The business environment has become very volatile over the past two decades. Customers are increasingly becoming very selective in their consumption process. To satisfy their demand, it is paramount for organisations to incorporate new knowledge and solutions.
This can be achieved by enhancing the employees’ level of knowledge and skills. The need for more skills and knowledge arises from the fact that the gap between organisational needs and the knowledge acquired from learning institutions is increasing (Vemic, 2007).
The intensity of competition also presents a myriad of challenges that require organisations to increase their productivity as well as improve their managerial methods and product mix strategy. Other challenges that organisations are facing are a result of a high rate of globalisation, emergence of a market economy and increased technological innovation.
The aforementioned challenges underscore the importance of integrating effective strategic measures in order to succeed in the long term. Some of the measures that organisations can integrate in their strategic management processes include training and employee development.
To understand how learning, training and development are strategic in organisations’ operation, it is paramount for one to develop a comprehensive understanding of the meaning of the three concepts. This paper outlines the various definitions of the terms “strategic”, “learning”, “training” and “development”. It also illustrates how training, learning and development are strategic in the operation of organisations.
Definitions of key terms
There are various definitions of the term “strategic” that have been formulated by scholars and practitioners. According to Sullivan (2004), the word “strategic” refers to plans or actions that are formulated with the objective of enhancing an organisation’s ability to achieve its desired goal.
Learning, training and development
There are varied definitions of the three concepts that have been formulated.
Scott and Spouse (2013) claim that “learning concerns the acquisition or modification of knowledge, skills and behaviours” (p.70). On the other hand, Isenberg (2007) is of the opinion that “learning refers to a permanent change in behaviour (content) due to experience and, learning is a relatively permanent change in mental associations (process) due to experience” (p. 165). Sloman (2005) defines learning as “a work-based and self-directed process that culminates in increased adaptive capacity. Thus, learning is a lifelong process that may either be planned or unplanned” (p.2).
According to Aswathappa (2005), training refers to the process of imparting knowledge, influencing the employees’ attitudes and skills in order to enhance their ability to undertake job-related tasks. Alternatively, Saad (2013) claims that training entails the process of transferring measurable and defined skills and knowledge to individuals to enable them to do their job. Deckop (2006) further asserts that training has to be enhanced with practical experience in order to be effective. This emanates from the fact that people tend to develop better understanding on things that they perform practically than what they hear.
This refers to the long-term process that is undertaken by individuals or institutions with the objective of improving their respective potential and effectiveness (Njuguna, 2009). On the other hand, Coetzee (2007) defines development as the process of attaining one’s ability via planned experience and study. Coetzee (2007) defines development to include “various activities such as coaching, formal educational commitments and experiences” (p. 91). Consequently, development is wide in scope compared to training and learning. Moreover, the elements of training and learning can be integrated in the development process.
The following definitions will be taken into account for the purpose of this paper. According to Smit (2007), training refers to the organised acquisition of attitudes, rules and regulations, knowledge and concepts that lead to higher performance in dynamic environments.
Decision to adopt this definition arises from the fact that it recognises the need to improve the employees’ understanding of their duties. This will increase the likelihood of organisations surviving in an environment that is increasingly becoming dynamic.
On the other hand, the definition of development as outlined by Wilson (2005) will be taken into account. Wilson (2005) defines development as the process of growth of an individual’s ability via conscious or unconscious learning. Moreover, development is usually supported by various programmes such as counselling and coaching (Wilson, 2005).
Decision to adopt this definition arises from the fact that it underscores the importance of integrating experience and the employees’ conceptual understanding, hence culminating in increased confidence to deal with various actions. Subsequently, development culminates in an improved situation amongst individuals, which leads to achievement of their potential.
Wilson’s definition of learning is further adopted in the paper. Wilson (2005) considers learning to include the natural response on how to deal with change. Learning can either be incidental or intentional. Additionally, its value is only realised if what is learnt is practised.
Meaning of the term “strategic” within the organisational context
Within the business context, the word “strategic” refers to focused aspects that are undertaken by organisations with the objective of impacting the set corporate goals and objectives.
In the course of executing their duties, managers are required to incorporate strategic aspects that will influence their organisations’ long-term goals and competitive advantage positively. Sullivan (2004) outlines the criteria that a particular element must satisfy in order to be truly regarded as being strategic. Some of the elements include;
Competitive advantage and impact on revenue
The programme must enhance an organisation’s ability to develop sustainable competitive advantage. Moreover, the programme must enhance the organisation’s profitability or revenue with a margin of one percent.
Future organisational needs
Sullivan (2004) asserts that the programme must be focused on improving the organisation’s future performance. Consequently, it must improve its capacity to deal with problems and other needs that might be experienced in the future.
In addition to influencing the level of revenue generated by an organisation, a strategic programme must influence the predetermined long-term goals and objectives.
For a particular aspect to be regarded as strategic at the organisational level, it must have the capacity to impact diverse business units. This means that its impact must be felt within the entire organisation.
Analysis on whether learning, training and development are strategic at work
A particular concept is considered to be strategic if it has the capacity to influence an organisation’s competitive advantage with regard to employee productivity and people management. Various HRD theories have been formulated in an effort to illustrate how learning, training and development are strategic. One of these theories includes the learning theory. According to Jehanzeb and Alkelabi (2012), human resource is one of the key components in the success of organisations.
Moreover, the organisations’ ability to survive in the volatile business environment is influenced by the management principles and systems that are integrated in the firms’ operation. Learning theories further postulate that organisations’ capacity to develop high competitive advantage is determined by the skills, level of motivation and the employees’ capacity to learn.
According to Jehanzeb and Alkelabi (2012), the strength of organisations in different economic sectors is dependent on the employees’ level of skills and knowledge. Considering the fact that the level of knowledge and skills amongst employees vary, it is paramount for organisational managers to enhance their competence.
Organisations are investing a substantial amount of money in employee training and development programmes in an effort to improve their efficiency. In 2007, it is estimated that organisations in the USA invested $58.5 billion for training (Jehanzeb & Alkelabi, 2012). To enhance learning within organisations, it is paramount for a win-win situation to be created between the employer and the employees.
This can be attained by ensuring that employees develop comprehensive understanding of the organisation’s learning culture and mission (Sadler-Smith, 2009). HR managers should ensure that the learning process is beneficial both to the firm and to the employees. This will increase the likelihood of the firm attaining the desired level of competitiveness.
Human capital theory is another theory that highlights the strategic nature of learning, training and development in the workplace. Firms in different economic sectors are focusing on developing a strong human capital.
The shift emanates from the fact that human capital is ranked as one of the major sources of competitive advantage (Jehanzeb &Alkelabi, 2012). The theory postulates that training leads to improvement in the employees’ productivity as a result of the new skills and knowledge are gained.
Additionally, training enhances the level of motivation amongst employees. Jehanzeb and Alkelabi (2012) assert that training is regarded to be effective if it promotes learning. Human capital theory further postulates that firms’ management teams should focus on improving their workforce’s characteristics and stock of knowledge.
This will enhance the effectiveness and efficiency with which employees execute their duties. According to Vemic (2007), gaining new knowledge is one of the main strategies that managers should take into account in an effort to improve their organisations’ competitive advantage. Koteen (2008) asserts that the demand for new knowledge and information on how it can be imparted on employees in order to achieve predetermined organisational goals has increased significantly.
Considering the turbulent nature of the business environment, it is paramount for managers to ensure that employees utilise the knowledge gained in executing their duties. Vemic (2007) opines that “organisational knowledge is largely located inside the human mind, i.e. the employees, as carriers of knowledge and activities” (p.210).
This highlights why organisations in different economic sectors are increasingly appreciating the importance of human resource in their operation. Consequently, employee training is currently considered as one of the most effective answers to the various challenges that organisations are experiencing. Nickols (3) cites change as one of the most important issues that organisations can counter through employee training. This arises from the tactical nature of training, hence making it strategic (Nikols, 2003).
The theory of human capital further postulates that learning and training enhance employee development. This arises from the fact that employees gain new knowledge which increases their innovative capacity. Moreover, training leads to development of proactive behaviour amongst employees. As a result, the employees’ level of satisfaction and the organisations’ competitive advantage are influenced positively.
Scholars have formulated two main approaches in an effort to explain why organisations should invest in employee development programmes. The hard approach suggests that organisations should invest in employee development because they constitute a critical element in the achievement of the set organisational goals (Niazi, 2011).
On the other hand, the soft approach perceives employees as valuable organisational assets that can be easily developed. For an organisation to develop sustainable competitive advantage, it is imperative for the HR to incorporate effective training and development programmes. This is, however, only possible if the training process encompasses diverse learning actions (Niazi, 2011).
Organisations can utilise the knowledge gained through learning, training and development in designing new operational models. In summary, one can assert that learning, training and development are strategic elements that enhance the success of organisations. Consequently, organisational managers should ensure that the three elements are linked to the organisation-wide strategy and goals.
Learning, training and development are not strategic
Some authors argue that training, learning and employee development are not strategic. Hughes and Kapoor (2009) are of the opinion that “employee training and development are very expensive” (p. 258). There are various approaches that organisations can integrate in their training and development processes. According to Wasbeek (2004), employee training and development can either be conducted internally or through outsourcing the services of consultants.
Consequently, a substantial amount of cost is incurred. For example, approximately $156 billion was spent by U.S. organisations on employee training in 2011 (Silverman, 2012). Moreover, employees training and development programmes consume a substantial amount of time. As a result, the level of employee productivity is adversely affected. This arises from the fact that employees’ workload is reduced.
Despite the numerous programmes integrated by organisations in an effort to enhance their employees’ productivity through learning, training and development, most firms do not assess the outcome (Kozlowski & Salas, 2009). Consequently, approximately ninety per cent of the new knowledge and skills gained are lost within one year. This means that the knowledge gained cannot be utilised in solving future organisational problems and needs (Silverman, 2012).
One can therefore conclude that training, learning and development are not a guarantee that an organisation will achieve the intended competitive advantage. This underscores why learning, training and development may not be strategic.
From the above analysis, it is evident that businesses are facing numerous challenges in the course of their operation. This paper highlights the dynamic nature of the business environment as one of the major challenges that organisations are required to deal with. Consequently, it is imperative for firms to possess the necessary organisational capabilities in order to survive in the long term.
A detailed analysis of learning, training and development in the workplace shows that the three elements can be regarded as being strategic. The three elements enable organisations to align their operations with changes within the knowledge economy. Currently, the need to renew organisational knowledge has increased significantly.
Organisations have to ensure that the rate at which new knowledge is acquired through learning, training and development is higher than the rate of change in order to survive. By integrating effective employee learning, training and development programmes, it is possible for organisations to attain their desired level of competitive advantage. This arises from the fact that employees gain new knowledge which increases their level of productivity.
Investing in employee training and development improves an organisation’s competitiveness. This arises from the fact that the organisation’s intellectual capital is significantly improved. This increases the organisation’s ability to adapt to change.
Moreover, employee training and development culminate in the transformation of the employees’ behaviour and hence their performance. Currently, employees are considered as a new form of organisational resource that can be improved via learning, training and development. As a result, organisations become better placed to deal with future needs and problems.
To position itself as a learning organisation, it is paramount for a particular organisation to ensure that a strategic relationship between training and development is established. This will increase the organisation’s attractiveness to talented employees.
Additionally, an organisation that appreciates employee learning, training and development is likely to nurture a high level of identification amongst employees. The resultant effect is that employees are able to share knowledge and skills, hence increasing the organisation’s ability to adjust to changes.
Despite the long-term benefits associated with employee training and development, some scholars are of the opinion that the three elements are not strategic. The cost involved in the process of training and developing employees is cited as one of the major factors that limits their strategic characteristic.
Additionally, most organisations are not effective in evaluating the success of such programmes. In summary, learning, training and development play a significant role in the long-term success of an organisation. This arises from the fact that they enhance organisations’ ability to deal with internal and external changes.
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