Learning is a key part of the business environment, various complexities usually introduce themselves in the course of business operations and without continuous learning and development programs employees may be faced with a lot of ambiguities that may compromise the quantity and quality of their output (Kourdi p.144). Without the necessary knowledge and skills, it would become impossible for commercial and non- commercial organizations to carry out their intended operations successfully and even capitalize on strength and opportunities while at the same time minimizing on threats and weaknesses.
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Learning and development activities are very paramount within various functional areas of an organization and are carried out by the L&D function together with the human resource department. It is through the learning and development process that employees and managers can know how to efficiently carry out their tasks with the highest degree of efficiency thus putting the organization at a competitive advantage (Raelin p.4-7).
Better informed and knowledgeable employees, who are aware of the total requirements that are required to carry out critical organizational processes that are core to the main objective and mission of an organization, are more likely to come up with high levels of high-quality work output (Smith p.234-275).
In contrast, the existence of ambiguity and limited skill sets by employees will always compromise how well they perform their tasks as by their job descriptions and required tasks within various functional areas. Thus, it is why managers and organizational leaders, especially in the human resource department, formulate organizational strategies that stimulate organizational learning within the organization. Such L&D programs take place throughout the organization from top to bottom and therefore improve the competitive advantage of an organization ( Yukl p.52).
The rapidly changing and volatile commercial environment normally demands a lot from organizations day in day out as previously used technology, mechanisms and methods are rendered obsolete therefore making it completely necessary for the organization through human resource managers to come up with need-based and objective oriented L&D systems that with further the skill and competence of employees.
L&D and need assessment (Identification and Analysis)
Employees within various functional areas of an organization are driven by different motives which are both individualistic and collective. Theories of motivation such as Herzberg’s two-factor theory/Hygiene theory states that as human beings, the environment within the workplace is very important in defining the output and performance of employees within the workplace (Steers p.30-50). This simply means that the needs of employees as far as performing their intended task is involved makes it very important that leadership and management assess the needs of every employee at both a collective and individual level. If this stage of need assessment is carried out inaccurately then, the danger of employees losing their motivation to work comes up and thus compromises the mission of the organization.
For Tasks to be effectively carried out within an organization, the workforce requires specific knowledge, skills and sometimes a degree of competence for them to be carried out successfully and satisfactorily. When employees find this a bit problematic and challenging they may, as a result, fail to bring out the kind of outcome that is desired consequently triggering the need for learning and development.
This, therefore, translates to the fact that they may either lack the necessary knowledge, skill and competence and it, as a result, becomes the duty of learning and development experts to assist both employees and managers to successfully achieve the desired kind of output by improving on their skill set skills. A perfect scenario in an organization is usually assumed to meet targets/desired performance simply because employees have all the necessary knowledge, skills and competence on their fingertips.
Goal theories suggest that individuals usually aim to achieve something and therefore their actions are motivated by the desired result. Consequently, most employees are motivated by the need to carry out their tasks with a high level of efficiency and accuracy to achieve their goals. Intrinsic satisfaction will therefore fully emanate only if these employees can carry out their various job description demands if they have all the necessary skill that their job descriptions demand (Smith p.234-275).
For that reason employees may often self-reflect their actions and abilities and make conclusions of the level of skill sets that they have, and if they see their skill sets as inferior they will, in turn, lose motivation and feel as if they are inexperienced to carry out the certain task as required in their line of duty. The succeeding levels and components of the L&D process will, therefore, all be compromised and will be of no consequence since they are not in tandem with their needs.
The success of the learning and development process, especially the need assessment stage must be done accurately and vigilantly as it is the basis for many succeeding L&D activities (Smith p.234-236). This is completely true because unless the specific needs are accurately identified and successfully analyzed, then the preceding actions may end up being futile and of no consequence, and as a result will not improve the overall output of the individual employees and organizational workforce. The ability of L&D experts to approach the organization in an open-minded manner and working together with the organization is therefore quite important in objectively instilling knowledge that is required within the organization.
Organizational managers need to embrace that learning and development needs within an organization fall under three different levels and it, therefore, becomes necessary to address all these levels when creating learning programs. Individual needs, job level needs and organizational level L&D needs are all very vital to a better performing organization and therefore none should be ignored.
Organizations have goals, missions and visions which guide their actions and thus completely necessary for management to plan how they will cater for learning and development needs of employees and any other organizational personnel. When employees obtain full knowledge backing up their job descriptions it will become easier for overall organization efficiency to be realized at the group/ collective and also at the individual level (Raelin p.57).
The L&D process and activities serve as a diagnostic tool that can be used to compare the desired level of performance and the actual results and contrast them with both individual output and collective output of each human element considered to be part of the workforce of an organization. When the actual performance is less than the expected performance, then the learning and development within that functional area become necessary, and therefore what becomes now important is to analyze the exact nature of the learning need (Smith p.238).
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Looking at the case of General motor employees in the assembly plant, it is clear that the quality and quantity of their output was simply ambiguous because they had difficulty working with the machinery and the new technology. Thus if management and the leadership of the organization use the same zeal to identify problematic areas in the organization by looking at various levels of output, the organization will end up being able to identify where more L&D effort is needed by employees within the organization and hence initiate programs that will be used to cater to the needs of the employees.
The diagnostic ability of the L&D function may routinely ask whether the employee roles are clear and precise depending on the actual findings and then recommend any succeeding action. Furthermore, the L&D function during this face of identifying needs may look into whether role conflicts that lead to duplication exist and whether there is a clear line of authority that is attached to the various roles that employees are expected to carry out so that conflict of power and rank doesn’t occur.
Additionally, L&D experts can research whether the equipment used within the organizations is in tandem with the skill levels of the workforce and if not, take the necessary action then. While identifying the need L&D experts, in turn, can come up with appropriate suggestions and recommendations that will help the organizational functional departments realign themselves is such a way that the organization synergy can be realized especially through learning and development (Yukl p. 188).
The failure of employees to meet organizational targets represents some form of malnutrition within an organization and hence why need analysis and assessment is very critical towards carrying out corrective action (Smith p.224). Once underperforming areas are identified then it becomes necessary for the management to determine what the nature of the L&D need is.
Employees in a technical department may be underperforming because the machines are a bit difficult and challenging to use, or simply because they lack the necessary technical knowhow to optimize output of the machinery they work with (Kourdi p.82). The poor output may arise because employees don’t understand how other functional departments are supposed to coordinate activities with them and therefore end up underperforming. This will, as a result, be the main reason behind the nature of L&D needs and, consequently, any L&D programs designed within the organization will, therefore, aim to iron out any differences that have led to the symptoms related to bad output.
The effect of failing on the needs assessment on subsequent L&D activities
Subsequent L&D activities that succeed the need assessment stage can only be successful and useful to an organization only if the right needs of organizational personnel are being addressed (Raelin p.53). The hierarchy of L&D needs is usually individuals needs, job-based needs and collective/organizational needs and it hence becomes critical to address all of them at the same time with a high degree of accuracy. In other words, if an employee is able and suitable to perform a certain task and yet he exists in a group of other employees who are deficient in carrying out their tasks, then this may hurt the level of actual output as compared to the desired outcome.
For that reason, the output of the need assessment should come up with an outcome that is directly related to the job description and all the necessary required skill set required in carrying out the necessary tasks within this job (Raelin p.122). The failure to do so will still compromise the performance of the organization and subsequent L&D activities within the organization. The poor direction of L&D activities may, therefore, arise especially making other activities such as 360-degree feedback, personal development plans, hierarchal task analysis (HTA), Cognitive task analysis, Concept analysis, Functional analysis, needs prioritization and overall alignment of the entire organization turn up to be a complete waste of time.
The results of a perfect and accurate L&D system will push efforts towards reducing the level of duplication, wastage, taking hold of opportunities as they occur, bringing synergy to the entire organization and reducing risk (Smith p.266-275). Conversely, any miscalculations that arose during the need assessment stages may make the later stages of the L&D process lead to more inefficiency within the organization in the worst-case scenario.
For example, if the wrong need was identified within the need identification stage then the subsequent activities such as personal development plans will end up addressing the wrong issues and address the symptoms and not the route cause that is affecting the performance (Raelin p.63). In other words, the training programs for personal development that will be implemented by L&D experts will be a waste of time and resources and most likely produce a negative outcome.
Other L&D activities such as hierarchal task analysis and Cognitive task analysis will also be automatically compromised and as a result, the outcome of these stages will not be in tandem with the actual and real needs. Consequently, if learners do not obtain the appropriate skills and knowledge from learning and development activities the performance will be compromised and for that reason, scarce and valuable organizational resources will not be optimally used within the organization. As a result, the image and actual reputation of the learning and development functional area will be compromised, and, consequently, lose the support of other organizational departments hence fail from meeting organizational objectives.
According to McGhee and Thayer, the importance of training and development in the commercial sector provides a very important means of analyzing the organization and deciding where learning is needed within the organization (Smith p.238). Consequently, it becomes critical to gather data very carefully so that those responsible for this function may pinpoint where the trouble is emanating from and initiate corrective action. Moreover, it becomes important to realign organizational reward systems with the L&D function so that the level of motivation within the industry is high enough to maximize the performance of employees. Failure to cater to the motivation of the workforce within various functional areas may turn up to be very detrimental to the overall output of the organization.
If planning of the L&D function is not taken seriously then the outcome will be a weak L&D process that will translate to poor handling of learning and development needs of the entire workforce (Smith p.234). If Weak infrastructure is put in place by a weak L&D function, then optimization of learning and development activities will not occur ties within various functional areas of the organization. For that reason achieving organizational goals and even individual goals will ultimately be compromised thus performance targets will not be met.
The organizational environment of the business world is rapidly faced with changes. Hence it becomes necessary to know as change occurs then the normal way of doing business and carrying out business processes also changes or becomes obsolete (Kourdi p.17). For that reason becomes necessary that management and leadership to organize learning and development activities that will enable employees to comfortably carry out tasks that they are required to carry out within the organization with a high level of accuracy and efficiency.
Additionally, L&D experts should embrace that in the same way the organization has goals so do the employees individually or collectively also have their own goals ambitions. Thus it is necessary to merge the goals of these employees and those belonging to an organization as far as their task and job descriptions are concerned and make sure the L&D department organizes learning and development activities that aim to realign their needs to their tasks together with goals. Consequently, if the L&D function fails to accurately identify the needs during the need assessment phase then the overall output of the L&D function may end up affecting the overall output of the entire workforce in jeopardy. Accordingly, the L&D department is very vital towards achieving the mission and even future vision of the organization.
Kourdi, J., 2009. Business Strategy: A Guide to Effective Decision Making, 2 edn. New York: Economist Books.
Raelin, J. A., (2000). Work-based learning: The new frontier of management development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Smith, E.S., 2008.Learning and development for managers: perspectives from research and practice. New York: Wiley Blackwell.
Steers, R.M., et al. 1996. Motivation and Leadership at Work. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Yukl, G. (2001). Leadership in organizations 4th ed. Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice-Hall.