Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Workplace Training's Roots & the Purpose of Business

All four premises of Industrial-Organizational (I-O) psychology proposed by Koppes et al. (2007) play out in the history of workplace training, but out of the four, two are substantially connected.   The four themes are as follows: productivity and efficiency, confidence in qualitative methods, employee selection, and the relationship between researchers and practitioners (p. 61).  In the analysis of workplace training I hypothesize that efficiency and the relationship between researchers and practitioners unite considerably with this topic, much more than the other two themes.

                First, the roots of workplace training are without a doubt the work of efficiency experts.  Munsterberg, Myers, Burt and Viteles, early vestiges of I-O psychology, tried to make mass production workers more effective in their movements and the control of their exertion (Koppes, p 282).  This foundation carries through today in every job which exists.  Entire work philosophies are dedicated to the links between efficiency and productivity such as Lean manufacturing or statistical process control.  So, of the four common themes in I-O, workplace training certainly finds its voice in efficiency and productivity measures and the early mass manufacturing environs. 
During this time, 1900-1930, is when training changed from one-on-one apprenticeships to large-scale instruction.  This meant that supervisors were responsible for many employees efficiency, but as a result, experts in training were spawned to train the trainers.  Modern companies like Microsoft have taken these theories to their logical conclusions.  Training at Microsoft begins on day one with New Employee Orientation (NEO) and beyond, all the way through to senior employees who receive training on a regular basis (or are at least offered the opportunity).
                 This leads to the second of the puzzle, or the relationship between researchers and practitioners.  This is also a pertinent pillar in workplace training which owes much of its existence to “detailed a training program for chocolate factory workers” photographing the motion of a glowlamp strapped to experienced worker’s hands and then showing the results to new recruits on how they ought to move (p 283).   The bridge between psychologists in the field like Myers and those in academia proved fruitful for workplace training.  However, it would seem that work in the field was more important, or at least more accepted, than lab trials.  The refinements in methodology have been driven by field experts, helping prove the reliability and validity of tests by using them in the first place. 
Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism, and Cognitive Influences
                Three paradigms of psychology: behavioral, psychoanalytic, and cognitive all weigh in on selection workplace training.  However, behavioral and cognitive psychology have more influence on this topic than psychoanalysis merely because they’re both measureable – behavioral always has been and new tools in cognitive psychology like the MMPI and other intrinsic tests allow researchers to see which training interventions work.
The earliest research in workplace training was perpetrated by behavioral-functionalist psychologists running the “scientific management” era between 1900 and 1930.  The fact that the environment could be manipulated to make any person more productive, more satisfied, or less likely to leave was a straightforward and approachable modus operandi for training experts.  Appropriate behavior for the job, for instance moving a factory worker’s arm a certain way to reduce fatigue, could be demonstrated and copied in a standard manner.  Stimulus-response theory was directly applied to learning and training.
From there, workplace training did not stray too far from its roots, but added a hybrid of cognitive behaviorism during the dubbed “humanistic” era from around 1930 to the 1960’s.  Worker attitudes and beliefs were worked into training models as more jobs left the factory floor and entered the modern corporation with its new challenges. 
Workplace training continues to rely almost entirely on these two methods.  Modern businesses want their employees to be both efficient and cognitively appropriate for their work.  The ultimate goal is to meet the needs of both the corporation and the worker realizing a mutually beneficial contract.
The Purpose of Business
Argument: the purpose of business is to “serve customers by providing for their legitimate needs and to serve employees by providing opportunities for creative work” (Erisman & Duzer, p. 1, 2007).  I completely agree with this, but my reasons are not research-driven answers.  I think what Erisman and Duzer proposed was actually a philosophical framework rather than an intact argument.
                After reading the chapter 12 by Koppes et al. (2007) it seems that very little workplace training research has been focused on anything but efficiency and productivity.  So my first argument against what I hold true is to follow the money.  Groundbreaking research in I-O psychological has had little to do with service, servant-leadership, or how to help employees with creative work.  From an empirical standpoint, employers who exhibit this kind of behavior are few and far between.  Yet as a counter-argument, the companies I have worked for which do share the philosophical view of Erisman and Duzer are profitable and successful businesses.
                Still, the companies I can think of that are the most “successful”, at least monetarily, seem to squeeze workers to burn-out without any thought of replenishment. As we know, the tide can change, but for now the reality is that shareholder value is king, whether that’s the ultimate reality or not.

Erismann, A., & Van Duzer, J. (2007). The purpose of business. Manuscript from SPU Business School.
Koppes et al. (2007). Historical perspectives in industrial and organizational psychology.  London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.