Article: Understanding the role of trainers in empowering the employees

Employee Engagement

Understanding the role of trainers in empowering the employees

"It's not the tools you have faith in. Tools are just tools, they work or they don't work. It's the people you have faith in or not - Steve Jobs
Understanding the role of trainers in empowering the employees

Today organizations, be it public or private are facing fierce competition, there is a lack of resources and the technological changes are happening at a fast pace. This clearly means that organizations have to engage in strategic planning that helps them to survive in the market not just for the current time but for the long run. Management plays a very important role in the realization of these goals. Therefore it is not surprising to see that the search on the part of management educators and trainers for the most effective ways to train and develop managers and officials has gathered such a pace. 

The American Society of Training and Development (2012) estimated that US companies spend over $150 billion annually in learning initiatives. However, many HR departments still face the challenge of justifying and defending these investments, in large part because their impacts on objectives like financial and operational performance, customer satisfaction, and turnover are often distal and indirect (Aryee et al., 2012).  There are enormous amounts spent in training and development and many organizations are keen on evaluating the effectiveness of their training programs, as the organizations are keen on knowing whether the amount they are spending on training programs are actually helping them reach their stated achievements (Tai, 2006). The primary goal of any training program is to impart to employees a new set of KSAs, behavior, or attitudes; training effectiveness refers to the extent to which the training objectives are achieved (Tai, 2006). 

One very important aspect for any organization that wants to achieve higher levels of employee involvement, flexibility and market responsiveness is employee psychological empowerment (Mathieu et al., 2006). Psychological empowerment is understood as ‘increased intrinsic task motivation’ (Thomas and Velthouse, 1990) and it has been shown to enhance the effectiveness and performance of individuals and work units (Aryee et al., 2012). Hence understanding the concept of empowerment in the work settings also helps to locate the empowerment literature with the literature on training in work settings (Arthur et al., 2003; Cheung & Chan, 2012). The existing studies have repeatedly identified organizational factors as important sources of increasing levels of empowerment (Mathieu et al., 2006). One such antecedent that is able to enhance the perception of empowerment of work units includes certain sets of human resource policies, such as special training activities (Kirkman and Rosen, 1999; Mathieu et al., 2006).  Cross training (i.e. training colleagues for other jobs within their own work unit) and formal team training (i.e. team members were asked if they think that their teammates are well trained in team skills that are important for their work)   at the collective level has been shown may lead to an increased collective psychological empowerment.

Trainers play an important role in terms of empowering employees at the workplaces. Empowerment is a construct shared by not just one but many disciplines and arenas such as community development, psychology, economics, studies of social movements and organizations among others. The way empowerment is understood depends on the kind of perspective one takes into consideration. In recent empowerment literature, the meaning of the term empowerment is often assumed rather than explained or defined. Rappoport has noted that it is much easier to define empowerment by its absences but very difficult to do so in action as it takes on different forms in different people and contexts. One cannot simply define the subject without being subject to debate. Zimmerman (1995) clearly states that one cannot have a set definition of empowerment because if one does that then it would be very formulaic going against the very concept of empowerment.

Employee empowerment is very important to the process of organizational change because empowerment fulfills the individuals need for a sense of control. This is a particularly critical need for an individual during the time of organizational change because the larger forces of changes that the organization has to face are usually beyond the control of the individual. Employees can be empowered by providing them with opportunities to influence decisions, promoting their motivation and hence reducing their resistance toward organizational changes (Mathieu et al., 2006)

The available literature has continuously identified organizational factors as an important source for increasing levels of empowerment (Mathieu et al., 2006). One such factor that is able to enhance the perception of empowerment of work units includes certain sets of human resource policies and one of them is special training activities 

(Kirkman & Rosen, 1999; Mathieu et al., 2006). Cross-training (i.e. training colleagues for other jobs within their own work unit) (Kirkman and Rosen, 1999) and formal team training (i.e. team members were asked if they think that their teammates are well trained in team skills that are important for their work) (Mathieu et al., 2006) at the collective level have been found to lead to an increased collective psychological empowerment.

Individual training participation relates to the perceived empowerment of whole work units and it is done through two distinct processes.

First, the processes subsumed under the area of shared mental models (Mohammed & Dumville, 2001) or shared cognition (Cannon-Bower & Salas, 2001) is likely to translate the effects of individual empowerment training into collective empowerment perceptions. As such work-unit members make use of shared mental representations regarding work unit-related information (including tasks, working relationships, or situations) and transform individual knowledge, perceptions, or cognitions into work unit-wide characteristics. Group members who are initially exposed to new ideas, knowledge and new ways of thinking during the training program could have a positive influence over the entire work unit in the second step. 

Companies seeking to retain a competitive edge need employees able to provide a competitive focus; training is an important link in empowering employees with such attitudes, so as to make application as well as the acquisition of knowledge the bedrock of competitive advantage (Gilleard, 1998). As such employers need trainers capable of delivering cultural change concepts, performance enhancement, and core competencies to help maintain organizational resilience; line managers need trainers capable of focusing on the most appropriate change management activities and skills development to enhance their department’s efficiency and effectiveness; trainers too need peers who are capable of encouraging them and supporting their enabling training strategies. 

A trainer is one of the most important elements in any training program. And the key attribute of a trainer must be the knowledge he/she possesses on the subject of the program. However, mere possession of knowledge is not sufficient; the trainer must be articulate enough to reach out to the participants with the concepts being covered in a program. The results obtained have important implications for trainers as well as for the organization conducting training program; these findings prompt us to delve into what all attributes of a trainer are significant in training effectiveness. Is a trainer merely an instructor in a lecture-based training program or beyond? Many times even the best of knowledge cannot be imparted to learners due to lack of expression. An effective trainer must be one who is able to put forth his/her ideas to the participants in simple words, duly coupling them with real life and relevant illustrations. This is where an in-house trainer would have a definite advantage over an external trainer, in bringing about a real example from within the organization itself, which would be much easier to comprehend by the participants. Further, a trainer must have the prowess to link the various concepts discussed during a session, thus ensuring continuity of the modules and coherence of the concepts covered. Increased usage of examples, charts, figures and audio-visual aids may further strengthen association in the minds of the participants, thus ensuring greater retention of what is learned. 

However, the trainer should also be cautious as to whether such aids are being used in excess or not; these should be taken merely as an aid to teaching, not as its substitute. Class exercises must be relevant; they should also be challenging enough to induce the participant to think, and yet enjoy the task. An interesting aspect of adult learning is that adult learners bring their own experiences from life and perspectives in the training sessions. A trainer must encourage the participants to contribute to the discussions in the course and thus adopt an inclusive approach. The trainer may adopt ‘‘reflective listening’’ to encourage group involvement; frequent feedback may also be used to clarify and expand on trainee contributions and to enhance trainees’ understanding of the content and concepts. Further, a trainer must be conscious of the fact that it is not possible to know the answers to all the questions, and that there is no one answer to a question. 

Hence a trainer must himself/herself be a learner in any training program, by being open to new insights provided by learners on any topic, sometimes from their own job experiences. The findings also indicate the significance of interpersonal skills of a trainer in ensuring training success; trainers must develop a working alliance with trainees in order to increase the commitment of trainees to the program. The items on trainer attributes in the study were so selected that the results are applicable to training programs across organizations. The results provide an indication as to which attributes of trainers need to be emphasized while designing similar program. The findings would also help in deciding on whether to have in-house experts as trainers or hire professionally qualified trainers from external agencies.

“As we look ahead into the next century, Leaders will be those who empower others”- Bill Gates


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Topics: Employee Engagement, Learning & Development

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