Training and Development Needs in Multi-Year Donor Projects- A Case StudyIntroductionTraining and development in organizations is one of the essential tools that help organizations and individuals alike perform better. The degree of training and development needs may vary between organizations. However, organizations should not ignore the existence of such a need, especially when managers think they have recruited the best employees. The case is no different in multi-year projects of donor agencies.
This case examines one of the multi-year projects in Jordan, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Aid, USAID. The Jordan Fiscal Reform II Project (FRPII) is a five-year project (2009-2014) which is implemented by DAI, an American company that operates globally. The project aims at reforming the fiscal policies in Jordan to help this developing country grow its economy. The project??™s primary stakeholder is the Ministry of Finance and its departments, in addition to other public sector entities that handle the drafting and implementation of fiscal policies. The project sixty five staff members consist of local and expatriate consultants, the latter being typically DAI non-Jordanian staff. Both types of consultants work either on site with the ministry and its departments, or offsite through the project??™s main office. Other non-technical staff are also hired in the project to provide administrative and logistical support, in a way similar to that of other permanent organizations.
The structure and hierarchy of the team is pretty well-defined, with semi-autonomous component teams working to support a specific public sector entity, and a cross-cutting team that provides support to all components, especially in centralized areas of work such as finance, event management , monitoring and evaluation, and overall project management.The employees must fill monthly timesheets with daily hours worked, which then get billed by DAI to USAID. The filled time sheets should therefore reflect time doing work (Personnel Manual).
It is considered illegal to bill hours trained as hours worked, except by official approval from USAID. Employees are also subject to annual performance reviews, which usually result in a decision about annual increment, setting next year??™s objectives, as well as a professional development plan. Each manager is responsible for submitting completed performance evaluation forms of his or her staff to upper management, after consultation with the employee. The function of human resources management is not identified in the organization structure. However, upper project management reviews and approves these forms as they are received. The follow-through of goal achievement and professional development plans then becomes a task of the manager and employee. Thus, the organization in the case study was formed to fulfill a set of objectives of the donor agency to grow the capacity and efficiency of a public sector organization.
Employees in the organization are project-based, and know upright when they sign their annual contracts that this assignment will end after a specific number of years. In this organization, the total number of years is five. And so an employee that joins the project in its second year will have less than four years of project assignment. Despite the ???temporary??? arrangement for employment in such projects, employees in donor projects often get affiliated with the implementing private sector company, and are usually considered the company??™s employees. Simultaneously, the private sector company considers these employees as experts who were hired by the company to help implement the project and without any commitment beyond the project. Most of these employees are hired locally, while upper management is consisted of company employees who get assigned to the project as part of their position requirements within the company.
So here we have two types of ???employees??? on this project: project staff and company personnel. The reason we need to make this distinction is that these different categories are viewed differently by both the donor agency, and the implementing company, in terms of their eligibility to funds for training and development. The implementing company does a local search of talents and skilled personnel to join the project .
This process usually results in finding team members who have a certain level of expertise and are presented for approval of the donor agency based on their expertise. When candidates present good potential but no prior experience, they are hired first as interns and then presented as qualified implementing staff. In between the two categories: employees with high expertise and those with no expertise, lies a middle category of employees with moderate expertise for conducting less complicated tasks with moderate skills and abilities. The key point in this type of arrangement is the word ???expertise???. The local staff, of all three categories, is hired because they are ???experts???, and because they are experts, they arguably do not need training and development.
In fact, the company is not allowed to spend any amount on training its staff out of donor??™s money. The company is however, allowed a budget to organize annual retreats for staff, and usually embeds one-size fits all training into the retreat. While the project offers extensive training and capacity building opportunities for the public sector organization, it does not do so for its staff, because of many constraints. In addition to the fact that funding staff training is not allowed through the project budget, spending billable staff hours on free training is also not allowed and needs special permission . This case study sheds light on the needs for training in such temporary organizations and ways to meet these needs.
The hypothesis is that employees in such organizations still need training, just like employees in other regular organizations do. Literature ReviewEmployees working for consulting firms are a good example of knowledge workers (Mullins, p. 280). In his discussion about the motivation of knowledge workers, Tampoe argues that they seek intellectual, personal and professional growth (Wang & Ahmad, p. 8). When applying this argument to Lawler??™s expectancy theory (Mullins, p. 273), we conclude that if knowledge workers can achieve these desired outcomes through exerting effort, then their level of motivation to perform will rise.
One of the ways to realize these ???desires??? of knowledge workers is through offering competent tasks that can be mastered through proper training and development. Another argument is presented by Seijts and Crim in their Ten C??™s of Employee Engagement, where they identify career as a way to engage employees (Seijts and Crim, p. 4). Having the opportunity to develop one??™s career partially fulfills the process of seeking professional growth which was identified by Tampoe. One such way is by setting stretch goals for employees (Mullins, p.
277), which can act as motivators for exerting effort that results high performance. But it would not be fair to provide this opportunity without providing the needed tools and knowledge (ibid). Thus, training and development are closely associated with managing knowledge workers. Training and development decisions tend to stem from management recommendations. According to Drucker, part of the managers??™ job is to develop people (Mullins, p. 432). And so it is customary in organizations to have managers, sometimes in consultation with the employee, determine what training is needed for his or her employees to perform a better job.
It can thus be argued that if a manager does not perform this role of developing people, then the management function becomes incomplete and potentially inefficient. As well, Drucker identifies motivation as another basic operation of management. Therefore, in pursuit of effective management, it is not surprising when managers of knowledge workers request training and development for their subordinates, both to fulfill their role as managers as well as to motivate them.
The result of managing knowledge workers by providing them with training opportunities goes beyond pure management techniques, they also help retain these workers as found by Amar and Drucker (Wang & Ahmed, p.8).The nature of donor projects tends to be evolving. As recognized by USAID officials , a donor agency may request fulfilment of certain objectives, the bidding company will respond with a set of strategies to meet these objectives and by the time project implementation phase begins, new challenges are presented on the ground, requiring adjustment of strategies and plans (Jaradat). In order to overcome these challenges and successfully adapt new strategies, the implementing partner should have dynamic leadership and staff members that can adapt to unexpected change. Otherwise, the grave result of failure to meet objectives will jeopardize the company??™s ability to win future bids with the donor agency.Thus, the concept of a learning organization comes into play.
Not only do learning organizations outlive their competition, but they also do so with potency (Senge, 1993). Learning organizations are as much about individual learning as about collective or team learning (ibid). But in the case of organizations that hire highly competitive knowledge workers, the issue at hand becomes not only providing a learning environment, but also effectively designing such learning environment to produce desired outcomes.
One effective way with knowledge workers could be the double-loop learning (Argyris, p.4). What can essentially be argued here is that training and development in evolving organizations that are characterized by knowledge workers is essential.
Furthermore, it should better yield an outcome of collective learning rather than just individual learning and growth. In fact, Argyris may argue that failing to guiding highly skilled people yield increased acts of defensiveness and thus cripple organizations??™ innovation and ability to learn (Argyris, p.6)In this context, training and development of individuals is not in of its own a goal, but a tool to achieve organization goals and objectives. Thus, the importance of aligning training and development with organization objectives emerges (Biech, p. 52). It is thus important to give high priority to training and development programs that yield better outcomes for the business, and link these with individual progress needs.
The back tracing approach of identifying business objective first and then tracing it back to team and individual needs may yield better alignment between training efforts and business objectives. However, it could be thought that it is demotivating if employees do not find themselves part of training programs that they strongly feel about attending or those that they originally listed as their preference. The result of lack of sufficient motivation may be training ineffectiveness (Abulaziz and Ahmad, p. 55). However, studies have found that training motivation increases when employees are assigned to attend a training program when compared to their motivation when attending training of choice (Tai, p.52).
This issue of demotivation can be also mitigated by the way management frames the training and by assigning capable employees to training programs (Tai, p. 53). That is, trainee motivation to learn can be achieved by having managers encourage employees to attend a training, and providing them in advance with information about the training they are assigned it. Another factor relevant to training and development in organizations is the generation Y factor. In a survey conducted jointly between the London School of Economics and CIPD, it was found that organizations most identifiable attribute of generation Y employees (born after 1980) is their ???expectation for managers to be highly engaged in their professional development???, the second most identifiable attribute was the need to balance work with lifestyle and family (Birkinshaw and Pass, p. 7).
Thus, organizations that hire generation Y employees are compelled to address this attribute if they are to become innovative. The survey report even suggests that organizations should do so innovatively. That is, to approach training and development should be innovative, such as the bite-size approach for training (Birkinshaw and Pass, p.9).
Another approach to training could be just-in-time training which can be designed to both meet the expectation of generation Y employees and the pressing needs of the organization (Armstrong, p.577).Training employees, whether in highly specialized domains or in generally broad areas, may place an organization of this type in a prisoner??™s dilemma (GMBA Module 2, 2011). The organization, which is build around a multi-year project, may be training its employees as a strategy for retention, only to find employees being poached by other similar-type projects or organizations that can use such skills. The probability of poaching becomes notable especially in the last twelve months of the project, which are typically characterized by employee drainage as staff members, knowing that the project will end in a year or less, begin searching for job security elsewhere.Since the nature of employment can be relatively ???short-termed???, this adds yet another barrier to training and development (ibid). Realizing training return on investment in many cases happens on the long term (Ridley, p. 63).
Thus, with a project that runs for roughly five years, it becomes more difficult not only to retain employees who may already start looking for jobs elsewhere, but also to measure ROI, especially if training is to take place later in the project, say on the third or fourth year.MethodologyThe case study data gathering methodology included primary and secondary data collection methods. Primary data was collected through a questionnaire and interviews. Secondary data was collected through the personnel manual and observations.
The Questionnaire The questionnaire consisted of nine questions about training and development. The questions asked about employees??™ desire to develop their skills, the reasons for that, their preferred training setting and most needed areas of training, whether they believed such training should be offered by their organization and whether they thought they were under-trained. The questionnaire also asks about perceived difficulty and under utilization of one??™s skills in their job. The target group was selected based on the following criteria:- Junior to mid-level employees, with the exception of one participant who, a few days after filling the survey got promoted to a director level.- Medium to advanced knowledge of training- A representative from each project component The reason for the selected staff level is to focus on generation Y employees who compose the majority of staff.
The sample did not, however, exclude staff members who were born before 1980. As well, the target group had to have a certain level of understanding of training and development in order to self-guide themselves in filling the survey. Therefore, fifteen out of the twenty target group members are members of the training and capacity building advisory committee, which represents the various functions and components of the project. This committee meets regularly to discuss training-related issues in the project, which makes its members knowledgeable enough to answer the questionnaire independently. The rest of the sample members are staff members who work in the project head office, supporting various functions across the project. Questionnaire ResultsThe questionnaire was distributed to a group of twenty employees in the organization to be filled independently and anonymously. Fifteen employees responded to the questionnaire.
The questionnaire is designed to measure attitudes towards training in general and prevalent training preferences in terms of methods and topics. When asked about desire to enroll in formal training to learn new skills and ideas, eleven respondents strongly agreed and the rest agreed. But when asked whether they had many underutilized skills in their current jobs, the majority either agreed or strongly agreed, while only two disagreed. The employees were also asked whether they would like to learn skills unrelated to their current job, and the vast majority either agreed or disagreed, while only one respondent said they were unsure. The entire sample either agrees or strongly agrees with the notion that the organization should provide them with training that is related to their job. When asked whether they had not received enough training in the past year, six strongly agreed, six only agreed while two disagreed and one strongly disagreed. The questionnaire also asked respondents about whether they thought their job was a lot easier than they had originally anticipated, and the responses show that nine out of fifteen respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed, while four either agreed or strongly agreed, and two remained undecided. When respondents were asked to rate the top two reasons for wanting to develop skills, it was found that these were improving job performance and staying marketable.
Another dominant reason was to get promoted. Regarding preferred methods of training, respondents believed in formal training sessions the most, followed by self-paced learning through reading and watching podcasts, on the job training, e-learning and interest group meetings. As for the top needed areas of training, respondents identified project management skills as the top priority, followed by IT skills, verbal communication skills, written communication skills and other such as time management and anger management.
Analysis of ResultsWhile the majority of respondents thought their skills were under-utilized in their jobs, the majority still disagreed that their jobs were easier than they thought. This indicates a possible mismatch between actual skills and job requirements. The result of this is the need to retrain employees on skills related to their jobs. This is evident in the results when respondents were asked whether they would like to train in skills related to their jobs, where the majority strongly agreed and the rest agreed.
This result could also be in support of knowledge workers??™ appreciation of job competence, while at the same time demanding professional development to meet the job requirements. The term knowledge worker also implies a wide range of skills which can be easily underutilized simply because rarely does one job utilize a wide range of skills.The majority also ranked the top reason for wanting to develop their skills is to improve their job performance.
This could further support the conclusion of a possible mismatch between skills and job duties. The mismatch could be in technical issues rather than general skills. Given the project??™s approach in recruiting and hiring candidates, the focus is usually on hiring for attitude . During the interview process, the candidate is not tested for technical skills, but rather asked about experiences in general and overall opinions about working with government employees. One of the reasons for this approach could be that positions in the project tend to be unique and rarely found elsewhere.
The second most reason for seeking training and development is staying marketable. This reflects the embedded job insecurity which accompanies employees working in projects, knowing in advance that their engagement with the organization will eventually be over. By keeping an eye on the future, and working in positions that underutilize their skills, employees find themselves stressing about leaving the project without enough skills to find another job. What is interesting is that while all respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the organization should provide them with training, the majority also ranked self-paced and on the job training as their second and third preferred methods of training, respectively. The first choice was structured training.
This choice could be explained because the employees may be influenced by the methods of training offered through the project to government employees, which is mainly characterized by attending in-class and structured training, usually within work hours. But the second and third choices are not that common around them, yet seem to have a special preference. This is in line with generation Y??™s attribute to balance work with family, where employees do not want work obligations to interfere with their life and family time.
The selected general areas of training indicate that prevalent preference is for project management, which is at the core of the organization??™s operation. Such training could be viewed as essential by respondents because successfully managing projects requires a team of people who know the principles of project management. This allows teams to work in more harmony with each other.
InterviewsThree semi-structured interviews were held with three people to get their views of what is going on in terms of staff training in the project. The first interview was held with the deputy chief of party, the second with the administration manager and the third with the IT administrator. The deputy chief of party could provide upper management??™s view of staff training. The administration manager could provide a viewpoint from the stand of a manager who wants to train her team, and IT administrator could provide in depth look at the case of those who have a high need for staying marketable. Interview with Deputy Chief of Party (DCOP)When asked about the way management views training in the project, the DCOP said that management would like to train staff because they have been requesting training. To do so, the management tried to secure training budget from the company??™s head office, since no project budget can be allocated for routine staff training and development. This budget amounts to USD10,000 for the year, which is minimal given the size of the project.
She added that the management??™s concern now is how to spend the budget wisely in order to justify requesting additional budget for next yearWe don??™t want to end up training employees in areas that do not yield direct benefit to the project. We are receiving a number of training requests from employees but are just not sure about their relevance nor priority. We basically don??™t want to end up raising people??™s expectations and then under-delivering training and development programsWhen asked about how relevant did she think the professional development plans for each employee were for determining who gets what training, her answer was: ???it depends on whether the training can help us get immediate results???. Thus, aligning the training with business objectives becomes an inherent need in this case, especially if the management is to present a case for additional budget next year. Interview with IT AdministratorThe IT administrator is a classic case of employees who experience under utilization of skills. With a broad variety of IT certificates, the IT administrator is finding himself busier with mundane tasks than the more complex tasks he had aspired for. I have so many certificates that in a year or two, if I don??™t get to practice what I learned, I will simply lose my skill. This job is comfortable, it pays well and gives me more time for family.
Yet, I know that after four years, employers will ask me what did you do in your last job, and I would be embarrassed to tell them the truthA member of generation Y, the IT administrator values the life-work balance which the project offers, but at the same time, feels that management should engage in developing his skills more, in order to help him find another job when the project closes down. Interview with Administration ManagerThe administration manager supervises seven employees. As support services staff, they are considered the least technically oriented staff. However, driven by desire to fit with the rest of the staff, the team recently requested their manager to offer them training in financials for non-financial managers. The argument was that since they get exposed in their work to financial requests and issuing proposals, they would like to be able to better understand this side of work. Their manager, feeling the responsibility to develop her staff, prepared a proposal to upper management requesting this training for her subordinates, on the terms that they use some of the budget allocated for training. The management response came back negative and the training request was turned down.
During the interview, the administration manager expressed her confusion as to what was the real reason They told us, managers, to check what our staff training needs are, and when I did that and came back to them with a proposal, they turned it down, without even giving me a reason. No my staff feels under-skilled and unmotivatedRecommendations- Managers should focus on motivating employees to attend training that is linked to organization objectives.- Training and development should be part of the manager??™s job description.
And in order to fulfill the mandate of management, managers should be made knowledgeable about training availability and priorities.- It is important to fulfill the knowledge workers??™ needs for professional development programs, and this can be done in alignment with organization objectives. – The professional development plans should be aligned with organization objectives before they are approved- Designing development programs that suit the preferences of generation Y; i.e short sessions that are spread over a long period of time. This also meets organizational limitations of reporting project working hours as training hours. By doing so, the likelihood of poaching that results from training will decrease- By training employees in areas mainly related to the business, and using the just-in-time approach, as opposed to general areas of training and randomly selected times for training, the ROI can be and quicker to measure.
As well, the circle of potential poachers will be narrowed to competitors in the same field. In donor projects it is less likely to run multiple similar-type programs unless another donor agency does so.ConclusionOrganizations that implement donor projects on a multi-year basis develop a structure and dynamics that are similar to that of regular organizations. Managers of teams become concerned about motivating their employees, and seek project management approvals for training programs. Employees, who are largely characterized as knowledge workers, and to some extent belong to generation Y, need their organization management to address their professional development needs.
While the organization is short-termed in nature, it can develop innovative approaches to training, such as bite-size or just-in-time training to both realize quick ROI and to satisfy development needs among its staff. Adopting such approached decrease the likelihood of poaching as a result of training and development. The professional development plans should also be aligned to project objectives and not left for managers to decide on randomly. The management can then play an important role in framing the training as important, thus increasing employee learning motivation. This framing fosters development of smart people and creates grounds for a learning organization that can adapt to the changing circumstances surrounding the project.?References1- Mullins, L. Management & Organisational Behaviour, Pearson Education Limited, ninth edition, 20102- Armstrong, M.
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