Management Project

Impact of Training on Employee Job Performance: The Case Study of a Public Sector Organization

Employee training is an important undertaking for all firms because it enables employees to acquire crucial knowledge, skills, and abilities. However, training in itself cannot guarantee improvement in job performance. Many factors influence the role of employee in job performance and by extension, firm performance. For example, training transfer is a major challenge today, whereby some employees fail to use the skill they acquire during training to the actual job-related tasks. In other situations, job performance may fail to improve simply because the kind of training that employees received was irrelevant to the job. Similarly, job performance cannot occur if employees quit their jobs immediately after they have been trained. The aim of this literature review is to examine the state of the art of the current debate on training and how it relates to employee job performance. It identifies major findings, controversies, research trends, and research gaps in relation to this topic. It also investigates the main theories and theoretical models that explain this relationship.

            Many studies support the view that employee training improves job performance (Bulut & Culha, 2010; Zwick, 2006; Elnaga & Imran, 2013; Ashar et al., 2013; Khan, 2012; Hassan et al., 2013; Iqbal, Ahmad & Javaid, 2014). However, a number of studies criticize training because it is too expensive and that in many cases it is never transferred to the job (Thang, Quang & Buyens, 2010; Konings, Vanormelingen, 2010; Bills & Hodson, 2007). Moreover, training transfer is considered critical for success of training efforts (Chiaburu, Van Dam & Hutchins, 2010). Another important finding is that training is positively correlated with organizational commitment (Bulut & Culha, 2010; Ashar et al., 2013). On the other hand, there is lack of clarity regarding the effects of training in terms of productivity outcomes (Zwick, 2006).

            Regarding theoretical aspects, the debate on which theory and theoretical model best describes how training affects employee job performance is ongoing (Bills & Hodson, 2007). In most cases, focus is on the interrelatedness between HRM policies and their influence on job performance. The view of training as a HR function has immensely influenced the adoption of the HRM perspective in these theories and models. Moreover, insights from economics, finance, and organizational theory have also been used in model development (Konings, Vanormelingen, 2010; Castellanos & Martín, 2011). This debate provides important ideas on what employers should do to ensure that there is improvement in job performance and subsequent return on investment after training.

Training is a dominant HRM policy in most organizations. Few, if any, managers doubt that training is a major source of competitive advantage for contemporary organizations. This explains why many employers are investing heavily in various forms of training, especially those that are skill-specific. Similarly, many studies have highlighted the benefits of training to the organization (Thang, Quang & Buyens, 2010; Saks, Haccoun & Belcourt, 2010; Choi & Dickson, 2009).

Training offers employees with the skills and knowledge that they need to perform well in their jobs. It is difficult to find an employee who is equipped with all the skills, knowledge, and experience required for optimal performance in the assign job. Even the most qualified and experienced staff need training to enable them adapt to changes in technology and organizational practices. Thus, companies must continually invest in human capital in an attempt to boost productivity.

A number of studies have highlighted the issue of organizational commitment in terms of the way in which it is influenced by training. One finding is that motivation for training has a positive influence on organizational commitment. Participation in training increases skills, knowledge, job performance, and a sense of belonging. The implication is that the HRM function should catalyze employee motivation through training. Another finding is that organizational commitment increases whenever employers perceive access to training as a platform through which opportunities to enhance their skills and abilities can be accessed. Research also shows that employees who hope to benefit by participating in training tend to show greater organizational commitment (Bulut & Culha, 2010). Conversely, individuals who are more committed to the organization are highly likely to benefit immensely from the organization’s training programs (Bulut & Culha, 2010). At the same time, employees’ attachment to the organization increases if they are receiving training-related support from their seniors and supervisors.

Research indicates that companies are facing serious problems in their attempt to ensure that training investment yields the desired outcomes in terms of job performance (Khan, 2012). In most cases, problems arise because of inability by employers to come up with appropriate training plans (Khan, 2012). Some of the variables that must be factored in for training to bring about improvement in job performance include supervisory support, duration of training, type of training, and organization’s needs. One particularly troubling area is training transfer, which essentially involves the application of the newly acquired skills and knowledge to the actual work environment (Chiaburu, Van Dam & Hutchins, 2010; Velada et al., 2007). In many cases, employees do not use the knowledge at the workplace to improve their job performance, meaning that the resources that were used to train them were essentially wasted.  This is bad news for management executives who continue to invest heavily in training. For example, in the United States, it is estimated that $130 billion is invested in employer-provided training annually (Chiaburu, Van Dam & Hutchins, 2010). Many factors influence training transfer, and some of the most widely discussed include training design, learner’s strategies, self-efficacy, perceptions of job utility among employees, and organizational factors (Chiaburu, Van Dam & Hutchins, 2010). Some employees may get the perception that the organization they work for is not supportive enough and that it does not care much about their contributions, leading to a low level of training transfer.

Insights from social psychology are being used to explain the various ways in which training transfer can be enhanced. In this respect, emphasis is on how employees can be encouraged to change their behavior as part of the training process. Using a theory-driven approach, researchers can gain valuable insights into ways of ensuring that employees actually transfer most if not all the newly acquired skills and competences to their jobs. Through such a move, the chances of improvement in job performance following employee training would be radically increased.

Training self-efficacy has also been explained in research as a critical factor influencing job performance following training. It is described at the judgment of the trainee regarding his ability to undergo training successfully. Similarly, the motivation to transfer training also influences job performance. In this regard, focus is on the intended efforts that the trainee expends to utilize his newly acquired knowledge and skills at the workplace. Research in this area is overall limited; most of the focus is on pre-training motivation to learn. Moreover, a lot of focus has been on work support factors that have a direct influence on training transfer, which include manager support, feedback, peer support, coaching, and manager sanctions (Velada et al., 2007).

Some research focus on training-related cognitions can also be noted. Research in this area suggests that prediction of cognitive processes can be undertaken based on aspects of individual differences (Chiaburu, Van Dam & Hutchins, 2010). There is a correlation between learning orientations and cognitive strategies, persistence, and information processing (Chiaburu, Van Dam & Hutchins, 2010). Findings in this area indicate that transferring skills to a specific work context is primarily an iterative process (Chiaburu, Van Dam & Hutchins, 2010). Although employees may have retained all the necessary behavioral checklists at the training venue, must adapt them to the work setting.

Some differences in findings seem to have emerged out of recent empirical studies on how training affects job performance. Literature shows that continuing training involves considerable investments (Zwick, 2006; Khan, 2012; Bills & Hodson, 2007). This investment is a necessity because companies need skills to operate effectively and to remain competitive. Not many researchers have investigated the productivity effects of employee training, and available evidence on these effects is somewhat contradictory (Konings & Vanormelingen, 2010; Townsend, 2007). Focus tends to be on the use of firm-level data to determine how employer-provided training in different sectors influences productivity. This diversity of findings may be attributed to a number of factors, including labor market institutions, differences between national contexts, and the estimation techniques used.

The issue of how training contributes to improvement in mentoring and leadership has also been highlighted in literature. From this perspective, focus is normally on how employees can be exposed to guidance by established principles with a view to enhance their understanding of how the organization operates. It is important for organizational leaders to act as mentors during training as a way of activating transformational leadership as well as promoting positive attitudes towards careers by followers. One way to achieve this objective is supervisory career mentoring, which has been found to impact positively on career expectations as well as organizational commitment among employees (Scandura & Williams, 2004). Furthermore, the approach provides an ideal platform where aspects of mentoring and leadership can be promoted.

During mentoring, a lot of focus should be on follower motivation. In this regard, personalized attention is needed to ensure that the resulting commitment among trainees is anchored on a strong leadership vision. Employees should be encouraged to view the supervisor as a mentor in order for the process of developing into transformational leaders to proceed in the ideal way. Moreover, both the mentor and protégé must be fully committed to the long-term development of the latter. This entire process must involve far-reaching in skills, knowledge, experience, and values. It is imperative for training to be carried out if these changes are to occur.

The idea of a training specialist who doubles as a mentor has also been highlighted in recent research (Wilson, 2014). Debate in this area centers on how the training process should be used as the foundation of a mentoring process that should continue even after the employee has acquired the requisite skills and competencies. During mentoring, the trainee is required to play an active role by sharing their career-related experiences with his mentor. The training specialist can then use that information as a basis for designing an effective mentoring program. A case in point is gender differences in perceptions of training and the role it plays in mentoring and leadership. An ideal way for the mentor to understand these differences is to listen to diverse views from both male and female trainees. One observation that has been highlighted in research is that women tend to get the perception that they are receiving less mentoring compared to men (Watts et al., 2015). In situations where perceptions are viewed to act as barriers to effective career decisions, mentors can be at hand to provide the necessary guidance.

Employers are greatly concerned about leadership development, and this is evident in the efforts being made to monitor employees during training. However, there is often a lack of clarity on how contextual factors influence the process of leadership development. Similarly, it is unclear whether employers get the appropriate return on investment after dedicate massive resources to leadership development. Moreover, it seems that there is lack of focus in terms of firms’ efforts to make a choice between practical and research contexts as far as the choice of leadership development philosophy is concerned.  

Another way to view current developments in leadership development in the contemporary organization is to examine the concept from the perspective of leadership training (Neck & Houghton, 2006). In leadership training, employees are guided through the process of developing the cognitive capabilities of effective leaders. From this training, they are expected to develop the kind of beliefs, assumptions, values, thought patterns and emotional intelligence that can enable them to become successful leaders. In this case, the assumption among most employers is that employees who go through this kind of training are highly likely to develop a high sense of organizational commitment.

A slightly different version of leadership training is one that entails self-leadership, whereby employees are introduced to the power of self-influence by adopting cognitive strategies aimed at transforming their own thought patterns and self-dialogues (Neck & Houghton, 2006). One way in which the power of self-leadership is manifested is creative self-leadership training, which leads to creative confidence (Phelan & Young, 2003; DiLiello & Houghton, 2006). In other words, employees who have gone through self-leadership training tend to be more creative than those who have not. Other than creativity, self-leadership is also associated with innovation and organizational support (DiLiello & Houghton, 2006). Employees who are driven by self-leadership tend to have higher potential in terms of innovation and creativity. However, perceptions of lack of strong support at the workplace may hinder these employees from actualizing their innovative and creative potential. In HRM literature, self-leadership is considered a normative model that is supported by deductive and descriptive theories such as social cognitive and self-regulation theory (Neck & Houghton, 2006). Thus, this model suggest that employers should promote self-leadership among all employees in order to create a work environment in which job performance can be enhanced through innovation and creativity. However, this area of study has not been widely investigated in terms of both conceptual and empirical aspects.

The idea of managerial training has also been widely highlighted in research (Sharma, 2014; Suzuki, Vub & Sonobe, 2014). A major challenge with managerial training programs is that they are not always effective. Many companies endeavor to offer managerial training to employees who exhibit managerial qualities with the hope that they can be nurtured into transformational leaders. For such efforts to succeed, they must be career-oriented. This means that it address aspects of both promotion and compensation. Employees who are not properly remunerated and promoted where necessary quickly lose enthusiasm for mentorship programs, meaning that they become somewhat disinterested in becoming better managers (Suzuki, Vub & Sonobe, 2014).

Cultural factors also have a profound influence on the training activities that organizations undertake. In this debate, focus tends to be on the individualism-collectivism continuum (Lee, McCauley & Draguns, 2013). The assumption in this case is normally that the cultural problems that companies operating in countries within individualistic cultures are radically different from the ones that are encountered by those that operate within collectivist cultures. In individualist cultures, employees tend to perceive their actions based on their own self-concepts, and these actions tend to be independent of others. In collectivist cultures, employees perceive their actions on based on other people’s reactions. Thus, cultural orientation inadvertently influences the outcomes of managerial training efforts of a firm. Thus, for mentorship and leadership development efforts undertaken in the context of contemporary managerial training to succeed, cultural factors must be put into consideration.

One way in which companies are addressing the problem of cultural differences is the adoption of cross-cultural training. This kind of training is crucial because it enables firms to address various socio-economic and political factors that influence their day-to-day operations particularly within the international business environment. Currently, indications are that cross-cultural training can easily be effective if carried out in the appropriate manner. One of the approaches within which the successes of cross-cultural training have been highlighted is the social learning theory. In this regard, focus has been on addressing the various ways through which firms can respond to diverse context variables in order to deliver the best training experience for employees. One of the reasons why this approach is appropriate is that it enables employers to address a wide range of factors that influence the personality and cognitive ability of individual employees.

To cut down costs, many corporations have started subjecting employees to cross-cultural training only when they are scheduled to handle international assignments. For such corporations, focus is on ensuring that global competitiveness is maintained at minimum costs. A lot of research focus is on future trends in the training of employees who have been deployed in a foreign environment. This is because companies that fail to carry out this kind of training in the right way risk facing serious problems such as loss of organizational commitment and even turnover. In essence, it may be imperative for firms to focus a lot on mentoring and self-leadership training. Research shows that managers who receive mentorship and cross-cultural training prior to being assigned to work overseas do not encounter intense cultural shock (Eschbach, Parker & Stoeberl, 2001). Moreover, they tend to be more effective compared to their colleagues who may not have had the privilege of going through such kind of training (Eschbach, Parker & Stoeberl, 2001). This is because they achieve the cultural proficiency that necessary for improvement in job performance.

From the point of view of current theories and models explaining training, the need to train employees in every organization is not in doubt. However, different training efforts are often undertaken with a view to achieve different objectives. For example, some training activities are relevant for a wide range of tasks while others are specific to certain tasks, jobs and firms. Problems may arise if the kind of training that is selected does not match with the intended objective. To guard against such situations, HR managers may need to seek insights from various theories and models that describe how training influences job performance. Meanwhile, it is worthwhile to note that consensus has not yet been reached regarding the theoretical underpinning of the link between training and performance.

            One of the theories that explain this relationship is the human capital theory (Booth & Bryan, 2005). The theory identifies two types of employee training: general and specific. General training involves skills and knowledge aimed at long-term employee development while specific training involves skills that is directly applicable under current workplace circumstances. According to this theory, employers may be unable to get a return on their investment in general training, and its cost should thus be incurred by employees. The theory proposes that general training should be part of formal education, and employees should not wait until they are employed to acquire it. Instead, the theory promotes the idea that firms should only pay for specific training because it can lead to an increase in workers’ productivity, thereby enabling them to get a return on investment. For example, job performance increases immediately an employee is trained on how to use a new machine.

            The human capital theory also pinpoints an association between specific training and turnover (Bapna et al., 2012). For example, it indicates that employers are unlikely to offer specific training to employees they feel that they will not be working at the organization for a long time. Conversely, an organization’s enthusiasm for this kind of training may be an indication that they are confident of the employees’ long-term commitment to their present jobs. However, some scholars have criticized the suggestion that employees should pay the costs of general training (De Grip & Sauermann, 2013; Tziner et al., 2007; Booth & Bryan, 2005). They consider the sharing of general training costs between the employer and employee as a more plausible alternative (Booth & Bryan, 2005). However, in many countries it may be illegal to reduce wages during training due to minimum-wage requirements. Another factor that has been highlighted in the human capital theory is influence on worker and firm characteristics on firm training. Employers tend to be keener on both general and specific training if the jobs in question require cognitive complexity, great responsibility, and the use of expensive machinery. Training is also common in regular, full-time, non-temporary jobs as well as jobs whose skills cannot be used by most other firms in the locality.

            Considerable debate has also emerged as parts of efforts by researchers to develop a theoretical model that explains various aspects of employee training (Tharenou, Saks & Moore, 2007; Alfes et al., 2013; Kehoe & Wright, 2013). The aim of this debate is to outline the situations where employers should expect higher job performance following training as well as those ones where they should not. The debate can also be used to help employers make decisions on which jobs require training and which employees should be trained. One of the most dominant models describes training from the perspective of HRM policies and their influence on performance (Truss, 2001). This model posits that training is one of the HRM activities whose objective is to increase job performance, and by extension, firm performance. Indeed, HRM policies can have a profound influence on human resources as well as organizational outcomes. According to this model, employee commitment is a major outcome that employers should seek to achieve through training. In this model, successful training is considered a positive HRM outcome that lead to improvement in job performance, greater success in problem-solving, fewer grievances, and low turnover.

            Another model that has been widely examined in HRM literature is the behavioral perspective (Alfes et al., 2013; Kehoe & Wright, 2013). The model explains training from the perspective of HRM, firm strategy, and job performance. Rather than dwell on employees’ skills, knowledge, and competencies, the model examines their role behaviors. It promotes the idea that employees’ perceptions, commitments, and attitudes have a profound influence on firm performance. The argument here is that training should aim first and foremost to change the employees’ attitudes because this can easily help the firm to develop pa competitive advantage. The model proposes that during training, the firm’s HR training policy should seek to influence role behavior in such a way as to achieve higher job performance.

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