Training Expectations: Roles and Performance

Clarifying employee roles and performance expectations before training starts sets the scene for an effective training program.

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Employee Roles and Performance: Key Drivers for Training Transfer

Many organizations rush the design and rollout of their major employee training programs. In the haste to get the program completed, too much attention is given to the delivery in the classroom or online to the detriment of key support factors. Attending to these training transfer factors ensures that employees will turn up to the training motivated and that they will have the drive to use their new skills when they return to their job.

One such key factor is the alignment of the training participant's understanding of their responsibilities with the objectives of the training program. Where training participants are not given a clear message that they are to be held accountable for their actions and performance following the training, their incentive to transfer their learnings in the program to their job will suffer.

In your organization, if employees' roles or responsibilities have changed, perhaps as part of a change or improvement initiative, then now is the time to document and communicate these changes clearly to the employees undertaking the training.

  1. What new roles and responsibilities will these changes necessitate? What key result areas will the new roles and responsibilities encompass? Which employees will be impacted?
  2. For each key result area, what are the performance expectations? How can these performance expectations be expressed in terms of measurable objectives and observable behaviors?

The first aspect focuses more on the people whilst the second focuses more on the performance criteria. You should be able to answer the who and the what of any workplace changes before training begins.

The next step is for documentation to be created or updated and for the changes to be discussed with the relevant employees. Where appropriate, role descriptions will need to be updated with unambiguous statements on new responsibilities, required behaviors and performance outcomes.

The structure and format of role descriptions vary from organization to organization. Role descriptions are also variously labeled as job descriptions and position descriptions. If your organization has not already compiled role descriptions for all key roles, then prior to rolling out a structured training program may be a good time to start.

Before you embark upon a major role description writing exercise, get expert advice from a human resources professional. What you include and exclude from a role description may have important legal compliance consequences for your organization, depending on the current employment laws in your state. Our training impact guide, From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance, includes a proforma role description layout. Whether you use a proforma format or use your organization's existing format, be sure to consult with employment law specialists in your area before reviewing people's roles or responsibilities.

Who Is Impacted by the Change?

Let us look more closely at the first aspect – the question of who will be impacted by the change. As a case in point of how the success of a training program is impacted by role misunderstandings, consider this real-life scenario. A consumer electronics manufacturer recently introduced a new inventory management system. Following system training, warehouse and production planning department employees complained that when they tried to use the new system, inventory data was incomplete and inaccurate.

Despite assurances from managers that the data quality would be fixed, in fact, the management team could not agree on which employees should be entering the data. Affected employees quickly gave up on the system and went back to their tried and tested paper-based methods.

In this organization, managers avoided the hard questions that they needed to sort out before the training on the new system began. Some managers avoid these hard questions in the hope that all will work out in the rough and tumble after the training. When it comes to aiming for training success, this rarely happens.

The key message here is that new roles and responsibilities need to be discussed and agreed with employees before the training program begins. Leaving it to the trainer to communicate changes to people's roles is too late and will only serve to breach the trust relationship between the employee and their manager.

What Are the Performance Expectations?

Let us now look at the what aspect of the change – the performance expectations – and how these affect training outcomes. For each new or changed employee task, specify clearly what the employee needs to do following the training. Express each task with an action word, starting each task specification with a verb. For example, say

customize and print reports as requested from managers

instead of

manager reports

Notice how the former says specifically what the employee must do while the latter leaves the task requirement up to individual interpretation.

By clearly specifying tasks as part of the review of role descriptions, you forge a powerful link between the training program and later workplace performance. After you complete the task analysis, transcribe these task statements into learning outcomes for your training program.

Beside the task (or behavior) statement, the other important component of a learning outcome is the performance standard. This stipulates the standard to which the task is expected to be performed. If your training program labors under poorly written learning outcomes, such as, "The trainee will learn about data entry", then you cannot hope to link learning outcomes with role performance expectations. Consult our, Writing Learning Outcomes, for a step-by-step guide on writing effective learning objectives.

If the performance criteria are not already documented in the employees' role descriptions, then get participants' managers to discuss and agree them. If this has not been done prior to training program design, then conduct a focus group meeting with the management team to discuss and decide performance standards. This work is normally done as part of the training needs analysis phase of program design.

Also ensure that performance standards are linked directly with the organization's overall objectives for the initiative being undertaken. Each individual's performance must be seen to contribute to the organization's overall strategic or operational results.

On the other hand, the program design may be complete, with well-written performance-based learning outcomes, but these are not mirrored in the employees' role descriptions. If this is the case, then consult participants' managers and your human resources department to get these documents updated. If your requests are met with hesitation, make the case for effective training transfer.

Performance objectives need not necessarily appear in role descriptions. In workplaces where change occurs often, enshrining performance objectives within role descriptions may prove to be too restrictive. Role descriptions are a relatively permanent type of document.

In some cases, it may be more prudent to place each employee's performance objectives in the Objectives section of their performance appraisal document. Whatever you do, make sure that there is consistency amongst the learning outcomes, the role description and the objectives stated in the performance appraisal. Without clear linkages, your organization will weaken this key reinforcement for the new on-the-job behaviors.

Conclusion

For employees to transfer effectively their newly learned skills to the job, your task now is to satisfy up-front two fundamental requirements for training to be useful. Firstly, for each of your programs, you need to answer the who and the what of the changes impacting training participants. Secondly, you must work hard to forge a direct link between the training program and your organization's objectives. Once you have satisfied these two preconditions, you have done your best to ensure that training participants begin the training event with a clear understanding of why they are there and what is expected of them.

Expert View Author: AIMM MAITD

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