for example line manager interest and involvement, and development having a high priority in the organisation). Santos and Stewart (2003), for example, found that transfer was more likely if reward such as promotion or pay was attached to developmental behaviour change, and also where there was a helpful management climate in terms of pre- and post-course briefings and activities. Currently there are number of more creative approaches where experiential job-related activities are included on courses, as shown in the Window on practice.

In relation to MBAs Martin and Pate (2001) found, surprisingly, that a poor transfer climate did not affect transfer, but willingness to apply what was learned was related to the individual’s positive feelings about the company and his or her intended continuance there.

While courses are no longer viewed as the key means of developing staff, they still have an important role to play, and in Interactive skill 4, in the Focus on skills at the end of Part 4, we therefore explore presentation as well as coaching skills.

1.2. Learning on the job

Manager coaching and other internal and external coaching

The line manager’s role in learning and development has increased with the devolution of HR tasks. Coaching is an informal approach to individual development based on a close relationship between the individual and one other person either internal or external to the organisation. The coach is often the immediate manager, who is experienced in the task, but there is increasing use of external coaches, especially for more senior managers, or specially trained internal coaches, and ‘coaching’ has become very much a professional occupation with its own code of ethical practice. We will look at this in more detail, but first we explore the coaching role of the line manager.

The manager as coach helps trainees to develop by giving them the opportunity to perform an increasing range of tasks, and by helping them to learn from their exp­eriences. Managers work to improve the trainee’s performance by asking searching questions, actively listening, discussion, exhortation, encouragement, understanding, counselling and providing information and honest feedback. The manager coach is usually in a position to create development opportunities for the trainee when this is appropriate. For example, a line manager can delegate attendance at a meeting, or allow a trainee to deputise, where this is appropriate to the individual’s development needs. Alternatively a line manager can create the opportunity for a trainee to join a working party or can arrange a brief secondment to another department. Coaches can share ‘inside’ information with the individual they are coaching to help them understand the political context in which they are working. For example, they are able to explain who will have most influence on a decision that will be made, or future plans for restructuring within a department.

Skilled coaches can adapt their style to suit the individual they are coaching, from highly directive at one end of the scale to non-directive at the other. The needed style may change over time, as the trainee gains more confidence and experience. A useful text on the practical skills of coaching is Pemberton (2006). In an exploratory study Carroll and Gillen (2001) found a variety of barriers to line manager acceptance of a teaching/ coaching role, in particular lack of interpersonal competence, lack of time, performance pressures, and a feeling that the teaching role was not valued and was the role of the HR department. This same article also provides some excellent material on what makes an effective coach. The CIPD (2006) found that competing business pressures and lack of internal skills and experience were the greatest barriers to coaching, and IDS (2006a) suggests that in view of the emphasis in coaching on honest self-reflection, there will be barriers in organisations where the culture is not one of openness and honesty. They also point out that coaching has been seen as a remedial tool but that it prob­ably has more to offer as a development opportunity for turning good performers into excellent ones.

There has been an increasing trend to broaden the concept of coaching in terms of both content and who carries out the coaching. Many organisations are now providing or arranging intensive training for designated internal coaches who operate broadly in the organisation, just in a coaching role. This is quite different from the basic training line managers are likely to receive. External executive coaching is often provided by consultancies and specialist coaching organisations. IDS (2006a) provides an excellent range of case studies demonstrating the different ways in which organisations are using coaching. Various forms of coaching may include career coaching, performance coaching, skills coaching, business coaching and life coaching. Given the increasing professional- isation of coaching it is not surprising that the quality of the coaching experience is receiving attention. Supervision of practice is increasingly being used in a way that is similar to supervision for counsellors, which involves regular meetings with a more experienced practitioner to explore their client relationships and reflect on practice. A CIPD study carried out by the Bath Consultancy Group (Arney 2006) found that nearly half the coaches received regular supervision, and that it was a fast growing practice.

Such individual supervision is carried out with a mind to client confidentiality; however there is also a growing trend for group supervision of coaches and also for organisations wanting to collect common themes discussed in coaching sessions as these can be used to inform organisational thinking (Arney 2006). Both these approaches put client confidentiality at greater risk.

The emphasis on coaching is underlined by the recently released CIPD journal, Coaching at Work, and the development of the institute’s coaching standards. The number of organisations aiming to develop a coaching culture reached 80 per cent in the 2006 CIPD survey, with 79 per cent already using some coaching activities, and Lehane (2005) provides some guidance on getting started on this. Useful ideas for developing a coaching culture include making coaching part of conversations, day to day; shifting the power to the learner; integrating external and internal coaching resources; the focus on continuous improvement in coaching activities making this a valued and natural part of a manager’s job; and shifting the emphasis from individual coaching to team coaching (Clutterbuck and Megginson 2005). Concerns for quality are being addressed, for example by a kitemarking scheme for coaching and mentoring qualifications, launched by the European Coaching and Mentoring Council (see www. emccouncil.org), and the British Psychological Society now has a specialist interest group focused on coaching.

Mentoring

Mentoring offers a wide range of advantages for the development of the mentee or pro­tege, coaching as described above being just one of the possible benefits of the relation­ship. The mentor may occasionally be the individual’s immediate manager, but usually it is a more senior manager in the same or a different function. Kram (1983) identifies two broad functions of mentoring, the first of which is the career function, including those aspects of the relationship that primarily enhance career advancement, such as exposure and visibility and sponsorship. The second is the psychosocial function, which includes those aspects of the relationship that primarily enhance a sense of competence, clarity of identity and effectiveness in the managerial role. More recently Fowler and O’Gorman (2005) on the basis of research with both mentors and mentees, describe eight individual mentoring functions which are: personal and emotional guidance; coaching; advocacy; career development facilitation; role modelling; strategies and systems advice; learning facilitation; and friendship, whilst Arnold (1997) found that the most common advantages of mentoring were perceived as role modelling and coun­selling. There is evidence that mentoring does benefit both parties (see, for example, Johnson et al. 1999), and Broadbridge (1999) suggests that mentors can gain through recognition from peers, increased job satisfaction, rejuvenation, admiration and self­satisfaction. The drawbacks to mentoring that were revealed in Broadbridge’s research include the risk of over-reliance, the danger of picking up bad habits, the fact that the protege may be alienated from other sources of expertise and the sense of loss experi­enced when a mentor leaves. In addition, the difficulty of dealing with conflicting views in such an unequal relationship was identified. Perceived benefits, however, considerably outweighed any drawbacks. Megginson (2000) identifies the issue of dysfunctional mentoring, and the danger of assuming that mentoring is unquestionably good.

Managers are also seen as responsible for developing talent, and while a mentor/ protege relationship might not naturally occur, mentorship may be encouraged or formalised. For example, there are systems where all new graduates are attached to a mentor as soon as they join the organisation. The difficulties of establishing a formal programme include the potential mismatch of individuals, unreal expectations on both sides and the time and effort involved.

Peer relationships

Although mentor-protege relationships have been shown to be related to high levels of career success, not all developing individuals have access to such a relationship, and even formal schemes are often reserved for specific groups such as new graduate entrants. Supportive peer relationships at work are potentially more widely available to the individual and offer a number of benefits for the development of both parties. The benefits that are available depend on the nature of the peer relationship, and Kram and Isabella (1985) have identified three groups of peer relationships, which are differenti­ated by their primary development functions. These can be expressed on a continuum from ‘information peer’, based primarily on information sharing, through ‘collegial peer’, based on career strategising, giving job-related feedback and friendship, to ‘special peer’, based on emotional support, personal feedback, friendship and confirmation. Most of us benefit from one or a number of peer relationships at work but often we do not readily appreciate their contribution towards our development. Peer relationships most often develop on an informal basis and provide mutual support. Some organisa­tions, however, formally appoint an existing employee to provide such support to a new member of staff through their first 12-18 months in the organisation. These relation­ships may, of course, continue beyond the initial period. The name for the appointed employee will vary from organisation to organisation, and sometimes the word ‘buddy’, ‘coach’ or ‘mentor’ is used – which can be confusing! Cromer (1989) discusses the advant­ages of peer relationships organised on a formal basis and the skills and qualities sought in peer providers, which include accessibility, empathy, organisational experience and proven task skills.

Self-development

Natural learning is learning that takes place on the job and results from an individual’s everyday experience of the tasks to be undertaken. Natural learning is even more difficult to investigate than coaching, mentoring or peer relationships, and yet the way in which we learn from everyday experiences, and our level of awareness of this, is very important for our development. To some extent self-development may be seen as a conscious effort to gain the most from natural learning in a job, and to use the learning cycle as a framework. Self-development can be focused in specific skills development, but often extends to attitude development and personal growth.

The emphasis in self-development is that each individual is responsible for, and can plan, his or her own development, although he or she may need to seek help when work­ing on some issues. Self-development involves individuals in analysing their strengths, weaknesses and the way in which they learn, primarily by means of questionnaires and feedback from others. This analysis may initially begin on a self-development course, or with the help of a facilitator, but would then be continued by the individual back on the job. From this analysis individuals, perhaps with some help at first, plan their devel­opment goals and the way in which they will achieve them, primarily through development opportunities within the job. When individuals consciously work on self-development they use the learning cycle in a more explicit way than in natural learning. They are also in a better position to seek appropriate opportunities and help, in their learning, from their manager.

Many of the activities included in self-development are based on observation, collecting further feedback about the way they operate, experimenting with different approaches and in particular reviewing what has happened, why and what they have learned. Self-development, however, is not a quick fix as it requires a long-term approach and careful planning and, as Stansfield (1996) suggests, attention needs to be paid to the ‘scaffolding’ which supports the self-development process. To this end she suggests that extensive briefing and explanation of the theoretical underpinning of the self-development are both important. In addition she suggests direct skill development concerning the role, importance and nature of peer feedback, and further support in tracking personal learning needs to ensure a more rigorous learning journey. Woodall (2000) also notes difficulties around the support structure for self-development, and identifies confusion in terminology as unhelpful. Confusion in terminology is also raised by Antonacopoulou (2000), who highlights a much neglected influence on self-development – that the individuals themselves have to be capable of taking on this responsibility.

Self-development groups

Typically, in self-development groups a group of individuals is involved in a series of meetings where they jointly discuss their personal development, organisational issues and/or individual work problems. Groups may begin operating with a leader who is a process expert, not a content expert, and who therefore acts as a facilitator rather than, but not to the complete exclusion of, a source of information. The group itself is the primary source of information and may operate without outside help as its members’ process skills develop. The content and timings of the meetings can be very flexible, although meetings will require a significant level of energy and commitment if they are to operate well.

Self-development groups can be devised in a variety of contexts. They can be part of a formal educational course, for example a Diploma in Management Studies, where a group of managers from different organisations come together to support their development; they may constitute the whole of a self-development ‘course’; or they can be an informal support group within an organisation. However the group originates, it is important that the members understand what every member hopes to get out of the group, the role of the facilitator (if there is one), the processes and rules that the group will operate by and how they agree to interact.

Learning logs

Learning logs are a mechanism for learning retrospectively as they encourage a discip­lined approach to learning from opportunistic events. The log may be focused around one particular activity and is usually designed to encourage the writer to explain what happened, how he or she has reflected on this, what conclusions he or she has made and what future learning actions he or she wishes to make. Alternatively logs can be used in the form of a daily or weekly diary.

Learning contracts

There is increasing use of learning contracts, sometimes used within more formalised self-development groups; on other management courses; as part of a mentoring or coaching relationship; or in working towards a competency-based qualification. These contracts are a formal commitment by the learner to work towards a specified learning goal, with an identification of how the goal might be achieved. They thus promote a proactive approach to learning. Boak (1991) has produced a very helpful guide to the use of such contracts and suggests that they should include:

  • an overall development goal;
  • specific objectives in terms of skills and knowledge;
  • activities to be undertaken;
  • resources required;
  • a method of assessment of learning.

The value that individuals gain from learning contracts is dependent on their choos­ing to participate, their identification of the relevant goal and the importance and value they ascribe to achieving it. Only with commitment will a learning contract be effective, because ultimately it is down to the individual learner manager to make it happen.


1.3. e-learning and blended learning

As technology enables interesting and interactive presentation of distance learning mater­ials, there is evidence of considerable enthusiasm on the part of organisations to pursue this approach to development, and take advantage of the opportunities it presents. CIPD (2003) reports that one of the most significant changes in training over the last five years is the increased use of e-learning, although it is still most heavily used by IT staff. However, by 2006 only a quarter of respondents to the Learning and Development CIPD survey said that it had significantly altered learning and training offerings. E-learning can be defined as ‘learning that is delivered, enabled or mediated by electronic technology’ (Sloman and Rolph 2003, p. 1). While e-learning has been characterised as requiring high investment in terms of hardware, software and design time, it has also been characterised as cost effective in the long run, with the ability to provide speedy and flexible training. IDS (2006b) identifies the main advantages of e-learning as flexible access across time and place; flexible use of content; consistent delivery; sustainable and easy to update; value for money and of the moment, being particularly useful for the launch of new products. Hammond (2001), for example, describes the case of Cisio which is constantly launching new IT-based products. The company has moved from 90 per cent classroom-based training for its sales representatives to 80 per cent online training so that the large numbers of representatives can experience training immedi­ately the product is launched. Channel Four (Cooper 2001) has a strategy to replace much of its classroom teaching activity with interactive learning, and the London Emergency Services are using virtual reality training to prepare employees for emergency events. Prickett (1997) reports how Hendon Police Training College uses virtual reality to prepare officers to deal with siege and hostage situations. Sloman and Rolph (2003) found that e-learning has been implemented in a variety of ways, from being introduced as a sweeping ambitious change to small incremental changes to the organisation’s approach to training, and from a mandatory change to an offer to volunteers. They also report that key barriers are the computer literacy of employees and access to the appropriate equipment.

However enthusiasm from the organisation is not sufficient, and there has been much evidence of employees being unwilling to use e-learning. There was much initial euphoria about what e-learning could contribute, but increasingly it has been recognised that motivating learners is critical and most organisations now have much more realistic expectations of what e-learning can achieve, and often have to improve and re-launch e-learning solutions before they bed in, as for example in Hilton Hotels (Smethurst 2006). The support provided may well be critical, as may the way that such methods are introduced and used.

E-learning covers a wide variety of approaches from using CD-roms to the company intranet and the Internet. More sophisticated approaches do not confine e-learning to interactive learning at a distance. Increasingly, synchronous learning is used where all participants log on at the same time, with a tutor or facilitator being available. Indi­viduals can progress through material alone or network with others to complete a task and use chat rooms and have a dialogue with the tutor. Videoconferencing can also be used to bring participants together at the same time. For example, some MBAs have been delivered via videoconferencing rather than classroom-based teaching, and further details of this are provided in Cases 18.1 and 18.2 on this book’s companion website at www.pearsoned.co.uk/torrington. The concept of blended learning also has had much appeal recently, but this term can be interpreted in different ways. Some use it to indi­cate the blending of e-learning with face-to-face learning experiences, while others use it more broadly to indicate ‘a range of ways that e-learning can be delivered when com­bined with multiple additional routes that support and facilitate learning’ (Sloman and Rolph 2003, p. 6).

Blended learning is increasingly used to indicate a blend of any approaches to learn­ing, and there is evidence that learning and training now involve a much wider range of activities (CIPD 2006), while Pickard (2006) reports on the blended learning approach at the Department for Work and Pensions which integrates self-managed learning, coaching and e-learning.

2. EVALUATION OF TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT

One of the most nebulous and unsatisfactory aspects of the training job is evaluating its effectiveness, yet it is becoming more necessary to demonstrate value for money. Whilst Campbell (2006) estimates that employer, public and individual spend on workforce train­ing and development in the UK nears £30 billion each year, Phelps (2002) suggests there is no satisfactory return on investment calculation to prove its value, and that we remain unsure whether training breeds success or success breeds training. Evaluation is straight­forward when the output of the training is clear to see, such as reducing the number of dispatch errors in a warehouse or increasing someone’s typing speed. It is more difficult to evaluate the success of a management training course or a programme of social skills development, but the fact that it is difficult is not enough to prevent it being done.

A familiar method of evaluation is the post-course questionnaire, which course members complete on the final day by answering vague questions that require them to assess aspects of the course using only such general terms as ‘good’, ‘very good’ or ‘outstanding’. The drawbacks with such questionnaires are, first, that there is a powerful halo effect, as the course will have been, at the very least, a welcome break from routine and there will probably have been some attractive fringe benefits such as staying in a comfortable hotel and enjoying rich food. Second, the questionnaire tends to evaluate the course and not the learning, so that the person attending the course is assessing the quality of the tutors and the visual aids, instead of being directed to examine what has been learned.

Hamblin (1974), in a much-quoted work, identified five levels of evaluation: (1) evaluat­ing the training, as in the post-course questionnaire above; (2) evaluating the learning, in terms of how the trainee now behaves; (3) evaluating changes in job performance; (4) evalu­ating changes in organisation performance; and (5) evaluating changes in the wider con­tribution that the organisation now makes. Perhaps the most well-referenced approach to evaluation is Kilpatrick (1959) who suggested four levels of evaluation, somewhat similar to Hamblin: (1) reaction level; (2) learning level (have the learning objectives been met?); (3) behaviour (how has the individual’s behaviour changed back in the job?); and (4) results and impact on the bottom line (what is the impact of training on performance?).

Bramley (1996) suggests that performance effectiveness can be measured at indi­vidual, team and organisational levels, and that changes in behaviour, knowledge, skills and attitudes need to be considered. He makes the worthwhile point – as do others – that the criteria for evaluation need to be built into development activities from the very beginning, and not tagged on at the end. Lingham and his co-researchers (2006) provide a good example of how this can be done in practice. They describe an action research project where evaluation was built in from the outset and involved collabora­tion between organisational leaders, trainers, participants and evaluators. A four-phase approach was used:

  • Phase 1: Design of training programme (organisational leaders, trainers and evalu­ators agree design and methods to obtain feedback from participants after the initial runs of the training programme).
  • Phase 2: Launch and evaluation of initial programme (training conducted and agreed methods used to collect participants’ views).
  • Phase 3: Feedback and design of evaluation instrument (organisational leaders, trainers and evaluators meet to review feedback and field notes and adapt the training programme where necessary. A survey instrument designed for evaluation of future iterations of the programme).
  • Phase 4: Ongoing training and evaluation (training programme conducted with new design/content, evaluation survey used and results fed back into Phase 3. (adapted from Lingham et al. 2006)

Problems with evaluation persist and in the 2006 CIPD survey 80 per cent of respond­ents reported that their training activities are delivering greater value to the business than they are able to demonstrate. There is always a need, however, to assess value for money, and this is generally worked out on a payback basis, which focuses attention on the short term. Lee (1996) suggests a ‘pay-forward’ approach to assessing value for money and this concept appears to be more consistent with the nature of training and development strategy and interventions than a payback approach, as the outcome may only be observed in the long term.

While organisations may desire a measure of the impact of training on the organisa­tion, in practice this appears to be rarely achieved. Sadler-Smith et al., for example, found in their study (1999) that the reasons for evaluating training were more often operational than strategic, and they state that evaluation information was used ‘mostly for feedback to individuals, and to inform the training process, and less for return on investment decisions’ (p. 369).

Source: Torrington Derek, Hall Laura, Taylor Stephen (2008), Human Resource Management, Ft Pr; 7th edition.

One thought on “Learning and development of human resources

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.