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The skills and knowledge of the workforce are now at the heart of both organizational and national strategies for economic success in a competitive global economy. Facilities organizations in particular are challenged by changes in technological, legal, and environmental issues as well as workforce demographic shifts that can lead to shortages of skilled workers. This environment might be why the top actions that organizations are taking or planning to take in response to economic and employment trends involve education, learning, and training initiatives.1

The process of identifying  organizational objectives and consequently the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by the employees of the organization to carry out those objectives is at the heart of the organizational and staff development discipline. Specifically, “organizational and staff development includes the process of enhancing the effectiveness of an organization and the well-being of its members through planned activities designed by an organization to provide its members with the necessary skills to meet current and future job demands and unite and advance the business objectives of an organization.”2 The scope of the organizational and staff development discipline encompasses education, learning, and training components, including organizational effectiveness and process improvement, organizational structure and job design, ongoing performance and productivity initiatives, and organizational learning. However, the primary focus of this chapter is on staff development, or how facilities organizations can provide staff members with the necessary skills to meet current and future job demands and support organizational outcomes.

Specifically, this chapter explores the what, when, where, why, and how of staff development:

  1. How are staff development needs identified?
  2. What types of staff development interventions are available?
  3. When is training not appropriate as a staff development intervention?
  4. Where should organizations focus future staff development efforts?
  5. Why make the business case for staff development?

Identifying Staff Development Needs and Priorities


As noted in the following excerpt from a respected facilities organization’s training and development policy (and also in Figure 1):

“The overall responsibility for the development of people lies within an organization’s operational units and results from an effective performance management system where supervisor and staff member discuss and identify developmental needs.  This is an ongoing process with periodic establishment of mutual goals for personal development.”3

Figure 1. Facilities Training and Development Policy

The overall responsibility for the development of people lies within the facilities operational units and results from an effective performance management system in which supervisor and staff member discuss and identify developmental needs. This is an ongoing process with periodic establishment of mutual goals for personal development. The key organizational expectations for training and developing staff members are as follows:

  • Supervisors and managers are responsible for maintaining knowledge of applicable industry standards related to their areas of operational responsibility and for training their staff members to those standards.
  • Supervisors and managers are responsible for identifying the skills and knowledge (both technical and organizational) needed by staff members to complete the duties within their area of responsibility to support the organization’s strategic initiatives.
  • Supervisors and managers are responsible for serving as the development coach for all staff members reporting to them.
  • Supervisor and each staff member will create and discuss a training and development plan as part of the annual performance appraisal process, and as needed additionally throughout the year.

Source: University of Iowa Facilities Management Training and Development Policy, 2006.

This statement implies that the primary responsibility for staff development in an organization (or at least in this organization) lies with frontline supervisors working together with their staff members to identify development needs. A perception often exists in organizations that the identification and fulfillment of staff development needs rest with a training officer or other designated member of a human resources or staff development unit. Although a training and development function or role in an organization can add value to staff and organizational development efforts, a supervisor or manager relinquishing control of the development of staff members to someone in another segment of the organization would, in effect, remove the expert from the process. Who better to identify staff development needs than the individuals closest to the work, tools, processes, environment, and customers?

Not only is the supervisor’s or manager’s role to work with employees to identify development needs, it also is management’s role to send a clear message, by example, that staff development is a valued workplace activity. Most employees will do what is valued by their supervisors and upper management. Value is added by providing adequate funds, materials, staff, and time away from the job site as well as supervision to ensure that the skills learned are enforced and rewarded on the job. Without support and reinforcement from all levels of management, even the best designed and facilitated staff development effort will fall short of its goals.

Prerequisites to Identifying Staff Development Needs

To outline supervisory and staff expectations for staff development in a policy statement is one thing, but to actually fully understand and engage in the process is quite another. In reality, a number of forces are at play with regard to the identification of staff development needs and the implementation of programs to support those needs.

First are the strategic initiatives of the organization. Has the organization engaged in a process of identifying its key strategic initiatives and areas of effort? In addition, has the organization identified the critical success factors needed for the strategy to work? Critical success factors are those factors that are essential to the organization achieving its strategic initiatives.4 If a strategic planning process has not been completed and communicated throughout the organization, it is difficult (if not impossible) to fully align employee knowledge, skill, and ability needs, and thus performance, with the strategic direction of the organization. Supervisors and staff members are left to make a best guess with regard to where to focus and prioritize staff development efforts, leaving the organization with a scattered and ineffective staff development program.

In addition to having complete and communicated strategic initiatives, organizations must have accurate job descriptions for employees that reflect job duties and the competencies needed to perform those duties. This requirement means that a regular review of job duties and descriptions should take place as a part of an annual (or more frequent, if job duties change) evaluation or appraisal process. Again, if the job duties and the competency requirements that go along with those job duties are not aligned with the strategic initiatives of the organization, it will be difficult to identify skill gaps and implement staff development activities that add value to the employee and the organization.

Assessing Staff Development Needs

Staff development needs come as an outgrowth of many different events: (1) job-specific orientation for a new employee; (2) introduction of new technologies in the workplace; (3) changes in work flow, processes, or structures; (4) new legal requirements; and (5) emerging trends in the facilities industry. Each of these events offers opportunities to engage in a process of staff development. In addition, many of today’s facilities organizations have been charged with decreasing staffing levels to cut costs. Not only do our organizations consist of far fewer employees, but the expectations placed on these individuals in terms of their effectiveness are much higher. This tighter focus on individual contribution means that the identification of staff development needs has become a far more critical element in determining organizational success.

The key to identifying staff development needs is to take a proactive approach. The following are suggestions for staying ahead of the curve by proactively seeking out potential staff development opportunities:

  1. Consider everything new that is proposed in the foreseeable future, such as new products, processes, or methods; new technologies; new pieces of equipment; new legislation; new and transferred employees; new procedures or standards; and new customers. Smarter organizations will review training implications before rather than during the implementation of anything new.
  2. Review common performance measures — including work output, accident rates, absenteeism, customer complaints, warranty costs, and quality costs — that indicate where things are going wrong. Trends in any of these areas can identify staff development opportunities.
  3. Implement problem-solving groups. These are groups in an organization that work on critical incidents or failures in the organizational system. Thus, they can be valuable sources of information on areas where development needs might be occurring (e.g., unit-based safety committees).
  4. Undertake a strength-weaknesses-opportunities-threats (SWOT) analysis (as illustrated in the example in Figure 2). This easily applied analysis asks a supervisor or team to consider the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats relating to a specific situation. A great value of a SWOT analysis is that it is more than just a snapshot — it is a forward-looking analysis that can raise a number of training issues. In the example in Figure 2, the new area manager faces a number of changes within the department, including budget challenges, new building systems, and some staff changes. A number of issues related to the spread of skills in a department must also be addressed.
  5. Apply a skills matrix, another useful instrument that incorporates employee job competencies as outlined in the job description.  This tool provides the supervisor with a snapshot of the current skills status in the department and therefore shows where development needs exist. An example of a simple matrix showing broad competence areas is depicted in Figure 3. The matrix can be enhanced to give more qualitative information on the level of competence by using a categorization such as the following:
    • Can do job only with reference to job instructions or supervisor
    • Can do job without reference to instructions or supervisor, but not always to agreed-on output and quality standards
    • Can do job to prescribed output and quality levels
    • Can do all of the above and can train others

    The skills matrix provides a valuable instant picture of where skills are distributed in a department and serves as an excellent visual management tool.

Figure 2. 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:

New area manager Staff focused too much on fire-fighting maintenance issues versus preventative 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 Resource Development, John Wilson, ed., 19996

Figure 3. 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 Welding 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 Resource Development, John Wilson, ed., 19997

Identifying Performance Gaps

Perhaps the most common and useful approach to determining staff development needs is through the identification of performance gaps. A performance gap is the difference between an employee’s ideal performance and actual performance. Such gaps usually are obvious, although the causes might not be. An analysis of performance gaps requires first that the performance expectations of a job have been identified (through a thorough and accurate job description or performance appraisal instrument, as referenced previously) and second that some form of review takes place with the employee using those performance expectations. Without these two key elements (required and actual performance), an analysis cannot take place. Even when these elements are in place, it can be difficult to evaluate individual staff development needs. For example, a new area mechanic is receiving a six-month appraisal. The supervisor has identified a satisfactory match between the performance expectations and the mechanic’s actual job skill performance. These factors include the following: applies necessary safety precautions in working with electrical, steam, or mechanical equipment; performs periodic inspections of electrical, mechanical, steam, and plumbing equipment in assigned areas; troubleshoots and repairs malfunctions in electrical equipment, appliances, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, heating, air conditioning, and ventilating equipment controls in assigned areas; and so on. Here, the area mechanic is utilizing both the required skills and required knowledge to perform the job role. No training gap is perceived. The supervisor, however, is dissatisfied with the mechanic’s attitude toward customers. The mechanic appears unfriendly and does not reflect the department’s customer service expectations. Are the supervisor’s expectations about the area mechanic’s attitude fair, and how can they be measured? Is training required in this case? What is a possible staff development solution?

A performance gap can be caused by factors other than knowledge or skills deficiencies. In the mechanic example, additional training might not be the answer; however, a conversation and education by the supervisor with regard to expectations for customer interactions might be required. In other situations, asking one simple question can help determine what an appropriate staff development solution might be: What is causing the problem? Understanding the cause could eliminate the nontraining performance issues from the performance gaps that do require additional training. Therefore, when looking to identify development solutions, managers should first rule out obvious causes other than knowledge and skills deficiencies. (Also see the Section 4, When Is Training Not Appropriate?)

Conducting a Needs Analysis

If and when a performance gap is identified for an employee, an individual needs analysis can be conducted to determine what types of staff development activities are recommended that will enable the employee to do the job (or do the job better, as the case may be).

There are a number of ways to conduct an employee development needs analysis. The most common and easiest to administer for frontline supervisors include the following:

  • An unannounced observation of the workplace
  • A carefully prepared interview with the employee
  • A review of historical data (analyzing documents)

The method that works best in any given situation will depend on the available resources and confidentiality concerns. Whatever method is selected, careful planning and well-structured questions are required. For example, appropriate questions to identify a solution to a performance gap include the following: What tasks do you perform or need to perform? What keeps you from correctly performing those tasks? What suggestions do you have to improve task performance?

A thorough needs analysis will help managers and supervisors do the following:

  • Determine current employee performance levels
  • Understand the reasons for current performance
  • Recognize the organizational climate
  • Analyze and improve departmental procedures
  • Establish goals and objectives
  • Identify useful training content

An individual employee development needs analysis should be an integral part of a supervisor’s performance management plan and should not be overly involved or difficult. If a more in-depth, comprehensive unit or department-wide needs analysis is necessary, supervisors should consult with their staff development or human resources department for additional support and assistance.

At the conclusion of the needs analysis process, an individual staff development plan can be developed for each employee of a work unit. This plan can be included as part of the annual appraisal process to set specific goals for training and development progress. The plan then can be used to measure against those goals in review of the past year’s performance and to identify how those goals might relate to meeting the organization’s strategic initiatives.

Staff Development Intervention Options


Once a staff development plan has been identified and put in place for employees or units of an organization, the plan must be executed. A number of intervention options are available for supervisors, managers, and organizations. Activities must be tailored or targeted to individuals (based on training or career development needs or desires), groups (work units, supervisors, job classifications), or entire organizations (change management, policy training, and so on) to address the variety of needs identified.

To identify staff development programming that best meets the needs of individuals, groups, or organizations, consider this: In a joint study by the Wall Street Journal and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted in 2007 and 2008,8 the top three formats in which skills training and professional development were provided or paid for as an employee benefit were as follows:

  • Instructor-led workshops or courses
  • On-the-job (OTJ) training
  • Continuing education courses

Interestingly, when employees were asked to name the training formats they found most effective, the largest percentages rated OJT, coaching or mentoring, and university or college courses as “very effective” skills training formats. Therefore, a review of the effectiveness of the often-popular instructor-led workshops might be needed to determine whether that format offers the intended staff development benefits and results.

In-House versus Outsourced Training

The decision on whether to outsource training (either by bringing in experts from outside the organization to conduct training programs or sending employees to offsite locations where training is conducted by field experts) depends on the magnitude of the organization’s objectives and the amount of time and resources it has to accomplish them. The organization must decide whether it has the internal capacity to handle training effectively, whether it can do the job without exceeding the budget required, and whether training is the best use of the department’s or organization’s financial resources.9 Many organizations are realizing that they do not have the specialized skills on staff to deliver training to employees effectively. In addition, employees might be quick to discount a trainer’s ability to present information effectively based on the trainer’s lack of real-world experience with the topic. If the trainer selected has not been in the employee’s position, the credibility of the trainer as well as the effectiveness of the training will be questioned.

Another consideration when reviewing the advantages of in-house versus outsourced training is that the Internet now offers a wealth of information and resources that previously did not exist for organizations. The value of any planned training activity must now be weighed against the ease of access to the same information online or through other e-learning resources. Many organizations are now asking the question: Why spend time and energy creating in-house training programs or spend time and money sending staff to external training programs if the information is available to staff via online resources? Assigning a talented and dedicated employee to look for Internet resources on a particular topic or problem and then to present findings and solutions to the supervisor (or better yet, a group of coworkers) can be as effective as assigning an in-house trainer (or hiring an external trainer) to do the same thing.

Classroom versus Electronic- or Computer-Based Training

During budget reductions, attending a three-day offsite conference is an expense many organizations can no longer afford. It is still essential, however, for employees to learn the latest techniques and technologies that support an organization’s strategic initiatives (not to mention maintaining legally required licenses and certifications required for job performance). Fortunately, thousands of self-paced training courses are available online. Organizations can select the best training tools for their employees, whatever their needs might be. Research shows that online training courses are used most often for the following training topics:10

  • Health and safety
  • Leadership and management
  • Customer service
  • Quality management

Online subject matter can be presented in any number of formats. A basic safety course, for example, might be a 20-minute video that imparts site-specific requirements. At the other end of the spectrum, an interactive course might teach a highly complex set of skills through a simulation approach.

More organizations are relying on e-learning to train their workforces. One-half of the respondents to the SHRM workforce study mentioned previously reported that their organizations offered skills training through online tutorials and guided programs more frequently than in 2007. Interestingly, only one-third of employees reported an increased preference for this skills training format now compared with two years ago.11 However, as younger generations enter the workforce (generations that have been brought up on computers and e-learning technologies), a shift to more e-learning technologies likely will occur. In addition, advancements in mobile technologies are increasingly being used for bite-size on-demand and focused training and performance support applications. These advancements have accelerated the trend for just-in-time learning via “pulled” rather than “pushed” instruction.12

Another approach to e-learning is to create and deliver e-learning content in-house. Although content creation takes time, customer-created content is more relevant and site specific and therefore more effective. A simple cost-benefit analysis can be conducted (considering per-course cost, time spent completing online training, and training effectiveness) to help supervisors and organizations determine whether online training is the right fit and value for an organization.

On-the-Job Training

As mentioned earlier, staff members tend to prefer OTJ training experiences or coaching and mentoring arrangements that provide real-world development opportunities. There are a number of ways to engage employees in OTJ training:13

  • Conduct “tool box” safety meetings. These tool box safety meetings are popular ways to facilitate health and safety education and training programs. These meetings are conducted at the beginning of each shift for about 15 to 20 minutes. Tool box safety meetings — which can include safety videos of less than 10 minutes, demonstrations, and posters — can provide effective health and safety development opportunities as well as meet many of OSHA’s site-specific training requirements.
  • Highlight internal talent. Engage staff in presenting an overview of a recently well-done project or work assignment to a group of coworkers. Employees who attend learn techniques, and the showcased employee or team gains recognition.
  • Create a live talk or radio show. Have one or two top employees answer carefully thought-out questions in talk show format. By having the message come from one of their own, employees learn about best practices for specific job duties.
  • Implement job shadowing. Job shadowing involves more than just following a colleague around all day. Shadowers view the company from a different perspective and learn firsthand about the challenges facing employees in other units or departments. This perspective helps employees realize the impacts that their decisions have on other groups in the organization.
  • Create or expand formal mentoring. See the next section, Mentoring and Coaching.
  • Develop teachers throughout the organization. Allow more senior employees with an area of expertise to teach the less experienced workers. Find employees who have the desire and ability to teach; invest in those people.
  • Resurrect job aids. Laminated posters and small reference cards help employees find information quickly. A job aid can be as simple as enlarging a form and adding reminders, such as, “Did you remember to add this information here?”
  • Invite leaders and customers to make presentations. Inviting leaders and customers from across the organization to present information on topics related to their functions in the university organization will allow employees to reflect on how their job duties affect the greater mission of the organization.
  • Cross-train. Employees who have more than one skill become more valuable and flexible.
  • Host interdepartmental conferences. Many times in organizations, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Work gets duplicated or takes longer because employees are unaware of knowledge existing elsewhere in an organization. Introducing members of one department to those in another builds networks to share information.
  • Rotate job assignments. Such arrangements boost engagement and knowledge transfer. (Be sure that employee collective bargaining agreements allow for such assignments.)
  • Develop OTJ training projects. Stretch assignments to give employees a chance to learn while on mobile technology doing real work.
  • Share knowledge. Create an online bulletin board, e-mail discussion list, blog, or other intranet forum for employees to share best practices and ask for help.

Mentoring and Coaching

Organizational mentoring programs can offer many advantages to new employees or employees aspiring to new or different roles in an organization. Research suggests that individual employees who have mentors on the job are more likely to have greater job and career satisfaction.14 Mentors are important for everyone, but they are even more important for people from nondominant groups who face barriers to advancement. Proponents of formal mentoring programs argue that such programs can level the playing field, giving women and minorities the kinds of relationships that nonminorities benefit from in good-old-boy networks.

Formal mentoring programs tend to be structured, often with a fixed time period, and are designed to meet certain needs. Formal mentoring programs should clearly address who they are targeting and why. A formal mentor is like a job coach and offers the mentee a sounding board, somewhat like a manager. Training should be provided for employees, mentors, and supervisors in a formal program with regard to what mentoring is and is not. Mentoring contracts to list expectations such as when and where the pair will meet as well as appropriate and inappropriate topics for discussion should be completed. Midpoint evaluations should take place and, if the relationship is ineffective, a no-fault separation should occur between mentor and mentee. The selection of mentors should be scrutinized. Mentors should be individuals from the organization who are selected for their coaching abilities and not necessarily for their performance; they should be true volunteers.

Informal mentoring occurs when employees seek or accept advice from individuals they admire in or outside the organization. Informal mentoring can be encouraged by creating environments for employee interactions, such as committees or project work groups. Mentoring experiences can naturally flow out of such environments, without direct organizational intervention.

Regardless of whether your organization has a formal mentoring program, development opportunities can be created to match employees with other individuals in the organization who can provide effective informal mentoring opportunities. The key is to select individuals who will support the organizational culture and performance standards set by the supervisor. In no way should a mentor be expected to take on the role of supervisor.

There is no one-size-fits-all program for delivering staff development interventions. Engage your workforce to determine the best answers. By working closely and collaboratively with the employees who have the learning needs, organizations can better identify the biggest return on their staff development investment.

When Is Training Not Appropriate as a Staff Development Intervention?


It is one thing to learn and possess knowledge of a topic, but applying that learning is another. Thus, learning has limited value unless it is put into practice. As philosopher and naturalist John Ruskin has said, “What we know, or what we believe, or what we think, is in the end of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.”15

Employee performance is based on a variety of factors. Consider this scenario: A facilities director is concerned that more than 50 percent of work request forms coming from employees in the unit are completed incorrectly. The director hires a trainer to conduct training for all personnel processing work requests. The trainer spends four months developing and facilitating a course. During the next three months, the “problem” appears to be corrected, but by the fourth month, all progress is lost. Finally, the director asks an employee, “What’s the problem?” The employee replies, “The process is complicated and time-consuming. It can take nearly a month to get a work request processed. I’d rather you be upset with me than have the entire campus angry, so I cut corners.”

As mentioned previously, when evaluating performance gaps to determine an appropriate staff development intervention, supervisors can make the mistake of mandating or requesting training for nontraining issues. In the work request example, it is not that the employees lack the skills or abilities to complete the work request form properly, but rather that the process is cumbersome and interferes with the employees’ ability to provide what they perceive to be quality customer service to their constituents. It is the form and the process that should be evaluated in addition to the performance expectations of the employees. Training as a solution would not be warranted in this example.

Another question can help determine whether training or another more appropriate staff development intervention is required: Can the employee do the job in a life-or-death situation? If the answer is yes, education and training are not the solution. For example, an employee who at one time performed job duties successfully is now not meeting standards for work output. If the employee was at one time qualified for the position, the employee cannot suddenly become unqualified. Retraining the individual on job duties is not necessarily the answer. Other questions must be asked to determine what is preventing the employee from performing the duties that at one time were performed successfully: Has the person done the job well before? Is the employee physically capable of performing the duties, or does an accommodation need to be made? Is the job meaningful to the person? Are the expectations of the position clear, or have they changed? What are the consequences of not performing satisfactorily? What feedback is being given to the employee? Does the employee have the proper tools and equipment to perform the job duties? Is there an incentive for the employee to complete the job properly? Exploring the answers to these questions with the employee often can lead to nontraining solutions.

As most organizations know, training by itself cannot solve every performance problem, no matter what type of training is provided. If an organization is not getting the results it needs from its training programs, the programs must be evaluated to find out why. The organization should take a good look at processes for employee selection and performance management to ensure that they are adequate and that the employees being trained have the capacity to do what is expected of them.

Critical Skills for a Changing Workforce: Where Should Organizations Focus Future Staff Development Efforts?


Technological, demographic, and facilities-specific trends can have a large impact on the changing skill-mix needs of a facilities workforce. For example, employees who once vowed never to use a computer have found themselves required to utilize computers for a variety of work tasks. State and federal laws now require many facilities trades employees to be licensed or certified to carry out their normal work assignments. A dramatic shift in emphasis to issues of the environment, sustainability, and renewable energy requires organizations and the employees of those organizations to take a new approach to work performance and serving customer needs. Organizations that identify such trends can take a more proactive approach to staff development and better position employees to meet future challenges.

Targeted Skills

In keeping with the rapidly changing pace of technological and environmental trends, key findings of the joint SHRM and Wall Street Journal study indicate that, overall, employers placed the greatest weight on employee adaptability and flexibility and on critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. In response to such trends, the second most common overall action that organizations have taken is to invest more in training and development to boost employee skills. (The most common overall action was to offer tuition reimbursement.)

Critical-thinking skills have grown increasingly important as organizational planning and decision making become more distributed in organizations. Frontline employees are now expected to make good decisions that are in the best interests of the organization, sometimes with limited information. So, what options do organizations have with regard to providing staff development opportunities that will improve their employees’ abilities to analyze, reason, and communicate effectively? Although some might question the ability to teach or train things such as flexibility and problem-solving skills (nature versus nurture), as with any staff development intervention, the value is not just in the formal exchange of information. Rather, the value comes primarily from the application and practice of the topics.

A number of e-learning and Internet resources can help employees sharpen critical-thinking skills, react swiftly and positively in the face of organizational change, and so on. In addition, most organizations have access to a number of in-person and in-house facilitated training sessions on these topics. If supervisors and managers are willing to invest the time for employees to participate in training activities related to increasing adaptability and critical-thinking skills and then to give employees the opportunity to apply what is learned (and make mistakes along the way), such attributes can be developed. As always, if the activities are to add value, clear expectations and follow-up evaluations with regard to how employees are using these important skills must be established. A number of evaluative instruments and behavior-based interviewing techniques can be used during the recruitment and interview process to help supervisors evaluate these traits in new hires. The human resources staff can be consulted about the available tools.

Knowledge Retention and Capture for an Aging and Retiring Workforce

The large numbers of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) who are likely to retire around the same time continue to be a significant issue facing facilities organizations in particular. According to the SHRM workplace forecast “Top 10 Workplace Trends for 2013 and Beyond,” the issues of a shortage of skilled workers and a large number of baby boomers leaving the workforce at around the same time came in at numbers three and four, just behind the continuing high cost of employee health care coverage and implementation of health care legislation. Compared with previous SHRM and Wall Street Journal workplace forecast surveys, this issue moved up to number two on the “Top 10 Workplace Trends 2008-2009,” second only to the continued high cost of health care in the United States.

Although baby boomer retirement is certainly a large cause of employee knowledge loss (and a significant one), organizations also can see technology changes occur so quickly that even younger employees leaving an organization might take with them information that cannot be replicated easily.

With many facilities organizations facing the challenge of information walking off the job, the task of how to prevent valuable information accumulated on the job from getting lost in the transition has become a top priority. Many organizations are finding ways to retain employee know-how and best practices so that the information can be passed on to future workers.16

Strategies for tapping into or capturing and documenting employee knowledge can take a number of forms:

  • Interview employees and keep written records of their answers
  • Make employees stars of their own how-to videotapes
  • Encourage workers seen as experts in special areas to mentor other employees or to remain on call after their departure dates
  • Ask key employees to take notes on what they have learned during their tenures that was not already documented
  • Structure interviews with departing workers to elicit employees’ soft knowledge

Taking the information gathered from long-term top performers in this manner provides excellent information for the future development of new and existing employees.

A note of caution should be made regarding what may be an overconcern with the loss of institutional knowledge as a result of baby boomer retirements. Although the departure of an employee with, say, 30 years of institutional knowledge can be difficult to recover from if not planned for in advance, the issue might not be as detrimental if the employee is a 30-year employee with 30 years of average (or at times below average) performance. In some organizations, employees with long tenures have become experts at getting the work done but not necessarily experts at getting the work done the right way, looking for new or innovative solutions, or keeping up with the latest in technological advances and processes. Long-term staff departures can provide opportunities for organizations to reinvent the work culture, redefine service expectations, and reemphasize staff development as a means to find new and innovative solutions to age-old problems.

Leadership Development

As facilities organizations struggle with doing more with fewer positions, leadership development has become increasingly important. More and more, organizations are turning to existing internal staff to fill gaps in key leadership areas. Matching leadership development with organizational strategic initiatives should be a given, but relatively few organizations actually do it or do it well.17 The leadership talent and skills needed in an organization can be found by responding to three overarching questions:

  1. What are the critical skills, experiences, and talents we will need in our leaders to deliver results?
  2. Where do we have gaps between what we need and what we have today?
  3. Do we have the needed level of engagement and motivation?

Answers to these questions can help build an effective leadership development curriculum in an organization. A combination of job experience, mentoring, coaching, and formal learning is a commonly used approach to leadership coaching. In addition, many organizations that have implemented successful leadership development programs utilize a “thematically cascaded” training program. Such programs are designed to put all leaders on the same page with regard to general skills and expectations but then tailor training to each level in succession. Everyone is taught the same general concepts and content, but the curriculum is differentiated for the needs of senior, middle, and first-level managers. First-level managers might focus on increasing organizational capacity, team-building, and coaching skills while middle managers might focus more on orientation to business strategy (translating strategic initiatives into objectives for their work units) as well as development of communication, decision-making, and other management skills. Senior managers might become more involved in business simulation exercises to learn how to clarify strategic intent, drive organizational results, and understand customer and competitor economics.

In support of the cascaded approach to leadership development, Personnel Decisions International, a Minneapolis-based leadership consulting firm with more than 30 offices worldwide, conducted a study of 4,600 employees. The study revealed that specific developmental experiences best prepare leaders at different levels.18

First-level leaders are more likely to achieve success if they already have cross-functional experiences. Examples include the following:

  • Standardizing processes and procedures within and across organizational units
  • Improving the quality of products or services
  • Redesigning or reengineering a major operating procedure or process
  • Handling projects requiring direct participation of parties within and outside the organization
  • Managing projects and teams that include participants from a number of units or functions throughout the organization

For mid-level leaders, previous challenging experiences that contribute to success include the following:

  • Being involved in turning around a struggling organizational unit
  • Playing a part in the negotiation of a labor agreement
  • Helping an employee overcome performance difficulties
  • Developing a team
  • Managing an organizational unit in which a high level of distrust exists among managers and direct reports
  • Phasing out a major function or unit within the organization

For directors and executives, previous experiences that affect success include the following:

  • Making a highly visible, risky decision in a situation in which failure would have significant consequences, such as large financial losses
  • Resolving a crisis situation
  • Restructuring business investments
  • Starting a new department, division, or function
  • Taking over an organizational unit in which corruption existed

Employees engaged in leadership development activities tend to grow more from their experiences when the organization has an explicit focus on learning. Resources such as coaches and development programs can facilitate learning, encourage leaders to seek feedback and reflect, and foster success in developing leaders to their highest potential.

Experts agree that individuals who will become good leaders share common characteristics, including relating well to people, taking charge in difficult situations, being results oriented, and being open to feedback. A number of existing leadership development approaches can assist current and future leaders in acquiring and fostering these characteristics. Many university campuses have in-house leadership development programs to help organizations develop new and existing leaders. These programs can be a relatively inexpensive way to develop leadership skills.

Organizations that are able to develop current and future leaders and that allow these leaders to engage in opportunities to apply their strengths and the information learned through leadership development programs (such as those outlined previously) will be best positioned for future organizational alignment and success.

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


In tough economic times when budgets are tight, it is especially crucial to be able to make the business case to support staff development activities. The budget cycles of many facilities organizations tend to have a significant effect on the delivery of staff development interventions. When there are pressures on budgets, travel and training expenses are seen as relatively easy targets because the consequences are not immediately apparent. Therefore, the value of aligning staff development needs with organizational strategic plans and initiatives is that it becomes more difficult to argue that cuts should occur in the training and development budget.19

For example, if an organization has an expectation that employees will obtain and maintain a certain number of certifications or licenses but subsequently cuts a percentage of travel and training from its budget, employees might not be able to maintain such licensure on their own. If a strong business case is made and strategic initiatives of the organization include aligning staff credentials with organizational success, then budget dollars for such activities can be protected.

To make the business case, managers and supervisors should have a clear understanding of where they are spending their budget dollars. Organizations must track whether the investments being made across the organization are being applied appropriately and whether they achieve effective and measurable results. Consistently reporting data on the positive effects that staff development activities have on organizational initiatives can support staff development expenses and better position managers to defend their budgets.

Consider obtaining the data to answer the following questions: How much did we invest in training and staff development initiatives? How much time did it take to conduct the training (total employee hours spent in training activities)? How much value was realized from each training dollar spent? Across all courses, what did participants think about the programs?

Ultimately, institutional benefit is the measure of all staff development interventions. Has the program increased productivity or reduced costs? The program might receive high presentation ratings; test scores might show that significant learning took place; and employees might demonstrate competent use of the new skills on the job — yet, for most administrators, if the program is not correlated with an institutional benefit (the so-called bottom line), then it might be seen as a failure. This lack of correlation can be caused by a flaw in the needs analysis or interference from other factors influencing performance outcome. For example, institutional benefits from a successful program involving personal protective equipment education and training would include fewer job injuries, lower worker compensation costs, and reduced insurance rates.

Other items to consider when looking at how to demonstrate a return on staff development investment include specific measures of returns and investments.

Sample returns include:

  • Average value of increased production
  • Decreased time to complete a project
  • Increased quality of work or output
  • Proficiency
  • Reduced occurrence of errors, accidents, waste, damage, repetition, and downtime
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Reduced time spent by other personnel instructing or waiting for others
  • Improved customer, employee, and public relationships

Sample investments include:

  • Finances (cost of delivery and lost opportunities)
  • Time (time invested versus time spent)
  • Reputation
  • Relationships

In circumstances in which budget reductions are inevitable, many organizations are faced with difficult decisions. Should they postpone plans? Should they cancel upcoming classes? Organizations should be analyzing the costs and benefits of current activities and seeking new ways to deliver necessary training — perhaps by identifying and consolidating multiple vendor contracts for training or by being more selective when deciding who will receive training and on what topics. In addition, organizations must remember, even during times of tight budgets, that required training programs cannot simply be removed from the budget. Organizations are not exempt from OSHA-mandated training, in particular, simply because they are looking for ways to cut costs. Staff development activities that affect the customer and that are safety related or government regulated should be protected.



Twenty-first-century facilities organizations have made many advances in their efforts to identify organizational initiatives and objectives and consequently to provide staff members with the necessary skills to meet current and future job demands and to support organizational outcomes. These improvements can be attributed in large part to managers and supervisors who recognize talented employees as an organizational advantage and who work to develop those employees accordingly. To be successful, greater emphasis must be placed on manager and leader accountability for the development of employees in their units through the performance management process. To do this, organizations must provide adequate support to organizational leaders through human resource and staff development expertise. Organizations need to make staff development a shared business and human resource responsibility in which leaders emphasize the importance of staff development, are actively engaged in the process, and hold themselves accountable for the development of their employees through the following:

  • Creating a learning culture in which opportunities for formal and informal learning can occur among employees up and down the organization chart
  • Ensuring that personal development remains a key performance objective for all staff members
  • Building learning opportunities into every post-project evaluation
  • Creating cross-disciplinary learning opportunities
  • Matching the competencies needed for achieving organizational objectives against the skill inventories of incumbents
  • Keeping the development and advancement of subordinates as a meaningful metric for the assessment of leaders
  • Maintaining close ties between hiring managers and recruitment professionals; in cases in which core competencies are in short supply in the labor pool, considering that internal training programs might be an economical solution
  • Monitoring performance appraisal tools for trends in employee development needs
  • Considering the value of knowledge management programs to identify, harvest, archive, retrieve, and transfer organizational knowledge

Staff development programs are an integral part of any workplace. Facilities organizations that are proactive in identifying employee development needs look for innovative ways to broaden the knowledge and skills of their employees. The organizations that can tie their development efforts to organization strategic initiatives and can encourage an environment of learning and growth among employees will be in a better position to meet the organizational challenges that lie ahead.

References / Notes


1. Society for Human Resource Management. “SHRM Workplace Trends: An Overview of the Findings of the Latest SHRM Workplace Forecast.” Society for Human Resource Management: 2008.

2. Anderson, Charlotte, SPHR, GPHR. “Introduction to the Human Resources Discipline of Organizational and Employee Development.” SHRM online, May 15, 2008.

3. University of Iowa. “The University of Iowa Facilities Management Training and Development Policy.” University of Iowa: 2006.

4. Wilson, John P., ed. Human Resource Development: Learning and Training for Individuals and Organizations. London: Kogan Page, 1999.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Society for Human Resource Management and Wall Street Journal. “Critical Skills Needs and Resources for the Changing Workforce.” Society for Human Resource Management and, June 2008. The study, which asked human resource professionals to respond to questions on a variety of topics to find out what issues they think will have the greatest impact on the workplace in years ahead, provides a useful snapshot of the staff development issues that organizations are currently focused on and reveals changes that have developed over time.

9. Sammer, Joanne. “TRAINING: Training & Development: Does it Make Sense for You?” SHRM’s HR Outsourcing Focus Area, December 2005.

10. Webster, Lois. “Two Models for Training Gain Popularity.” SHRM online, December 5, 2008.

11. Society for Human Resource Management and Wall Street Journal. “Critical Skills Needs and Resources for the Changing Workforce.” Society for Human Resource Management and Wall Street, June 2008.

12. Society for Human Resource Management. “2014 Future Insights: Top Trends According to SHRM’s HR Subject Matter Expert Panels,” 2013.

13. Tyler, Kathryn. “15 Ways to Train on the Job; In a Down Economy, Trainers Turn to Homegrown Help.” HR Magazine, September 2008.

14. Hastings, Rebecca. “Mentoring Done Right.” SHRM online, March 1, 2007.

15. Wilson, John P., ed. Human Resource Development: Learning and Training for Individuals and Organizations. London: Kogan Page, 1999.

16. Thilmany, Jean. “Organizational Development — Passing on Know-How.” HR Magazine. SHRM online, June 13, 2008.

17. “Building the Bench.” Human Resources Executive, June 2, 2008.

18. Owens, Donna. “Success Factors.” SHRM online, October 2008.

19. Wilson, John P., ed. Human Resource Development: Learning and Training for Individuals and Organizations. London: Kogan Page, 1999.

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