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How to Attract, Retain and Motivate Employees

Companies today recognize that it is their people who can give them a competitive advantage (Buckingham & Coffman 1999). How organizations develop their employees can be a competitive advantage or disadvantage for them. There is intense competition to attract and retain talent. Research has shown that organizations that provide better learning and growth opportunities have an advantage when competing for that talent (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999).

These trends suggest that for many organizations, a strategic learning should be to ensure that employees believe they have ample opportunities to learn and grow. Companies need to provide developmental opportunities, and be sure that current and prospective employees are aware of those opportunities, in order to attract, motivate, and retain employees.

As part of the planning process, leaders should clarify their company’s core set of strategic learning imperatives. Strategic learning imperatives are high-level, learning-related actions that an organization must take to ensure continued success. They should be based on an understanding of the business environment, an awareness of company aspirations, and insights about various training and learning options. Collectively, they can provide a sense of direction and serve as a high-level road map to guide an organization’s learning and training efforts.

In the current business environment,

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employee and corporate loyalty are generally low (Hall & Mirvis, 1995). Most employees no longer expect to spend their career with a single employer. Similarly, most employers reluctantly admit that they cannot expect their employees to work for them for thirty years. On a personal level, there is a growing recognition that to have a successful career, one needs to build competencies continually.

To remain marketable, employees need to acquire new skills and knowledge, whether through training, new experiences and assignments, or interactions with others. Employees who do not feel they are growing in their current job are more likely to leave. This is particularly true for employees who possess the most valuable competencies, because they have a range of employment choices.

As a result, companies need to assess how their employees feel about the growth and learning opportunities they offer. Do employees feel they have sufficient opportunities to develop? Are they receiving the training they need? Are they receiving challenging, interesting assignments? Do they feel competent and capable? Are they ready and able to cope with change? Do they believe that someone cares about their personal growth? Has anyone talked with them about their career? This type of assessment is different from evaluating whether a particular training program is effective. To address this strategic imperative, employers must know how their employees perceive their personal development.

Many organizations are reconsidering their investments in human resource practices such as training as they begin to recognize that the knowledge, skills, and competencies of their employees will help employees achieve more positive work outcomes. Organizations such as Motorola, Southwest Airlines, and Sun Microsystems have devoted considerable expense to training, whether provided by in-house personnel or out-of-house experts.

They use training to facilitate learning but also to attract and retain employees, improve their culture, and create incentives for good performance. Yet although there is no widespread systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of training, trainers are still responsible for making sure that employees have a positive ‘gut feeling” that the training works and makes good use of their time.

Training effectiveness refers to the processes that occur before, during, and after training to improve the likelihood that it will have an impact. Training evaluation is the measurement of the extent to which it is effective. Historically, most researchers and practitioners have evaluated the impact of training through outcomes proposed by Kirkpatrick (1976), including trainees’ reactions to the program, learning, behavior change, and results.

But the types of outcomes used to evaluate training programs have since been expanded to include cognitive, affective, and motivational outcomes (Kraiger, Ford, & Salas, 1993). Examples of affective and motivational outcomes include posttraining self-efficacy, customer service attitudes, tolerance for diversity, team commitment, and willingness to participate in future training programs.

The real value of training may come not from individual learning but rather from having employees interact and share ideas. This is especially true for companies engaging in knowledge work (pharmaceutical, communications, and engineering organizations, for example), where so-called systems thinking and creativity are critical. Here training is viewed as part of a larger system in the company to create and share knowledge. That system includes technology for communications, delivering training, and sharing and storing knowledge, as well as traditional instructional design issues (Mathieu, Tannenbaum & Salas 1992).

E-learning is a good method that provides an excellent learning environment and facilitates knowledge sharing. E-learning uses the Web or company intranet to deliver instruction. From the trainees’ perspective, e-learning can provide a rich learning environment, complete with learning objectives, feedback, opportunities to practice, and evaluation. Trainees can learn at their own pace. E-learning also has the added advantage of allowing them to share learning, problems, and issues with one another. Learner-learner, instructor-learner, and learner-expert links can be easily established and used to facilitate learning and transfer of training.

Despite calls for making training more strategic, the evidence continues to suggest that companies rely primarily on reaction criteria—so-called smile sheets—for measuring training effectiveness. These include self-report measures collected from trainees immediately after training that ask about their satisfaction with the content, instructor, and learning environment.

Older employees have been found to demonstrate less learning and participation in training programs than younger employees (Colquitt et al., 2000). In a study investigating age differences in the adoption and use of new technology, Morris and Venkatesh (2000) found that younger workers’ decision to use technology was strongly influenced by their attitude toward using it. This suggests that programs training employees to use new technologies should emphasize how the new technologies will help employees achieve more positive work outcomes (appeal to younger workers) as well as emphasize the ease of use of the new technology (appeal to older workers).

To motivate older employees trainers should:

  • Mix trainees of all ages in groups. Encourage employees from different cohorts to talk together and share experiences.
  • Ask older workers to share their anecdotes and success stories.
  • Use materials that are based on what the trainees already know.
  • Emphasize that training is not a remedial activity but rather an important strategic activity for all employees.
  • Get trainees involved through interaction and discussion.
  • To counter resistance to change, emphasize the positive benefits of training.
  • To help older trainees who have not been in a learning situation for several years feel comfortable, personally contact them before the session to introduce it and answer any questions.
  • Allow trainees time to familiarize themselves with technology (for example, the Web) before using it for training.

Self-efficacy, job involvement, organizational commitment, and career exploration: these are important characteristics that trainees bring with them to training. All have been shown to be related to training motivation (Colquitt et al., 2000; Tannenbaum, & Salas, 1992). Self-efficacy describes an individual’s belief that he or she can successfully organize and perform courses of action to attain certain outcomes. In a training situation, self-efficacy refers to a person’s belief that he or she can successfully learn the content. Self-efficacy has been linked to positive outcomes in many types of training programs. One review found that self-efficacy had moderate to strong relationships with training motivation, declarative knowledge, skill acquisition, and job performance (Colquitt et al., 2000).

Employees tend to behave according to their perceptions of the environment, known as the climate (London & Smither 1999). In training, research suggests that a positive climate for learning and transfer can become very salient and affect behavior. Trainees who report working in a supportive climate are more likely to attend programs and exhibit high levels of motivation to learn (for example, Hall & Mirvis 1995).

Climate refers to the trainees’ perceptions of characteristics of the work environment that influence the use of what they have learned (Kraiger, Ford, Salas 1993), such as manager and peer support, adequate resources, and positive consequences for using the training content. Research clearly demonstrates that the climate for transfer does influence motivation to learn as well as to work (for example, Colquitt et al., 2000).

A business that wants to keep good employees will have to offer competitive salaries along with some kind of health insurance. To motivate and satisfy employees, managers also need to provide them with on and off-the-job training; give them effective job-performance feedback; allow them to participate in decisions affecting the structure and objectives of their jobs; provide opportunities for them to move to higher-paying positions with more responsibility; tell them whether or not they are promotable; and provide them with safe working conditions. While all of these practices constitute “good management,” they have a moral dimension as well (Mathieu, Tannenbaum & Salas 1992).

Managers and their agents are obliged to follow fair hiring practices, avoiding discrimination against people on grounds of gender, race, age, or disabled status. In the issue of wages, people need to earn enough to care for their human needs at some comfortable level. That would define a minimally just wage, and a business seems obliged to pay it.

All employees are subject to a formal or, certainly in small business operations, informal appraisal process. Large companies customarily establish ranking and rating systems that compare peers in a unit of the business and award merit pay treatment to those who are judged to be doing better jobs and contributing more. The following guidelines have moral force because they affect human beings whose dignity requires that they be treated justly and with the respect due them as persons:

  • Subordinates need to have clear and concrete objectives set out for the appraisal period, and they need to provide their own input to these objectives.
  • Employees have a right to feedback on their performance on some regular basis. It would be unfair, for example, to wait until the end of the appraisal period to tell someone that he or she was performing at a poor or unsatisfactory level.
  • Performance must be measured by valid criteria.
  • Supervisors need to bring adequate anecdotal information on a subordinate’s accomplishments and failures to ranking and rating sessions.
  • A subordinate whose performance is poor or unsatisfactory has to be made aware of that fact.
  • Only those people who have had sufficient contact with a person’s performance should have a say in its appraisal.

Training is becoming part of a continuous business model that companies are striving to achieve. Continuous learning may be defined as a directed and longterm effort to learn, a desire to acquire knowledge and skills, participate in activities that facilitate learning, and apply what is learned for personal and organizational benefit (London & Smither, 1999). Changes resulting from training are reinforced by a supportive organizational climate. If supervisors are supportive of employees trying out new skills, provide opportunities to practice, and give time off to attend refresher courses or other relevant courses, transfer of training is enhanced.

As the workplace continues to diversify, organizations will have to make a choice: either ignore this trend and continue business as usual or take steps to prepare for diversity. Ignoring demographic changes may cause such problems as an inability to attract and retain minority employees or a hostile work environment. This will increase the risk of litigation. In contrast, organizations that work to change or create organizational practices and policies that support a diverse workforce may not only minimize exposure to discrimination lawsuits but also realize the benefits of the creativity and problem-solving capabilities that a diverse workforce can provide.

This work has outlined a systematic approach to training, based on both the training literature and current best practices in training. If training becomes a part of the overall business model, then specific objectives should be developed to guide content and process, as well as the evaluation strategy. An effective training initiative will not only increase awareness of the issues but enable employees to interact more effectively with people, and motivate them to search for ways to improve their work.

References

Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999). First break all the rules: What the world’s greatest managers do. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Colquitt, J. A., LePine, J. A., Noe, R. A. (2000). ‘Toward an integrative theory of training motivation: A meta-analytic path analysis of 20 years of research.’ Journal of Applied Psychology, 85.

Hall, D. T., & Mirvis, P. H. (1995). Careers as lifelong learning. In A. Howard (Ed.), The changing nature of work (pp. 323–361). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kraiger, K., Ford, J. K., Salas, E. (1993). ‘Application of cognitive, skillbased, and affective theories of learning outcomes to new methods of training evaluation.’ Journal of Applied Psychology, 78.

London, M., & Smither, J. W. (1999). Career-related continuous learning: Defining the construct and mapping the process. In G. R. Ferris (Ed.), Research in Personnel and Human Resource Management 17 (pp. 81–120). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Mathieu, J. E., Tannenbaum, S. I., & Salas, E. (1992). ‘Influences on individual and situational characteristics on measures of training effectiveness.’ Academy of Management Journal, 35.

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