The Effect Of Training On Quality Improvement


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An organization has the continuous challenge to maximize profit, value the customer, and realize growth for the company. The hard part of this process is finding and maintaining the right employees to reach this goal. Implementing some training program to improve some area of customer service is better then none at all. Training is the tool that can assist that goal and lead to overall quality improvement for the company, it's structure, and customer satisfaction. Training a workforce to the highest standards will improve product quality, decrease employee anxiety, increase performance, and ultimately give focus to the customer.
Training for the Product
General Motors (2005) offers for their employees more then 2000 in-house courses under the guise of the General Motors University. These courses operate to improve the skills and performance of the employees as well as to teach new business practices. The rate at which new product development tools are changed, GM has decided that the best idea is to offer the specialty training to produce a product or service to the highest possible standards. Another benefit for G M's training is that the lower performance during on-the-job-training is shortened because the employee already has the basics.
GM strives to "help employees understand how their individual performance contributes to overall business results" (2005). This process empowers the employee with the understanding that they are not just a cog in a system, but an integral part. The focus of the courses are on critical business functions within GM. They are, in essence, producing a better quality product by ensuring that the employee is skilled in their job. This reduces warranty costs and rework done by unskilled employees. Efficiency in their skill also increases the quality of the product by increasing productivity of the individual worker or teams.
On-the-job-training and apprentice type training can take time. The fact is that most training in those style lend to double employment. The mentor then has to have the ability to take on the task and to be responsible for the training goals. Having a portion of the training in a classroom, or on line, can familiarize the employee and shorten on-the-job-training times. This "blended" learning helps to maintain existing standards and helps the interaction and integration of the new employees.
Employee Stress and Productivity
One of the most effective ways to increase productivity is to alleviate some of the negative effects of fear and anxiety. Some of these negative effects can be physical and increase the frequency of sicknesses.

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Others can effect the psychological well being of the employee, in all cases there are measured effects on performance and efficiency.
Effective training can help deter some of the anxiety that may be felt when unexpected situations arise. According to Barrios-Choplin et. al. (1999):
"The Inner Quality Management training [...] offers a research-based set of self-management techniques designed to modify interpretive styles and enhance communication, workplace climate, personal performance and business processes" (p.4).
The result is a happier more relaxed workforce that had fewer then normal instances of stress related negative business effects. Additionally, from my personal experience you always know when there is a happy employee. They are nicer to be with and would, more often, get my return business. On the other hand, Nathan Bowling (2007) contends that happy workers are not better producers but that better trained workers are more satisfied and better producers. The level of performance is largely based on a skill set of the individual and the result is a more satisfied person.
A more efficient organization gives the employees the training they need to succeed. The product quality then improves because the processes are clearly defined and tested. The feedback from the employees also gives them a personal stake in the running of the organization.
Performance Issues
During changes in processes the goal is to increase performance and profits. The changes can also cause a lot of problems. The goal of the managers and the leaders in the organization is to implement them in a smooth and timely manner. In the example of GM, changes in machinery can impact the performance of a team. This is especially true if some co-workers are lost in the transition to the new process. In an effective organization the employees that are lost are a good resource to integrate into another part of the organization. Training would then be job specific and shorten the performance lag when learning a job since the person would know the basics of the company.
In 1999, Fuji-Xerox (2005) introduced a program that emphasized the concept "everything is for the customers." This was to bring the employees into a more active role to interact with the customers and to develop personal goals and tasks within the company. The training program had over 1700 members and was called the wonderfully Japanese title of "Virtual Hollywood" (1999). I am not really sure why they called it that but the program direction was very nice for the employees and the customers.
Since the inception of the program employee turnover decreased by 3% and average length of employment increased by an average 2.5 years. This in terms of monetary gains for a company is hard to describe, but there is something to be said about not having to train and recruit new personnel. When someone stays that would otherwise leave there is no performance drop-out. (2005).
When performance is to be measured it is important that the managers and the leaders know what areas are to be measure. Managerial training programs can give the leaders the tools and techniques for effective evaluations. Proper management and leadership relieves some of the unneeded pressures from the employees. It also gives them a clear guide to follow; focusing on the customer.
Focusing on the Customer
The focus on the customer is the ultimate goal that all this training should give. Unless the training is relevant and build the needed skills the training is useless. Customer satisfaction is a metric that is hard to measure unless looked at from the point of view of the customer. The challenge to deliver a product that explicitly meets the needs of the customer. Properly trained salespeople, customer service, and managers can maintain that focus on the customer.
Training on performance for the needs of the customer is the focus of the paper Effects of employee training on the performance of North-American firms by Molina and Ortega (2003). They found that companies that had a high level of training had 13% more loyal customers then companies with low levels of training. Additionally, the assets were almost 3 times than that of the low level training companies. The organizations that had high level also had half the turnover rate then the other. One of the reasons for this was given that the employees feel that they are always getting new skills.
The other side of the coin on this subject is that the organizations that have high levels of training have employees that are more capable at handling customer inquiries. There is nothing worse, and I say this because it happens a lot here in Germany, calling a customer service and they say there is nothing they can do. A good customer service agent will always have an answer or know where to get one. Well trained customer service representative will have that knowledge.
Managers and leaders have to be the driving force, they are also the ones that have to be trained to handle feedback, customer and employee, properly. They can take the information from both sides and maybe come up with a new or better process. The leaders have the power to support the customer and the employee so that the quality is always improving.
Growth Trend
The article mentioned earlier by Molina and Ortega also found a side-effect of high levels of training within the organizations. The high level firms had lower levels of formally educated employees and that they were more often not in high-tech industries. I would have to say that this is hard to believe and that I would have to see some more evidence. I can only find an abstract for the information but an Employers Group survey states that, "Typically about 66 percent of companies reimburse up to 100 percent of all tuition costs depending upon the grade the employee receives" (2005). This seems to go against what Molina and Ortega say.
Conclusion
In everything discussed training is a significant portion of quality improvement in an organization. The effective organizations will institute some kind of training program at all levels of customer focus. Employee productivity is directly related to the amount of formal and non-formal training that they receive and satisfaction in being directly involved in the processes of the organization. Performance and profits are also linked to the types of training that a company can organize. In the case of Fuji-Xerox they realized significant numbers to support the reasons for the program that they started.
Focusing on the customer is directed and exampled by the managers and leaders. Empirical facts support the need for a company to have a strong training base to see profits and customer satisfaction that was considerably higher then when they had little or none. Finally, well trained customer agents can handle more situations brought to them and have a better understanding of the workings of the company.

References
Barrios-Choplin, B., McCraty, R., Sundram, M., Atkinson, M. (1999). The effect of employee self-management training on personal and organizational quality. Retrieved 14, July, 2007 from http://www.heartmath.org/research/research-papers/cal-employee-training.pdf
Doty, R. (2007). Personality more important than job satisfaction in determining job performance success, WSU psychologist says. Retrieved 14, July, 2007 from the Wright State University at http://www.wright.edu/cgi-bin/cm/news.cgi?action=news_item
&id=1366
Employers Group. (2005). Education reimbursement practices on the rise. Retrieved 14, July, 2007 from http://www.employersgroup.com/surveys/labortrends/, Abstract is halfway down the page with the date October 15, 2005.
Fuji Xerox. (2005). Relationships with employees. Sustainability report. Retrieved 14, July, 2007 from http://www.fujixerox.co.jp/eng/sr/2005/society/employee/index.html
Fuji Xerox. (2005). Relationships with customers. Sustainability report. Retrieved 14, July, 2007 from http://www.fujixerox.co.jp/eng/sr/2005/society/user/
GM. (2005). Employee training. Corporate responsibility report. Retrieved 12, July, 2007
from http://www.gm.com/company/gmability/sustainability/reports/06/700_social/
4_forty/740.html
Molina, J., Ortega, R. (2003) Effects of employee training on the performance of North- American firms. Applied Economics Letters. 10 (549-552). Retrieved 14, July, 2007
from the EBSCOhost database.


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