Learning and development options
A learning organization can be said to be one that focuses on the acquisition, improvement and the transfer of knowledge within the organization. For learning and development initiatives to be successfully implemented, organizational designs should be flexible enough to allow for continuous organizational change (Pool, 2000). This essay will be examining the challenges faced by present day organizations in the evaluation of learning and development options.
It will begin by analyzing the need for staff development, then go on to explore the different training and development options available to firms and the challenges that these firms face in evaluating the level of effectiveness of such developments. It ends by offering possible solutions to the problem of evaluation. The need for Organizational Development The present day business environment is characterized by increased globalization, complexity and competitiveness which are further enhanced by rapidly improving technological advances (Oxtoby et al, 2002, Bass et al, 2003, Jaros, 2010).
Therefore, in order for organizations to develop and sustain positions of competitive advantage, they have to develop the ability to undergo periods of organizational change, a process which often involves learning and development programs for employees (Jaros, 2010). It is increasingly acknowledged that knowledge bases of firms: both
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It is however, not only the possession of knowledge but also the creation and internal transfer of a firm’s information and knowledge base whilst preventing its transfer externally is what serves as the source of competitive advantage (Argote and Ingram, 2000). Therefore, for businesses to succeed in the current business environments there is a need for them to provide training and development opportunities which serve to equip their staff to provide improved job performance.
It has been acknowledged however that while there is a need for constant organizational change, it is rare to find perfectly initiated change programs (Oxtoby et al, 2004). As a means of ensuring better implementation of change initiatives, it is therefore necessary for managers to develop effective methods of evaluating the efficiency of learning and development programs initiated within organizations in order to modify them as the organizational culture or climate dictates. The Role of Evaluation
It has argued that Japanese firms are successful because of their ability for innovation and the creation of new products and services from the adoption of new knowledge and processes. However, following the introduction of a development initiative or business project; there is a need to assess its effectiveness and make necessary adjustments to ensure that it achieves its objectives (Sanderson, 2000, Iftikhar et al, 2003). According to UNICEF (1991) as cited by Iftikhar et al (20003), evaluation can be defined as
‘a process which attempts to determine, as systematically and objectively as possible, the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and impact of activities in the light of specific objectives’ Monitoring and evaluation processes include activities such as surveys; questionnaires, activity-based costing and benchmarking (Argote and Ingram, 2000, Conley-Tyler, 2005). A school of thought in management research considers the evaluation of organizational programs and processes as a key part of performance improvement in business organizations and it is rapidly emerging as an important management tool (Clark, 1999, Iftikhar et.
al. , 2003, Conley-Tyler, 2005). According to Sanderson (2000) however, there is a lack of convincing evidence that the evaluation of policies and programs is effective or useful. Of recent however, researchers as well as management practitioners are increasingly using evaluation for the acquisition and utilization of knowledge and information to improve organizational learning and decision-making (Iftikhar et al, 2003). Challenges of the evaluation of development and learning initiatives
One of the major challenges to the evaluation of new learning and development initiatives is the difficulty in determining the most effective evaluation technique. Conley-Tyler (2005), states that a great difficulty for organizations is the development of an adequate standard and valid tool for the evaluation of organizational programs including learning and development ones. According to Kirkpatrick (1983) as cited by McGovern et al.
(2001), traditional evaluation typically examines four criteria: employees’ reactions to the planned process; skills and competencies an employee is expected to gain by participation; observed changes in behavior following the training program and finally, both tangible and intangible improvements in individual and overall firm performance at the end of the program. Others would suggest a CIPP (Context, Input, Process and Product) analysis approach (Steinert et al. , 2005).
While some researchers would state that the use of quantitative methods would reach objective, valid and generalizable conclusions, it could also be argued that qualitative methods on the other hand would yield flexible conclusions that are sensitive to the unique organizational contexts (Oliver, 2000, Sanderson, 2000). Therefore, while it is difficult to carry out a completely authentic quantitative study, a before-and-after design assessment would provide empirical data which could be further supplemented by qualitative approaches which would provide contextual organizational influences (Sanderson, 2000).
It would therefore be difficult to actually decide that one methodology is better than the other without a consideration of contextual factors influencing firm activities. Another challenge facing the evaluation of organizational initiatives is the choice of evaluators. Some researchers would suggest that evaluation of organizational improvements is best performed by managers within the organization while others advocate the use of professional external evaluators (Oliver, 2000, Conley-Tyler, 2005).
While it could be argued that internal evaluators will always be readily available, where a pre-existing relationship exists between evaluators and the firm, availability is no longer an issue. In addition, to be able to effectively evaluate the validity of an assessment approach, a detailed knowledge of the program, its aims and objectives and organizational context is useful. Internal evaluators would therefore be at an advantage because of their in depth knowledge of the work environments (Conley-Tyler, 2005).
However, it is worth noting that with the investment of suitable time and effort, external evaluators could be able to familiarize themselves with the firm’s activities. The familiarity with organizational context would also be a source of advantage for internal evaluators post-evaluation when determining the means of utilization of the information amassed during the process. However, it must be noted that an outside evaluator will be able to carry out objective and unbiased evaluations which might be of more use to the organization in the long run (Oliver, 2000, Conley-Tyler, 2005).
This could be extremely important in view of Patton’s statement of the aim of evaluation schemes. His 1997 study emphasized the fact that evaluations are essentially utilization-focused with the actual aim of ensuring that organizational processes can be assessed in such a way that it provides objective information that can be utilized and acted upon to improve firm performance (Oliver, 2000, Franco and Bourne, 2003). It must also be recalled at this point that the carrying out of firm evaluations is often an expensive and time consuming process (Oliver, 2000).
In the instances where the evaluations are carried out by external evaluators, information might not readily be available at the times at which they are needed. It could be argued that external evaluators might find it difficult to access the needed information as they might be regarded as outsiders however, some researchers have stated that employees are more likely to open up to strangers and are also more likely to view matters from a different perspective when speaking with strangers or newcomers (Conley-Tyler, 2005).
Whatever, the unique challenges any organization faces in the evaluation and assessment of any learning or development initiative, it is worth noting for learning initiatives to be successfully implemented, organizational designs must be flexible enough to allow for continuous organizational improvement. Furthermore, any learning or developmental program is best created to function within the specific organizational in which it is to be used as contextual factors can have an effect on means and methods.
According to Caudron (1993) and Schein (1983) as cited by Pool (2000), a learning organization can be effectively promoted by a supportive organizational culture which encourages innovation, creativity, trust as well as open communication between organizational members. This organizational climate will be in part created through the activities of the Human Resources Department. It could therefore be safe to conclude; in agreement with Yeung and Berman (1999) that well organized HR processes have positive effects on overall firm performance. Conclusion
This essay has examined the significance of learning and developmental initiatives within organizations operating within present day business environments. It has shown that while continuing development has come to be acknowledged as a necessity for any organization seeking to achieve and sustain a position of competitive advantage, challenges such as choice of methods to be used; openness of staff to such procedures; the extent of the time and expense that such evaluation programs entail; as well as the suitability for the use of internal evaluators or professional external evaluators within different organizational contexts.
While continuing learning and development initiatives are an absolute necessity in today’s rapidly changing world, the choice of means and methods are better guided by the specific socio-cultural and economic business environments in which the programs are to be used. Question 3 Critically analyze the opportunities for evaluating the learning and development interventions within your organization. Justify your recommendations Introduction
In all organizations, businesses, institutions of learning and health care organizations, continuous learning and development is seen as a key means of professional development as well as general performance enhancement (Wilkinson et al, 2004). The effectiveness of these learning and development initiatives need to be assessed in order to determine future amendments and courses of action. This essay will be looking at the evaluation of learning initiatives within Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom (UK) as a whole.
It will begin by analyzing the existing initiatives, the opportunities for evaluation and the evaluation methods currently being used. It then ends by using these as a basis for potential future courses of action within the NHS. The Need for Change within the NHS Over the past few decades there have been large number of reforms in the UK’s NHS following the government’s determination to modernize the health service by improving its organization and management in a bid to improve healthcare service quality.
The reforms have had varied aims and objectives: to redesign healthcare services such that they are focused around patients rather than healthcare practitioners (Caldwell, 2003, Desombre et al, 2005); to increase functional flexibility by expanding the scope of different staff roles; as well as to help staff achieve a healthy balance between their home and work lives while offering them opportunities for personal professional development (Watts and Green, 2004; Desombre et al, 2005, Hyde et al, 2005).
Within the NHS, it is increasingly acknowledged that learning serves to improve employees’ competence as well as their flexibility and capacity for innovative thinking while collectively improving organizational performance. Clarke (2000) as cited by Wilkinson et al (2004) defines the learning organization as ‘One which can adapt to change, learns from errors, exploit opportunities for development, improve quality and maximize the contribution of its human resources’
In essence, learning can be retained and utilized within organizations in such a way that overall competence, capacity and performance are improved within individual Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and the NHS as a whole (Wilkinson et al, 2004). The Agenda for Change rose out of the determination of the British Government to modernize and improve the NHS by providing it with a standardized framework that would still give it room for functional flexibility.
It emphasized the importance of personal professional development of employees as one of the means of making the NHS a more attractive employer (Desombre et al, 2005, Bosanquet et al, 2006, Robinson, 2007) while also serving to improve the overall quality and effectiveness of patient care (Jay and Tanner, 2004; Watts and Green, 2004; Desombre et al, 2005).
The implementation of the Agenda for Change has led to the development of a strict job evaluation system which considers factors such as levels of knowledge and experience as well as specific skills and responsibilities within the boundaries of a Knowledge and Skills Framework (KSF) which identifies the levels of knowledge and training as well as practical skills that will ensure that employees fulfill their roles effectively (Jay and Tanner, 2004, Watts and Green, 2004; Wilkinson et al, 2004).
With the introduction of a number of pay bands: each possessing successive incremental pay levels, NHS staff are now required to undergo regular training and development as a prerequisite to developing the fundamental knowledge and skills that will allow them to progress across the pay bands. Job evaluation is carried out by panels consisting of both staff and management representatives in an attempt to achieve fair and objective representation and evaluation (Watts and Green, 2004).
With healthcare provision being such a specialized field functioning within specific socio-cultural contexts, it could be argued that there would be greater benefits attached to the use of internal evaluators who have understanding and an appreciation of both the organization and the various work roles within it (Conley-Tyler, 2005). However, it has to be acknowledged that the introduction of this new agenda into any healthcare organization cannot be an easy feat.
As stated by Jay and Tanner (2004), in the Herefordshire PCT, its introduction affected all levels of organization from administration to recruitment and often necessitated the time-consuming and complex development of entirely new processes and methods. In addition, it was also discovered that there was a great need for partnership and collaboration between different healthcare organizations all across the NHS (Jay and Tanner, 2004).
It could therefore be suggested that when an organization seeks to ensure enhanced performance through the promotion of training and development, in addition to the need for a supportive organizational culture (Pool, 2000), there is also the need for the adoption of an atmosphere that encourages co-operation and collaboration between different organizations (Jay and Tanner, 2004).
The establishing of suitable skills and knowledge levels to constitute a Knowledge and Skills Framework (KSF) is a costly and time consuming task. Furthermore, the agenda as it is set up requires regular annual appraisals and job evaluations to assess NHS employees and determine suitability for available training and development programs as well as movement to higher pay levels or bands.
According to Robinson (2007), results from case studies involving ten NHS trusts suggested that the rushed national implementation of the agenda for change have led to costs far exceeding previous estimates. However, it is worth noting that while acknowledging the costs of these initiatives, Maynard and Street (2006) state that the development of nationwide service frameworks have led to significant improvements in the efficiency and quality of healthcare services throughout the UK.
While Robinson (2007) would argue that despite the overwhelming costs of the agenda for change, there is still little or no empirical evidence of positive benefits coming from its introduction into the NHS, the author has also acknowledged that appraisals of the effectiveness of the program have been of variable quality and therefore cannot be taken as a valid representation of the results of the Agenda for Change. It could also be considered that with the introduction of such a large-scale initiative, it is highly probable that the benefits are more likely to be long rather than short-term.
Therefore, unless the agenda is pursued and implemented as originally planned, it is highly unlikely that the benefits will be fully realized (Robinson, 2007). According to Kirkpatrick as cited by McGovern et al (2001), traditional evaluation of the effectiveness of developmental programs typically examine four criteria: employee reactions to the planned program; the competencies and skills employees are supposed to pick up by participation; observed changes in behavior following the program as well as observed improvements of firm performance.
Smith (2003) as cited by Desombre et al (2005) has further argued that the changes in the NHS brought about by the agenda have resulted in a loss of trust between the different professionals and various employers. This was also reported by Robinson (2007) who reported unease on the part of nurses on having to participate in such an initiative. It must be agreed that the reduction of the different work roles to a list of skills and competencies to be compared to a KSF (Jay and Tanner, 2004, Watts and Green, 2004) fails to differentiate and acknowledge the unique identities of the different groups of healthcare professionals within the NHS.
However, it is worth noting that researchers have consistently noted that whilst monetary reward is important to the average employee, opportunities for professional development and promotion and progression along the organizational hierarchy are important sources of employee job satisfaction and motivation (Yeung and Berman, 1997, Lok and Crawford, 2003, Jaros, 2010, Meyer et al, 2010). Therefore, if enforced, the agenda has the potential to develop a highly skilled and motivated workforce whose work roles display great flexibility (Robinson, 2007).
Furthermore, due to regular annual appraisals and training opportunities, there is increased motivation and job satisfaction which ultimately translates to better patient care and greater patient satisfaction. Finally, with improved recruitment and retention practices as well as transparent pay approaches, there is further improvement in employee satisfaction which will eventually lead to improved, efficient organizational performance.
Conclusion This essay has examined the Agenda for Change, a major change initiative which has taken place within the context of the NHS in the UK in an attempt to create a health service that is more patient centered, efficient and capable of recruiting, training, developing and retaining excellent staff as a means of further improving health care service provision within the United Kingdom.
While it has encouraged the development of unique human resource practices within an organization initially characterized by central, bureaucratic control and gross inefficiency, its emphasis on learning and development as well as the need for regular consistent appraisals and evaluations of the efficiency of the scheme have led to costs way above original estimates. In addition, it has met remarkable resistance from different professional groups within the NHS as it has been seen to erase their unique identities.
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