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Abstract: Staff Development

Facilities organizations in particular confront changes in technological, legal, and environmental issues and workplace demographic shifts that can lead to shortages of skilled workers. The organizational and staff development discipline addresses the process of identifying organizational objectives and thus the needed employee knowledge, skills, and abilities. Staff development encompasses education, learning, and training to provide staff members with needed skills to meet job demands and support outcomes.

Identifying Staff Development Needs and Priorities

Because of their expertise, frontline supervisors and their staffs (not training or human resources staffs) should be primarily responsible for identifying staff development needs, should send a clear message (by example) of the value of staff development, and should enforce and reward the learned skills on the job.

Prerequisites to Identifying Staff Development  Needs. Many forces affect identification of development needs and program implementation, including organization strategic initiatives (and associated critical success factors) and accurate job descriptions (including regular reviews) aligned with such initiatives.

Assessing Staff Development Needs. Staff development is an outgrowth of events such as job- specific new employee orientations; new workplace technologies; changes in workflow, processes, or structure; new legal requirements; and emerging trends in the facilities industry. Budget pressures are placing higher expectations on fewer employees, so staff development is even more important for organization success. The key to staff development is a proactive approach (e.g., consider all possible developments; review common performance measures; implement problem-solving groups; perform a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT) analysis; and apply a skills matrix (see Figures 1.10a and 1.10b).

Identifying Performance Gaps. The most common approach to staff development needs identification is analysis of causes of performance gaps (differences between ideal and actual performance), which requires specified performance expectations and some form of review. Such  gaps sometimes are obvious, but they can  be caused by factors other than knowledge or skill deficiencies (nontraining performance issues).

Conducting a Needs Analysis. An individual needs analysis helps identify staff development activities necessary or needed to close a performance gap. The most common and easiest methods are unannounced observations in the workplace, employee interviews, and historical data reviews. The best method depends on resources and confidentiality concerns but always requires planning and well-structured questions. A needs analysis helps managers specify current performance levels, organizational climate, division procedures to be improved, goals and objectives, and useful training content. Needs analyses are not overly involved (managers can consult with staff development or human resources experts if a more in-depth department analysis is needed). The final product, individual staff development plans, are included in annual reviews to set specific goals and measure progress against those goals and organizational strategic initiatives.

Figure 1.10a. Human Resources SWOT Area Maintenance Unit

An Area Maintenance Unit of a facilities Maintenance and operations department has asked its problem-solving team to look at the training implications within the department as a starting point for consideration of next year’s training needs. The team has come up with the following analysis:

Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats
New area manager Staff focused too much on fire-fighting maintenance Issues versus preventive activities Energy conservation team coming in to review building usage and systems Most experienced area mechanic retires next year
Stable department workforce Two new trainees recruited Access to new computer-based training Budget issues that may impact workforce full-time employees (FTEs)
Good morale Safety team not fully effective New HVAC system implementation planned for coming year Wage rates not competitive

Source: Human Resources Development, John Wilson, ed., 1999

Figure 1.10b. Skills Matrix, Pipefitter




Employee Name



Heating/Cooling Coils Installation




Trap Installation



Refrigeration Piping Installation

Water and Steam Distribution Piping and Control Equipment  


Sink and Commode Installation








Sheet Metal Work


Read and Interpret Blueprints and Drawings

Dale Briggs C C C C C T C UE
John Blitz UE UE N UE UE N UE C
Tony Phipps T N C UE UE N UE C

Key: C = Competent; T = Undergoing Training; N = Needs Training; UE = Under Evaluation

Source: Human Resources Development, John Wilson, ed., 1999

Staff Development Intervention Options

To execute staff development  plans,  activities  are tailored for individuals, groups, or entire organizations. Many options are available. A 2007–2008 study by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) noted that organizations cite instructor-led courses, on-the-job training (OJT), and continuing education courses as top formats used  for skills training and professional development; in contrast, employees cite OJT training, coaching or mentoring, and university courses as very effective. The efficacy of instructor-led courses thus should be reviewed.

In-House versus Outsourced Training. The decision to outsource training (bringing experts onsite or sending staff offsite) depends on a magnitude of objectives, available time and resources, internal training skills, and recognition that employees can spot a trainer without specialized real-world experience like theirs, bringing trainer credibility and effectiveness into question.

Planned training must be weighed against ease of using Internet resources and e-learning (via  individual  access or a report).

Classroom versus Electronic or Computer-Based Training. Budget reductions mean offsite training is not as affordable, but employees need to remain current on new techniques and technologies and maintain legally required licenses and certifications. Thousands of self- paced online courses (many formats) are available, most often for health and safety, leadership and management, customer service, and quality management training. The WSJ-SHRM study noted that more institutions rely on e- learning to train workforces, but fewer employees prefer this format; this might change as more technologically savvy generations enter the workforce and as advancements in mobile technologies accelerate just-in- time (pulled) instruction. Creating and delivering e-learning in-house is time consuming and costly but more relevant, site specific, and effective, so a simple cost-benefit analysis might be warranted.

On-the-Job Training. OJT can include brief toolbox safety meetings at the beginning of shifts, internal talent showcases, live talk shows, job shadowing, formal mentoring, job aids, cross-training, departmental conferences, rotating job assignments, OJT projects, employees as teachers, and shared knowledge.

Mentoring and Coaching. Research suggests that employees (especially women and minorities) who have mentors are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs  and careers. Formal mentoring programs are more structured, often with a fixed time period, specified needs, mentoring contracts, and midpoint evaluations (with a no-fault separation option). Volunteer mentors should have coaching skills and support the  organizational culture and performance standards.

Trainers, employees, and supervisors should be trained in mentoring. Employees also can seek or accept internal or external advice (informal mentoring), which can be encouraged by creating opportunities (e.g., committees, project work groups). Organizations and employees can collaborate to identify the best staff development investments.

When Is Training Not Appropriate as a Staff Development Intervention?

Many factors affect employee performance, so managers must not choose training to correct a non- training issue. In general, training is not the answer if the employee can do the job in a life-or-death situation.

Critical Skills for a Changing Workforce: Organizational Focus for Future Staff Development

Organizations that identify technological, demographic, and facilities-specific trends (which have a large impact on required workforce skill mix) can take a more proactive approach to staff development.

Targeted Skills. According to the WSJ-SHRM study, employers place greatest weight on employee adaptability, flexibility, critical thinking (increasingly important with more distributed organizational planning and decision-making), and problem-solving skills. They most often offer tuition reimbursement or invest in training and development to improve such skills. Critical thinking skills must be both learned and practiced, with clear expectations and follow-ups (using tools such as Internet resources, e-learning, and in-person and in- house facilitated training). Managers also can interview for these traits in new hires.

Knowledge Retention and Capture for an Aging and Retiring  Workforce.  WSJ  and   SHRM   workplace forecasts continue to view baby boomer retirement and skilled worker shortages (complicated by the rapid pace   of technological change) as significant issues for facilities organizations. Institutions are attempting to retain valued-employee know-how and best practices (e.g., interview employees, have them  make  how-to  videos and notes, encourage them to mentor or be on call, conduct departure interviews  to  capture  soft knowledge). Organizations also  should  look  at departures as opportunities (e.g., to innovate, redefine  the organization or services, reinvent the culture, reemphasize staff development, update knowledge).

Leadership Development. Doing more with fewer people makes leadership development more important. Needed leadership talent and skills can be identified by focusing on critical skills, experience, and talents to deliver results; gaps between current and projected needs; and engagement and motivation. A common approach to leadership coaching combines job experience, mentoring, coaching, and formal learning; some organizations use a thematically cascaded training program that teaches the same general concepts to managers at all levels (senior, middle, and first) but also  is tailored to each level. Examples include cross- functional and general experience associated  with success  at  each  manager  level.  Leadership development activities are most effective when the organization explicitly focuses on learning and allots resources (e.g., coaches, development programs).

Common characteristics of good leaders include relating well to people, taking charge in a crisis, being results oriented, and accepting feedback. In-house leadership development programs are relatively inexpensive and foster such characteristics.

Making the Business Case for Staff Development: Measuring and Evaluating Effectiveness

The business case for staff development is particularly important when travel and training expenses are targeted because of tight budgets. Aligning staff development with strategic plans and initiatives makes cuts more difficult. Organizations need to track investments to measure results (e.g., investment level, time required, realized value, participant reactions).

Most administrators  measure  staff  development success in terms of institutional benefit (e.g., increased productivity, reduced costs), although a lack of correlation could be caused by a needs analysis flaw or other factors. Sample returns include increased production and quality; decreased time required; proficiency; reduced errors, absenteeism, and improved relationships. Sample investments  include  finances, time, reputation, and relationships.


Leaders can encourage employee development by encouraging learning at all levels (e.g., use personal development as a key performance objective, foster cross-disciplinary and post-project learning, match needed competencies to incumbent skill inventories, keep subordinate development and advancement as a metric for assessing leaders, maintain close ties between hiring managers and recruitment professionals, monitor performance appraisal tools for trends, and consider knowledge management programs.

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