Delivering employee training is one of the most frequently utilized and important human resource functions. Although this is well-known, organizations often overlook the true goal of training. Ultimately, organizations expect (and often assume) that employees who engage in training will actually transfer the trained skills into the workplace. If employees don’t transfer the skills taught in training, then what good was the training?
THE ROLE OF LEADER-MEMBER EXCHANGE (LMX)
Clearly, it is important for organizations to develop an understanding of the factors that influence how well employees actually transfer trained skills into the workplace. One potential factor that has not received much attention is the quality of the relationship between trained employees and their supervisors. This exchange relationship between leaders and employees is often called leader member exchange (LMX). Researchers (Scaduto, Lindsay, & Chiaburu, 2008) set out to shed light on this issue by investigating the effects of LMX on the transfer of trained skills.
The researchers found that when the relationship between employees and their supervisor (as reported by the employee) is high in quality, employees report transferring trained skills to the workplace, maintaining those skills over time, and even utilizing those skills in work situations other than those specifically trained. It appears that when employees feel that their relationship with their supervisor is good (high LMX), they are more likely to benefit from training initiatives (and this in turn benefits the organization).
But why do relationships between supervisors and employees matter for training? The researchers further investigated two potential reasons why LMX predicts transfer of trained skills into the workplace: (1) increased employee motivation and (2) the expectancy of better outcomes.
Based on their findings, trainees who perceive a good relationship with their supervisors tend to be highly motivated to transfer skills into the workplace and expect that the potential outcomes of transfer will be greater than those who feel that their relationship with their supervisor is poor.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
So what should organizations take from this study? Focusing on fostering positive relationships between managers and employees can help employees better utilize the skills taught in training, and ensure that organizations do not waste money on training programs. After all, if employees go through an extensive and expensive training course and then fail to utilize their newly learned skills in the workplace, then the biggest loser is the organization.
Scadto, A., Lindsay, D., & Chiaburu, D. S. (2008). Leader influences on training effectiveness: Motivation and outcome expectations processes. International Journal of Training and Development, 12(3), 158-169.