AN individual, having education and experience in a particular discipline, may join an organisation in the same field. His background would help him to quickly pick up the work, but there could be areas in which he might require further training to effectively perform his job. Usually, the manager is in a good position to determine what these areas for improvement might be, however, the employee himself might also have his own ideas about the areas he would like to further develop.
The prime responsibility to choose what type of training an employee requires rests with the manager. Assigning an employee for formal training is an investment that will generate dividends only if he is motivated to learn and apply his training to achieve his work objectives. A manager must also ensure that the company’s time and money is not wasted and that the trainings achieve their desired outcomes.
Training can be a powerful tool when it addresses an underdeveloped skill or knowledge deficit. But turning to it when it will not actually resolve the problem that it’s meant to will simply be an exercise in futility. So when is it worth investing in training?
First, one must be sure that the company’s internal systems support the desired outcome that the training is meant to impart. For example, training employees in proactive decision-making will not help if it is the senior leaders who make all the decisions. But if decision-making is done at every level of the management hierarchy, training will help hone this skill.
Companies must see the value of investing in professional development.
Proactive decision-making is definitely preferable to resorting to fire-fighting measures. When a professional management makes calculated and concerted decisions by pre-empting a situation, it is bound to be sound and long-lasting. If management is forced to make decisions in haste once a critical situation has already arisen, such decisions may ultimately backfire. Since decision-making is a crucial part of management responsibilities, employees (especially in front-line positions) need to undergo training to develop the appropriate skills to avoid such pitfalls.
Second, there needs to be a commitment to change. If the team assigned to undergo training is not willing to address the root cause of the deficit the training seeks to rectify, the training will be pointless. It is the manager’s responsibility to emphasise the need to not just look at the symptoms but also the causes of the problems they confront. Unless the root cause of a problem is identified and addressed, it will only recur with more intensity. Once problem-solving techniques are successfully practised by a team through on-the-job coaching, formal training will further boost this skill.
Third, trainings need to be connected to strategic priorities. If employees cannot see how their learning relates to their company’s goals, training will be of no use. Managers must stress upon their teams how their respective contributions are synchronised with the company’s prime goals. Training will act as a fillip in creating awareness among employees about how their roles align with the direction of their company.
While assessing the training needs of their employees during performance evaluations, managers mostly write “needs to improve his communication” or “needs to improve his English writing skills”. These comments also imply that the employee needs formal training to develop these traits and expect the company’s human resources function, which coordinates on evaluations, to arrange this.
Such disclosures should not come as a surprise to an employee at the time of his appraisal. It is the manager’s responsibility to let the employee know when he feels there are areas where he can improve and to come up with solutions to help him. For instance, he may advise the employee to read selected English articles on a daily basis. The manager should also regularly spare some of his time to discuss with the employee what he has read and ask him to write down his views. This activity should continue until the employee is deputed for formal training.
A manager should never abdicate his prime responsibilities of ensuring discipline and handling grievances among his team members when assessing areas of improvement and assigning them to trainings. Professional development loses its purpose when the manager sends a difficult employee for training in order to get him away from work, or to reward an employee for excelling in his performance, or trying to appease a critical employee, etc.
The return for investing in training employees is even higher than the return on capital employed in business by companies. However, it is unfortunate that even progressive companies have slashed their training budgets over the last two decades due to reduced profit margins. They should restore this activity by considering training as an essential element of doing business.
The writer is an industrial relations professional.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2019