AN INVESTIGATION OF TRAINING ACTIVITIES AND TRANSFER OF TRAINING IN ORGANIZATIONS

ALAN M. SAKS AND MONICA BELCOURT The purpose of this study was to investigate the extent to which organizations implement training activities for facilitating the transfer of training before, during, and after training and the relationship between these activities and the transfer of training across organizations. Training professionals from 150 organizations reported that 62%, 44%, and 34% of employees apply training material on the job immediately, six months, and one year after training. In addition, their organizations were significantly more likely to use training activities to facilitate transfer during training than either before or after training. Further, training activities before, during, and after training were significantly related to the transfer of training; however, activities in the work environment before and after training were more strongly related to transfer than activities during training. The practical and research implications of these findings are discussed for improving the transfer of training in organizations. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

rganizations spend billions of dollars each year on formal training and development programs (Dolezalek, 2005), with the expectation that their training investments will lead to improvements in organizational performance or results criteria (Salas & CannonBowers, 2001). Results criteria have been referred to as the “ultimate” criteria for training evaluation (Brogden & Taylor, 1950), fundamental for judging training success (Alliger, Tannenbaum, Bennett, Traver, & Shotland, 1997), and the primary

O

goal of training (Kozlowski, Brown, Weissbein, Cannon-Bowers, & Salas, 2000). At the same time, transfer of training continues to concern organizations (Burke, 2001; Ford & Weissbein, 1997; Machin, 2002). Reports indicate that only about 10% of what is learned in training is applied on the job (Fitzpatrick, 2001). This finding presents a serious problem for organizations, given that transfer of training is considered the primary leverage point by which training influences organizational-level outcomes and results (Kozlowski et al., 2000).

Correspondence to: Alan M. Saks, Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, 121 St. George St., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 2E8, Phone: (416) 978-5366, Fax: (416) 978-5696, E-mail: [email protected] Human Resource Management, Winter 2006, Vol. 45, No. 4, Pp. 629–648 © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/hrm.20135

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Therefore, it is important for organizations to incorporate into their training programs strategies to improve the transfer of training. In their review of the last decade of training research, Salas and Cannon-Bowers (2001) described some of the exciting advances made in training research but wondered whether organizational training practitioners apply this knowledge within their firms. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether organizations are implementing some of the practices that have been studied in research on transfer of training. In particular, we examine the extent to which organizations incorporate training activities before, durMost of the ing, and after training into their training programs, as well as the research on transfer relationship between these activiof training has been ties and transfer of training. conducted at the individual level of

Transfer of Training

A major theme in the training literature is the existence of a transanalysis and for a fer problem in organizations (Baldwin & Ford, 1988; Burke, particular training 2001). This problem is serious, as program. it means that individuals are failing to improve their behavior and performance on the job, such that training is unlikely to affect organizational performance (Kozlowski et al., 2000). According to Baldwin and Ford (1988), transfer of training involves the generalization of learning, trained skills, and behaviors from the training environment to the work environment, and the maintenance of trained skills and behaviors or the length of time that trained material is used on the job following a training program. Thus, transfer of training involves both the generalization and maintenance of trained skills on the job. In response to the transfer problem, training researchers have identified and studied strategies that facilitate the transfer of training. However, most of these studies have focused on individual and situational factors or on interventions for improving individual-level transfer of training following a particular training program. For example, a

number of studies have tested the effects of relapse prevention and goal-setting interventions for improving transfer (Burke, 1997; Burke & Baldwin, 1999; Gaudine & Saks, 2004; Richman-Hirsch, 2001; Tziner, Haccoun, & Kadish, 1991). Other studies have demonstrated that a variety of individual and situational variables predict trainees’ transfer of training (Colquitt, LePine, & Noe, 2000; Facteau, Dobbins, Russell, Ladd, & Kudisch, 1995; Ford, Quinones, Sego, & Sorra, 1992; Quinones, Ford, Sego, & Smith, 1995; Smith-Jentsch, Salas, & Brannick, 2001; Tesluk, Farr, Mathieu, & Vance, 1995). Thus, most of the research on transfer of training has been conducted at the individual level of analysis and for a particular training program. However, transfer of training also can be examined at the organizational level. For example, in their review of transfer research, Baldwin and Ford (1988) noted that just as the climate literature has reported differences in the level of support and other climate factors across groups and organizations, there might also be differences in the factors that influence transfer of training (e.g., support) as well as in levels of transfer. They called for transfer research at the organizational level of analysis. More recently, Ford and Weissbein (1997) discussed the need for transfer research from an organizational perspective and suggested that “research is needed that explores transfer not only from an individual program perspective, but also from a departmental and organizational perspective” (p. 38). There have been several attempts to study transfer of training at the organizational level. For example, Holton, Bates, and Ruona (2000) have examined what they term “the transfer system.” According to Holton et al. (2000), the transfer system refers to “all factors in the person, training, and organization that influence transfer of learning to job performance” such as supervisor support, peer support, perceived content validity, transfer design, and opportunity to use new skills on the job (pp. 335–336). Holton and colleagues have conducted a number of studies on the development of an instrument to measure the transHuman Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer of Training in Organizations

fer system and have compared transfer systems across organizational settings (Holton, Chen, & Naquin, 2003). However, this research focuses on a particular training program and has not investigated the relationship between transfer system characteristics and transfer of training. Rouiller and Goldstein (1993) examined the relationship between organizational transfer climate and transfer of training. They developed a measure of organizational transfer climate that consists of situations and consequences that can either inhibit or help to facilitate the transfer of training. In a sample of assistant managers in a large, fast-food chain, they found that organizational transfer climate was significantly related to transfer behavior across 102 units. As noted by the authors, “This is one of the few empirical studies that establishes the importance of a positive organizational transfer climate in transferring training from the training program into the work organization” (p. 388). However, although the data for transfer climate were aggregated at the unit level, the measure of transfer was at the individual level and for a particular training program. Tracey, Tannenbaum, and Kavanagh (1995) studied the transfer of 104 supermarket managers of a supermarket chain. In addition to measuring the organizational transfer climate, they also developed a continuous-learning work environment measure that they defined as “one in which organizational members share perceptions and expectations that learning is an important part of everyday work life” (p. 241). They found that both the transfer climate and a continuous learning culture aggregated at the group level predicted individual managers’ transfer behavior. Thus, although some advances have been made in transfer research at the group level of analysis, the focus has remained on the transfer of individuals following participation in a particular training program rather than transfer at the organizational level. In the present study, we examine training activities, as well as transfer of training, at the organizational level. In other words, we consider transfer an organizational-level Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

631

variable, such that the transfer of training will vary across organizations, as will the activities that organizations incorporate into their training programs to facilitate transfer. This perspective is consistent both with Holton et al.’s (2003) finding that transfer systems differ across organizations and with Rouiller and Goldstein’s (1993) finding that different transfer climates exist in organizations. If such differences exist across organizations, then it follows that transfer of training must also differ across organizations.

Training Activities Before, During, and After Training The transfer literature has identified many activities that are likely to facilitate transfer of training before training begins (pretraining environment), during the actual training program, and after a training program (post-training work environment) (Broad & Newstrom, 1992; Burke, 2001; Machin, 2002; Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). Although one can study these activities as they pertain to a particular training program, in the present study we consider them as part of a larger training system or organizational transfer climate (e.g., Holton et al., 2000, 2003; Rouiller & Goldstein, 1993) that can influence the transfer of training throughout an organization. In the remainder of this section, we discuss training activities at each time period and present the study hypotheses.

…we consider transfer an organizational-level variable, such that the transfer of training will vary across organizations, as will the activities that organizations incorporate into their training programs to facilitate transfer.

Pretraining Activities Some activities that take place prior to training, what Tannenbaum and Yukl (1992) refer to as the “pretraining environment,” are important for transfer of training. One of the most important work environment variables is supervisor support (Baldwin & Ford, 1988; Cromwell & Kolb, 2004; Kraiger, McLinden,

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& Casper, 2004). Supervisor support is a multidimensional construct and can include many actions on the part of supervisors (Baldwin & Ford, 1988). For example, prior to attending a training program, supervisors can provide support to trainees by meeting with them to discuss the training program and content, setting training goals, providing trainees with release time to prepare, and encouraging their attendance and participation (Brinkerhoff & Montesino, 1995). Requiring trainees to be accountable for their training experiences by informing them that they will be required to undergo an assessment or prepare a post-training report also may improve transfer …there is evidence (Baldwin & Magjuka, 1991). Trainee input and involveto suggest that ment in the training process also pretraining activities is important. For example, trainees can be involved in the needs-assessment process and in in the work the choice of training content environment such and methods. They also can be allowed to choose the training proas supervisor grams that they prefer to attend (Baldwin, Magjuka, & Loher, support, trainee 1991), and be given advance notiinvolvement, and fication of training programs that will be available. Finally, training trainee preparation activities prior to training can involve some form of pretraining will improve the preparation to increase trainee transfer of training. self-efficacy and prepare trainees for a training program that they are scheduled to attend (Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). Thus, there is evidence to suggest that pretraining activities in the work environment such as supervisor support, trainee involvement, and trainee preparation will improve the transfer of training. Therefore, we tested the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 1: Pretraining activities will be positively related to the transfer of training.

Training Activities During Training Until recently, most of what was known about transfer of training involved the use of

basic learning principles in the design of a training program (Baldwin & Ford, 1988). For example, identical elements involves providing trainees with training experiences and conditions that closely resemble those in the actual work environment. Stimulus variability involves the provision of a variety of training stimuli and experiences such as multiple examples of a concept or practice experiences in a variety of situations. General principles involves teaching trainees the general rules and theoretical principles that underlie the use and application of particular skills. Also, conditions of practice such as feedback and knowledge of results have been considered important factors in the design of training programs (Machin, 2002). More recently, it has been suggested that interventions can be added on to the training content of a training program for the exclusive purpose of facilitating the transfer of training (Haccoun, 1997). A number of studies have found that post-training interventions such as self-management, relapse prevention, and goal setting can improve transfer (Burke, 1997; Gaudine & Saks, 2004; Richman-Hirsch, 2001; Tziner et al., 1991; Wexley & Baldwin, 1986). Therefore, we tested the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 2: Training activities during training will be positively related to the transfer of training.

Post-training Activities Training activities that take place after a training program (what Tannenbaum and Yukl [1992] refer to as the post-training environment) may influence the transfer of training. This stage of the training process has received a considerable amount of attention in the last several years, as it has been recognized that constraints and obstacles in the post-training environment can interfere with and prevent the transfer of training (Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). Research has found that the transfer climate and an organization’s learning culture are particularly important for the transfer of training (Holton, Bates, Seyler, & Carvalho, 1997; Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer of Training in Organizations

Rouiller & Goldstein, 1993; Tracey et al., 1995). A number of post-training activities following a training program have been identified in the transfer literature. One of the most important is organization support for training in terms of policies, practices, and procedures, as well as social support from supervisors and peers (Cromwell & Kolb, 2004). Post-training follow-up programs such as booster training, buddy systems, and sessions to discuss transfer progress can also be used to facilitate transfer (Baldwin & Ford, 1988; Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). Supervisors play a key role in the posttraining environment by providing feedback, encouragement, reinforcement, goal setting, and by ensuring that trainees have opportunities to practice and apply newly learned behavior on the job (Baldwin & Ford, 1988; Ford et al., 1992; Kraiger et al., 2004; Machin, 2002; Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). Tannenbaum and Yukl (1992) suggest that meetings with supervisors to discuss the relevance of training and to review goals and action plans also might be useful to signal the importance of transfer to trainees and ensuring that trainees are accountable for their use of training material on the job. In addition, posttraining assessments and reports are useful to help facilitate transfer. Therefore, we tested the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 3: Post-training activities will be positively related to the transfer of training.

Differences in the Use and Effects of Training Activities Finally, evidence indicates that organizations differ in the extent to which they use training activities at each time period, as well as the relationship between the activities and transfer of training. First, we expect that organizations most likely will use training activities during training rather than before or after training. The traditional focus of training research and practice has been on the design of training programs and factors in the formal training context (Holton et al., 2003; Noe, 1986; Tracey et al., 1995) Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

633

rather than in the work environment. In fact, principles of effective training design have been known for more than 40 years (Kraiger, 2003), while only recently has there been an emphasis on work environment factors (Baldwin & Ford, 1988; Tracey et al., 1995). The instructional systems design (ISD) model has been the cornerstone for the design of training programs for decades, and a key part of the model is the incorporation Supervisors play a of various instructional events during training (Dipboye, 1997; key role in the postGordon & Zemke, 2000). Furthertraining more, trainers have the most control over those activities and environment by practices that take place during training in the training environ- providing feedback, ment. Thus, we expect that orencouragement, ganizations will be most likely to implement training activities during training rather than be- reinforcement, goal fore or after training: setting, and by Hypothesis 4: Organizations will be more likely to implement training activities during training than activities before and after training.

ensuring that trainees have opportunities to

practice and apply Second, we expect that trainnewly learned ing activities will differ in terms of the relationship with transfer. behavior on the job. In this regard, we expect training activities before and after training to be more strongly related to transfer than training activities during training. This logic is consistent with recent evidence on the importance of the work environment for transfer and the significant findings for various work environment factors predicting transfer of training (Cromwell & Kolb, 2004; Rouiller & Goldstein, 1993; Tracey et al., 1995). In addition, many activities during training are based on learning principles and principles of experimental psychology that have been shown to impact immediate learning and short-term retention on simple tasks in laboratory settings rather than transfer in organizational settings (Baldwin & Ford, 1988). Latham and

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HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2006

Seijts (1997) have argued that the “slavish adherence to the principles of experimental psychology” has “retarded breakthroughs to the positive transfer of training to organizational settings” (p. 371). Thus, while learning principles might improve learning and retention, they generally do not address constraints in the post-training environment that can inhibit the transfer of training (Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). As noted by Baldwin and Ford (1988), learning and retention are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the generalization and maintenance of skills. On the other hand, training activities before and after training do address mo…while learning tivational and behavioral issues in the pre- and post-training work principles might environment and should therefore be more strongly related to improve learning transfer of training. Therefore, our final hypothesis is the following: and retention, they generally do not address constraints in the post-training

Hypothesis 5: Training activities before and after training will be more strongly related to transfer of training than training activities during training.

environment that can inhibit the transfer of training.

Method

Participants

Participants of this study were 150 members of a large training and development society in Canada. Members of the society include training directors, training personnel, HR personnel, and training consultants. Fifty-seven percent of the participants were female, the average age was 42, and 72% of the sample had a university degree. Participants had an average of 4 years in their current job, 10 years in their organization, and 10.5 years working in training and development. The participants represented organizations that average between 500 and 1,000 employees and comprise over a dozen sectors, including manufacturing, service, and government. Forty-two percent of the respondents indicated that their organization produces a product, and 88% in-

dicated that their organization delivers a service.

Procedure Surveys were sent to all members of a large training and development society. Participants were told that the purpose of the survey was to better understand training activities and to improve our understanding of training effectiveness. They were told that their individual survey responses would be anonymous and confidential, and would be seen only by the researchers. They were asked to answer the survey questions as accurately as possible with respect to training in their own organization. Participants were provided with a self-addressed and postagepaid envelope and asked to return the completed survey to the researchers at the address indicated on the return envelope. We received 150 completed surveys out of approximately 1,300, a response rate of 11.5%. Although somewhat low, it is similar to the sample size and response rate for organizational-level studies in both the strategic human resource literature and the training literature. For example, a recent study by Datta, Guthrie, and Wright (2005) on highperformance work systems obtained a usable sample of 132 firms and response rate of 15%, a response rate consistent with other survey-based studies of high-performance work systems. In their study on training and business results, Aragón-Sánchez, BarbaAragon, and Sanz-Valle (2003) obtained a response rate of 9%.

Measures Transfer of Training As indicated by Baldwin and Ford (1988), transfer of training involves both the generalization and maintenance of training material on the job. In order to capture both of these dimensions, participants were asked to indicate the percentage of employees in their organization that effectively apply and make use of what they learn in training programs on the job at three time periods: immediately Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer of Training in Organizations

after training, six months after training, and one year after attending a training program. They responded using a ten-point response scale that ranged from 0 (0%) to 10 (100%). The transfer of training scale consists of the average of the three responses (α = .87). Training Activities In order to first assess the extent to which organizations implement training activities before, during, and after training for the purpose of facilitating the transfer of training, we developed a single item for each time period, asking respondents to indicate the extent to which training programs in their organization include training activities before, during, and after training that are designed specifically to help trainees use and apply the training material when they return to the work environment. Participants were asked to indicate the extent to which each activity is used as part of training programs in their organization using a response scale that ranged from 1 (never) to 5 (always). Specific Training Activities In order to measure specific training activities before, during, and after training, we identified items for each time period based on the activities and actions that have been discussed in the transfer of training literature (e.g., Baldwin & Ford, 1988; Broad & Newstrom, 1992; Burke, 2001; Machin, 2002; Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). We developed a total of 13 items before training, 7 items during training, and 16 items after training. Participants were asked to indicate the extent to which each activity is used as part of training programs in their organization using a response scale that ranged from (1) never to (5) always. In order to examine the factor structure of training activities at each time period, we performed an exploratory factor analysis on all the items at each time period given that we did not have any a priori factors and we were looking for underlying patterns in the data (Tabachnik & Fidell, 2001). Further, because there is no reason to assume that the factors would be related, we performed a Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

635

principal components factor analysis with a varimax rotation. In order to identify meaningful factors, we considered a combination of criteria, such as the size of the factor loadings and cross-factor loadings (factor weights of at least .60 as the minimum cutoff for each item and cross-loadings below .40), eigenvalues greater than 1.0, and whether the factors could be meaningfully interpreted. The results of the factor analyses are shown in Tables I, II, and III for the training activities before, during, and after training, respectively. As shown in the tables, we obtained four meaningful factors before and after training and one factor for …we obtained four training activities during trainmeaningful factors ing. The factors and scale items for each time period are debefore and after scribed below. training and one Pretraining Activities

factor for training

The pretraining activities conactivities during sisted of four subscales that we have named trainee input and intraining. volvement, supervisor involvement, training attendance policy, and trainee preparation. Trainee input and involvement consists of four items that have to do with the extent to which trainees have input and involvement in the training process in terms of their needs, notification and discussion of training, and input about training programs and content (α = .70). Supervisor involvement consists of four items and measures the extent to which supervisors provide support and are involved in the training process prior to training in terms of discussing the training program with trainees, setting training goals, participating in sessions about the training program, and providing employees release time to prepare for training (α = .75). Training attendance policy consists of three items and measures the extent to which the organization has policies regarding attendance in training programs in terms of being mandatory, up to trainees to attend, or if trainees attend training in groups (α = .70). Trainee

–.04 .16 .05 .19

Attendance at training programs is mandatory. (R)

Employees from the same department or functional group are trained together.

Trainees are given preparatory reading prior to attending a training program.

Training programs include activities or assignments that trainees are required to do before they arrive for the actual training program.

.49

Supervisors set goals with employees that focus on improving specific skills before employees attend training programs.

–.23

.18

Supervisors participate in advance orientation or training sessions regarding the training programs to which they will send their employees.

Employees have a choice as to whether or not they will attend any particular training program.

.46

Supervisors discuss the content and benefits of a training program with employees prior to a training program.

.24

.18

–.21

.20

.04

.61

.62

.64

.08 –.01

.06

Employees are given release time to prepare for a training program.

.80

.75 –.01

Employees have input in decisions about training program content and/or methods.

.31

.59

Employees have precourse discussions with their supervisors prior to attending a training program.

.14

.72

–.04

.82

.90

–.17

.81 –.03

–.06

–.03

.26

.25

.15

–.11

.36

.13

.30

Trainee Preparation

.81

–.22

.16

.03

–.18

.05

.23

–.21

Training Attendance Policy

.69

Supervisor Involvement

Training needs of employees are identified prior to training.

Trainee Input and Involvement

.00

Item Loadings on Four Factors of Pretraining Activities

.64

I

Employees are given advanced notification about training content prior to attending a training program.

Items

TABLE

636 HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2006

Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer of Training in Organizations

TABLE

II

637

Item Loadings on Single Factor of Activities During Training Activities During Training

Items Training programs provide trainees with training experiences and conditions (surroundings, tasks, equipment) that closely resemble those in the actual work environment.

.69

Training programs provide trainees with a variety of training stimuli and experiences, such as several examples of a concept, or practice experiences in a variety of situations.

.77

Training programs teach trainees the general rules and theoretical principles that underlie the training content and the use and application of the trained skills.

.66

Trainees are given feedback and information about their performance of the training tasks and material during the training program.

.80

Trainees are rewarded during training for learning and performing training material and tasks.

.71

Trainees leave training programs with a written performance contract with goals to be achieved.

.56

Training programs prepare trainees to cope with obstacles or difficulties that might prevent them from successfully applying the training material when they return to the work environment.

.60

preparation consists of two items that have to do with the extent to which trainees are given readings, assignments, or activities to complete prior to attending a training program (α = .82). Activities During Training As shown in Table II, the factor analysis for the training activities during training resulted in one factor. All seven items had loadings between .56 and .80. The seven items for this scale refer to various design and learning principles, such as conditions that closely resemble those in the actual work environment (identical elements); a variety of training stimuli and experiences (stimulus variability); general rules and theoretical principles that underlie the training content (general principles); feedback and information about performance on training tasks (feedback and knowledge of results); rewards for learning and performing training material and tasks (positive reinforcement); performance contract with goals (goal setting); and preparing trainees to cope with obstacles or difficulties that might prevent them from successfully applying the training materials when they return to the work environment (relapse prevention) (α = .82). Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

Post-training Activities As shown in Table III, the factor analysis on the post-training items resulted in four meaningful factors. These four factors correspond to supervisor support, organization support, accountability, and evaluation and feedback. The supervisor support scale consists of three items that measure the extent to which supervisors provide employees with support, opportunities to practice, and praise and reward for using newly acquired skills on the job (α = .88). Organization support consists of three items that have to do with organization policies designed to support transfer, such as booster sessions conducted after training, availability of resources required to apply training on the job, and performance appraisals that include use of new knowledge and skills on the job (α = .67). The accountability factor consists of two items that have to do with the extent to which trainees are required to submit a posttraining report or participate in an interview or discussion about the training (α = .74). Finally, the feedback and evaluation factor consists of three items that measure the extent to which employees are evaluated or assessed on their learning and use of new knowledge and skills on the job and whether

.84 .88 .29

.31 .06 .20 .15

.22 .19 .14

Supervisors are instructed to praise or reward employees for using newly acquired skills developed in a training program.

Some form of booster session is conducted as an extension of a training program in which the trainer meets with trainees.

Efforts are made to ensure that employees have the resources (e.g., tools, equipment, materials, supplies, etc.) that are necessary in order to apply the knowledge, skills, and/or abilities developed in training programs.

The performance appraisal system considers trainees’ use of knowledge, skills, and/or abilities acquired in training programs.

Trainees are required to submit a post-training report after attending a training program.

Trainees are required to participate in an interview or discussion as part of a follow-up to a training program they attended.

Employees are paired with each other following completion of a training program in order to assist each other by providing feedback and reinforcement to ensure they use the skills developed in a training program.

Employees are evaluated on their use of new skills or knowledge following completion of a training program.

Employees are required to undergo an assessment following completion of a training program in order to evaluate their learning.

Supervisor Support

Supervisors are instructed to ensure that trainees have opportunities to practice and apply newly acquired knowledge and skills after attending a training program.

Item Loadings on Four Factors of Post-training Activities

.73

III

Supervisors are instructed to provide trainees with support to help them use newly acquired skills after attending a training program.

Items

TABLE

.13

.28

.12

.30

–.06

.81

.61

.60

.11

.21

.30

Organization Support

.04

.19

.29

.79

.81

.26

.06

–.09

.01

.26

.22

.83

.75

.65

.10

.21

.08

.20

.28

.21

.14

.13

Evaluation Accountability and Feedback

638 HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2006

Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer of Training in Organizations

they are paired with other employees who can assist them and provide feedback (α = .73). Control Variables We measured a number of control variables that might be related to the transfer of training in organizations. For example, older (year organization was founded) and larger organizations (1 = fewer than 100 employees, 9 = 100,000 or more) might have more sophisticated and more effective human resource systems, and hence their transfer of training might be higher. In addition, organizations that invest more in training (percentage of the organization’s budget devoted to training and development) and have more employees working in training and development (number of employees that work in training and development) might also have a higher rate of transfer.

Results

Transfer of Training To measure transfer of training, we asked respondents to indicate the percentage of employees in their organization that effectively apply what they learn in training on the job immediately, six months, and one year after attending a training program. The results indicate that 62%, 44%, and 34% of employees transfer immediately, six months, and one year after training, respectively. The average of these three values is 47%.

while none of the control variables were related to transfer.

Training Activities Predicting Transfer of Training In order to examine relationships between the training activities and transfer of training, we conducted multiple regression analyses in which we regressed transfer of training on the activities for each time period separately in accordance with Hypotheses 1 to 3. The results are presented in Table V. Pretraining Activities To examine the relationship between the pretraining activities and the transfer of training, transfer of training was regressed on the four pretraining variables (trainee input and involvement, supervisor involvement, training attendance policy, and trainee preparation). As indicated in Table V, the pretraining activities explained 21% of the variance in transfer (p < .001) in support of Hypothesis 1. Examination of the regression coefficients indicates that trainee input and involvement (.27, p < .01), supervisor involvement (.24, p < .01), and training attendance policy (.14, p = .06) were significant predictors of transfer.

The results indicate that 62%, 44%, and 34% of employees transfer immediately, six months, and one year after training, respectively. The average of these three values is 47%.

Training Activities During Training

Intercorrelations of Study Variables Table IV presents the means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations of the study variables. First, it is worth noting that the correlations between the training activities both within and across time periods are in the low to moderate range, and most of them were below .50. This result suggests some independence among the training activities. Second, all of the training activities except for training attendance policy were significantly and positively related to transfer of training, Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

639

To examine the relationship between training activities during training and transfer, transfer was regressed on the activities during training. In order to determine the relative importance of each activity during training, we entered all seven items simultaneously into the regression. As shown in Table V, the training activities during training explained 20% of the variance in transfer (p < .001) in support of Hypothesis 2. Examination of the regression coefficients indicated that the only significant ac-

***p < .001.

**p < .01

*p < .05.

N = 102–150.

7.95

3.28

11. Organization size

10.5

4.73

10. Transfer of training

14. Training staff

2.15

9. Accountability

13. Training budget

2.86

8. Organization support

55.7

2.22

7. Evaluation and feedback

12. Organization age

3.27

3.03

4. Training attendance policy 2.91

2.42

3. Supervisor involvement

6. Supervisor support

3.32

5. Activities during training

2.64

M

1

2

3

–.16

–.03

(.70)

4

.28** .46*** .48*** –.03 .50*** .52*** .10

6

7

8

.55*** .52*** .48*** (.67)

.42*** .46***(.73)

.50***(.88)

(.81)

5

9

26.4

19.5

45.0

1.72

.07

.24*

.13 –.05

.11

–.02

.25** –.05

.03

.22*

–.13

–.09

.02

.01

–.04

.00

2.22 .20** .38*** .39*** .09

.02

.15

–.09

–.02

.01

.12

–.06

–.05

.03

.08

–.04

.09

.39*** .38*** .26**

.07

.01

–.10

–.05

.07

.19

–.04

–.01

.45*** .29***

.94 .40*** .42*** .53*** –.25** .35*** .41*** .44*** .38***(.74)

.79 .24*

.78 .30*** .28*** .46*** .01

1.01

.62 .31*** .57*** .44*** .04

.72 –.08

.76 .42*** .54***(.75)

.69 .38***(.70)

.78 (.82)

s.d.

Means, Standard Deviations, Reliabilities, and Intercorrelations of Study Variables

2. Trainee input and involvement

IV

1. Trainee preparation

Variable

TABLE

.10

12

.45***

.07

–.02

.38*** –

11

.09 –.15

–.17

–.05 –

(.87)

10

.07



13



14

640 HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2006

Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer of Training in Organizations

TABLE

V

Multiple Regression Analyses Predicting Transfer of Training

Pretraining

Training Activities During

Post-training

Pretraining activities Trainee preparation Trainee input and involvement Supervisor involvement Training attendance policy

R2 F

.02 .27** .24** .14a .21 9.68***

Activities during training Identical elements Stimulus variability General principles Feedback Positive reinforcement Goal setting Relapse prevention

.35*** –.03 .06 .05 .04 –.02 .12

R2 F

.20 4.83***

Post-training activities Supervisor support Evaluation and feedback Organization support Accountability

R2 F ap

641

.17a –.01 .32*** .10 .24 10.94***

= .06. * p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p < .001.

tivity was training experiences and conditions that closely resemble those in the actual work environment (i.e., identical elements) (.35, p < .001). Post-training Activities To examine the relationship between the post-training activities and the transfer of training, transfer was regressed on the four Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

post-training activities (supervisor support, organization support, accountability, and evaluation and feedback). As shown in Table V, the post-training activities explained 24% of the variance in transfer (p < .001) in support of Hypothesis 3. Examination of the regression coefficients indicates that organization support (.32, p < .001) and supervisor support (.17, p = .06) were significant.

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HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2006

Comparison of Training Activities In order to examine the extent to which organizations implement training activities at each time period, we asked respondents to indicate the extent to which training programs in their organizations include training activities before, during, and after training that are designed specifically to help trainees use and apply the training material when they return to the work environment. The means and standard deviations for each time period were as follows: before a training program The pre- and post(M = 2.33, s.d. = .85); during a training activities training program (M = 3.25, s.d. = 1.00); and after a training proexplained more gram (M = 2.70, s.d. = .93). Furvariance in transfer thermore, the results of twotailed paired t-tests indicated that than the activities the means across the three time periods were all significantly difduring training and ferent. The extent to which organizations include training acalso explained tivities during training was significantly greater than before significant training, t (146) = 9.26, p < .001, incremental and after training, t (146) = 6.50, p < .001, and the extent to which variance in transfer organizations include activities over and above that after training was significantly greater than before training, t explained by the (144) = 4.06, p < .001. Thus, as expected, organizations are most training activities likely to implement training activities during training in support during training. of Hypothesis 4. To examine the strength of the relationship between the training activities and transfer of training, we performed hierarchical multiple regression analyses in which transfer was regressed on the training activities during training in the first step followed by the pre- and post-training activities in the second step. In this case, the activities during training explained 20% of the variance (p < .001) and the pre- and post-training activities explained an additional 11% of the variance (p < .01). When we reversed the order of entry, the pre- and post-training activities explained 25% of the variance (p <

.001) and the activities during training explained an additional 6% (n.s.). Thus, overall, the pre- and post-training activities explained more variance in transfer than the activities during training and also explained significant incremental variance in transfer over and above that explained by the training activities during training. These results provide support for Hypothesis 5. Overall, the combined training activities explained 31% of the variance in transfer of training.

Discussion Although the transfer of training research has increased over the past decade, few studies have examined transfer of training at the organizational level. Thus, even though the literature continues to report a transfer problem in organizations, little attempt has been made to examine what organizations do to improve transfer and how these attempts relate to their level of transfer of training. The purpose of this study was to investigate the extent to which organizations implement training activities to improve transfer before, during, and after training as well as the relationship between training activities and the transfer of training. Our results extend the transfer literature in a number of important ways.

Transfer of Training For some two decades, researchers have noted the dismal rate of transfer in organizations in what has become known as the “transfer problem” and have continued to report that only about 10% of learning transfers to the job (Fitzpatrick, 2001). Our results suggest that the transfer problem has improved somewhat beyond the 10% figure. We found that 62% of employees apply what they learn in training immediately after attending a training program. However, after six months, only 44% apply the training material, and after one year, only a third (or 34%) are still using what they have learned in training on the job. Thus, while transfer of training is much better than 10%, there remains an obvious decay or relapse of training as early as six months following training. Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer of Training in Organizations

Training Activities Over the last decade, much has been written about how organizations can improve the transfer of training. Numerous activities throughout the training process have been suggested (Broad & Newstrom, 1992; Burke, 2001; Machin, 2002; Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). Although some of these activities have been tested at the individual level of analysis and there is evidence that transfer systems differ across organizations (Holton et al., 2003), no previous study has investigated the extent to which organizations incorporate these activities into their training programs. In their review of the last decade of training research, Salas and Cannon-Bowers (2001) wondered whether training practitioners are applying what has been learned from training research. Along these lines, we wondered whether organizations have implemented training activities developed in the transfer literature to improve the transfer of training. The results of this study indicate that organizations rarely, or at best sometimes, incorporate training activities into their training programs to improve the transfer of training. Furthermore, they are most likely to do so during training rather than before or after training, and more likely to do so after training than before training.

Training Activities and Transfer of Training Although many strategies for improving the transfer of training have been suggested in the transfer literature, most empirical studies have tested the relationship between training variables and individual-level transfer of training for a particular training program. Thus, although some researchers have treated transfer of training as an organizational-level variable in terms of a transfer climate (Rouiller & Goldstein, 1993), a transfer system (Holton et al., 2000, 2003), and a continuous-learning culture (Tracey et al., 1995), no previous study has tested the relationship between training activities and transfer of training across organizations. Clearly, if organizations differ along these lines (i.e., transfer climate, sysHuman Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

643

tem, and culture), then they must also differ in terms of their use of training activities and their overall level of transfer of training. Our results provide support for the contention that organizations differ in their use of training activities, and these differences predict transfer of training. We found that training activities before, during, and after training were significantly related to the transfer of training. In other words, organizations that incorporate training activities to improve transfer before, during, and after training also report higher levels of transfer of training. Furthermore, our results suggest that while training activities during training were related to transfer, activities that occur in the work environment before and after training were more strongly …organizations that related to transfer, providing further evidence of the importance of incorporate training the work environment for transfer activities to improve of training (Cromwell & Kolb, 2004; Rouiller & Goldstein, 1993; transfer before, Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992; Tracey during, and after et al., 1995). In terms of specific training activities, trainee input and involve- training also report ment, attendance policy, and higher levels of supervisor involvement were significant pretraining activities, transfer of training. identical elements was significant during training, and supervisor and organization support were significant post-training activities. The finding that supervisor involvement and support were significant factors both before and after training is consistent with previous studies that have found supervisor support to be important for transfer of training (Brinkerhoff & Montesino, 1995; Cromwell & Kolb, 2004; Facteau et al., 1995). Furthermore, the significant relationships for supervisor and organization support are consistent with Tracey et al.’s (1995) finding that the social support system plays a central role in facilitating the transfer of training.

Research Implications This study suggests a number of directions for future research. One area that needs more attention is on the reasons for the low rates of

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HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2006

transfer. Although the results of this study suggest that transfer is not as low as once believed, it still remains a problem and decreases over time. While many studies have attempted to improve transfer through various interventions, relatively few have sought to understand why it remains a problem. In this regard, more research is needed on both transfer generalization and maintenance. In addition to learning more about why so many trainees do not transfer immediately after attending a training program, we still do not know why those who transfer following training do not continue to do so months later. Baldwin and Ford (1988) have identified a number of reasons, however, and have described five types of maintenance curves. Longitudinal research designs are Our results suggest required in order to examine that transfer changes in the shape and slope of maintenance curves over time. remains a problem This kind of research will provide a much better understanding of in organizations, transfer maintenance and decrements over time, as well as the something that causes and possible solutions. organizations must A second area in need of research is on vertical transfer of address given that training that links the transfer of transfer is a primary training to organizational-level results criteria (Kozlowski et al., leverage point by 2000). This research must measure individual outcomes following a which training can training program and then relate them to group or organizational influence outcomes at some subsequent organizational-level time. This type of study will require longitudinal research and outcomes… multiple levels of data collection that measure both horizontal and vertical transfer at the individual and organizational level.

Implications for Practice The results of this study have a number of practical implications for improving the transfer of training, especially in light of the increasing concern in organizations to justify training investments in terms of improved organizational performance (Salas & Cannon-

Bowers, 2001). Our results suggest that transfer remains a problem in organizations, something that organizations must address given that transfer is a primary leverage point by which training can influence organizationallevel outcomes (Kozlowski et al., 2000). If organizations are concerned about the impact of their training programs on organizational performance, they need to first ensure that their training programs transfer. The results of this study suggest that, on average, some 40% of employees do not transfer immediately after attending a training program, and this increases to about two-thirds one year after training. Thus, organizations must first determine the extent to which transfer is a problem in their organization and then begin to understand why it is a problem and what to do about it. The transfer literature suggests a number of approaches. First, organizations should consider conducting a transfer of training needs analysis (TTNA) in order to first determine the kinds of transfer obstacles that exist in the organizational context for a particular training program (Hesketh, 1997). This analysis should be a starting point in the determination of transfer barriers and for how best to deal with transfer problems. Second, organizations might consider conducting a transfer of training audit (TTA) in order to determine the extent to which training activities like those measured in the present study are currently in place before, during, and after training programs. In this way, organizations can determine when they need to improve and/or what training activities to incorporate into the training process. Our results suggest that training activities at each time period predict transfer so organizations should determine the extent to which they have incorporated these activities into their training programs. Based on the results of this study, organizations are most likely in need of improving training activities in the pre- and post-training work environment. Such activities appear to be relatively rare and yet are highly predictive of transfer. A third approach would be to diagnose the transfer system. Holton et al. (2000) have developed an instrument to measure the transfer system called the Learning Transfer System InHuman Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer of Training in Organizations

ventory (LTSI). It would be useful for conducting a diagnosis of the transfer system in order to identify transfer barriers and the most appropriate solutions for removing barriers and improving transfer. In addition, Rouiller and Goldstein (1993) have developed an instrument to measure the transfer climate, another important factor that has been shown to predict transfer. Their measure of the organizational transfer climate includes items that measure situations and consequences that can inhibit or help to facilitate transfer. Finally, the results of this study indicate that organizations are not doing as much as they can before and after training to facilitate the transfer of training. Our results suggest that organizations can improve the transfer of their training programs by incorporating a number of activities into the training process before and after training. Along these lines, we recommend that organizations ensure the existence of a strong support network for trainees before and after attending a training program. This recommendation follows from our findings for supervisor and organization support as well as the results of other studies that have demonstrated the importance of a supportive work environment for training and transfer (Brinkerhoff & Montesino, 1995; Cromwell & Kolb, 2004; Gaudine & Saks, 2004; Rouiller & Goldstein, 1993; Tracey et al., 1995). A good place to start might be to train supervisors on specific support behaviors and to include such behaviors in their performance appraisals (Kraiger et al., 2004).

Study Limitations A number of study limitations should be kept in mind when interpreting the results. First, because the sample consisted of individuals who were members of a training and development association, they probably represent organizations that place a high priority on training and development. Therefore, the organizations represented in this study are likely to be leaders and innovators in the training and development of their employees. As a result, the findings may not generalize to those organizations that do not consider training as important. In particular, our findings reHuman Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

645

garding the estimates for the transfer of training might be inflated compared to other organizations. At the same time, given the recognition of the transfer problem and the increasing research in recent years, it is also likely that some improvement in positive transfer has occurred. However, such improvement is particularly likely to occur in the type of organizations included in this study. The use of self-report data from a single source also is a limitation that can cause method bias and measurement error. As a result, the relationships between the training activities and transfer of training might be inflated. Additionally, the measure of transfer of training was not an actual measure of transfer but an esA good place to timate based on participants’ perstart might be to ception of transfer across all training programs in their organitrain supervisors on zation. One has to be concerned with the accuracy of this percepspecific support tion given that organizations genbehaviors and to erally do not measure the impact of training on job performance include such and transfer (Blanchard, Thacker, & Way, 2000; Kraiger et al., 2004). behaviors in their On the positive side, we used different scale anchors for the performance measurement of the main variables appraisals. of the study (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). The measurement of transfer involved a different scale from the measurement of the training activities and focused on percentages using a ten-point scale. It is noteworthy that there were differences in the degree to which the training activities were related to transfer, as well as differences in the extent to which organizations reported using the activities at each time period. And while the use of singlerespondent measures of HR practices have been found to contain measurement error, this problem is less likely when knowledgeable respondents are used (Wright et al., 2001). In this study, participants were training professionals with considerable experience in their position and organization. Thus, they are among the most able persons to respond to questions about training activities and transfer of training in their organization.

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HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2006

Finally, this study involved a cross-sectional design that measured all of the variables at one time. Although we have implied a causal relationship in which training activities influence transfer, we cannot support this assertion using cross-sectional data. It is possible, for example, that more successful organizations have sophisticated training programs and higher levels of transfer. However, it is worth noting that neither training budgets nor the number of employees working in training and development were significantly correlated to transfer. Thus, it is not simply the case that organizations that are more successful and spend more on training also have greater transfer. However, longitudinal data is required to test the causal linkages implied by this study.

Conclusion This study has attempted to investigate the extent to which organizations implement training activities to facilitate the transfer of training and the relationship between training activities and the transfer of training at the organizational level of analysis. The main findings of this study are as follows: 1. Transfer of training is substantially greater than 10%; however, it declines by

almost 50% (from 62% to 34%) one year after training. 2. Organizations rarely incorporate training activities into their training programs to improve the transfer of training, and when they do, it is most likely to occur during training rather than before or after training. 3. Training activities before, during, and after training are positively related to the transfer of training. 4. Training activities that take place in the work environment before and after training are more strongly related to transfer than training activities during training. In conclusion, the results of this study suggest that organizations are not making the most of training research when it comes to the transfer of training and that they have much to gain by applying what has been learned from training research. The results provide some answers to Salas and Cannon-Bowers’s (2001) query about the extent to which the science of training affects organizational training practices. Clearly, organizations still have much to learn from the science of training when it comes to transfer of training. We hope the results of this study will help organizations realize the value of training science for training practice and the transfer of training.

ALAN M. SAKS is a professor of organizational behavior and human resources management at the University of Toronto, where he holds a joint appointment in the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, and the Department of Management. He conducts research on job search, socialization, and training, which has been published in journals such as the Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, the Academy of Management Journal, the Journal of Vocational Behavior, and Human Resource Development Quarterly. He is coauthor of Organizational Behaviour: Understanding and Managing Life at Work and Managing Performance Through Training & Development, and author of Research, Measurement, and Evaluation of Human Resources. MONICA BELCOURT, BA, MA, M.Ed, PhD, CHRP, is a past president of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario (HRPAO), past director of the School of Administrative Studies, and the founding director of the graduate program in human resources management at York University. She created Canada’s first degrees in human resources management: B.HRM (honours) and a master’s in HRM (www.atkinson.yorku.ca/mhrm/). She is the series editor for the ITP Nelson Canada Series in HRM, lead author of Strategic Human Resources Planning, and the lead author of the best-selling book Managing Human Resources, published by ITP Nelson (www.belcourt.nelson.com).

Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer of Training in Organizations

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Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

An investigation of training activities and transfer of ...

lars each year on formal training ... training material on the job immediately, six months, and one year after ..... Hypothesis 2: Training activities during training ...... Psychology, the Academy of Management Journal, the Journal of Vocational ...

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