Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Training and Evaluating Employees

Learning Objectives

  • Describe types of job training and employee performance assessment
Training is an important element of success and performance in many jobs. Most jobs begin with an orientation period during which the new employee is provided information regarding the company history, policies, and administrative protocols such as time tracking, benefits, and reporting requirements. An important goal of orientation training is to educate the new employee about the organizational culture, the values, visions, hierarchies, norms and ways the company’s employees interact—essentially how the organization is run, how it operates, and how it makes decisions. There will also be training that is specific to the job the individual was hired to do, or training during the individual’s period of employment that teaches aspects of new duties, or how to use new physical or software tools. Much of these kinds of training will be formalized for the employee; for example, orientation training is often accomplished using software presentations, group presentations by members of the human resources department or with people in the new hire’s department (Figure 1).

A photograph shows several people sitting at a table and writing on notepads, as a person in the front of the room writes on a large tablet.
Figure 1. Training usually begins with an orientation period during which a new employee learns about company policies, practices, and culture. (credit: Cory Zanker)

Mentoring is a form of informal training in which an experienced employee guides the work of a new employee. In some situations, mentors will be formally assigned to a new employee, while in others a mentoring relationship may develop informally.

Mentoring effects on the mentor and the employee being mentored, the protégé, have been studied in recent years. In a review of mentoring studies, Eby, Allen, Evans, Ng, & DuBois (2008) found significant but small effects of mentoring on performance (i.e., behavioral outcomes), motivation and satisfaction, and actual career outcomes. In a more detailed review, Allen, Eby, Poteet, Lentz, & Lima (2004) found that mentoring positively affected a protégé’s compensation and number of promotions compared with non-mentored employees. In addition, protégés were more satisfied with their careers and had greater job satisfaction. All of the effects were small but significant. Eby, Durley, Evans, & Ragins (2006) examined mentoring effects on the mentor and found that mentoring was associated with greater job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Gentry, Weber, & Sadri (2008) found that mentoring was positively related with performance ratings by supervisors. Allen, Lentz, & Day (2006) found in a comparison of mentors and non-mentors that mentoring led to greater reported salaries and promotions.

Mentoring is recognized to be particularly important to the career success of women (McKeen & Bujaki, 2007) by creating connections to informal networks, adopting a style of interaction that male managers are comfortable with, and with overcoming discrimination in job promotions.

Gender combinations in mentoring relationships are also an area of active study. Ragins & Cotton (1999) studied the effects of gender on the outcomes of mentoring relationships and found that protégés with a history of male mentors had significantly higher compensation especially for male protégés. The study found that female mentor–male protégé relationships were considerably rarer than the other gender combinations.

In an examination of a large number of studies on the effectiveness of organizational training to meet its goals, Arthur, Bennett, Edens, and Bell (2003) found that training was, in fact, effective when measured by the immediate response of the employee to the training effort, evaluation of learning outcomes (e.g., a test at the end of the training), behavioral measurements of job activities by a supervisor, and results-based criteria (e.g., productivity or profits). The examined studies represented diverse forms of training including self-instruction, lecture and discussion, and computer assisted training.

Evaluating Employees

Industrial and organizational psychologists are typically involved in designing performance-appraisal systems for organizations. These systems are designed to evaluate whether each employee is performing her job satisfactorily. Industrial and organizational psychologists study, research, and implement ways to make work evaluations as fair and positive as possible; they also work to decrease the subjectivity involved with performance ratings. Fairly evaluated work helps employees do their jobs better, improves the likelihood of people being in the right jobs for their talents, maintains fairness, and identifies company and individual training needs.

Performance appraisals are typically documented several times a year, often with a formal process and an annual face-to-face brief meeting between an employee and his supervisor. It is important that the original job analysis play a role in performance appraisal as well as any goals that have been set by the employee or by the employee and supervisor. The meeting is often used for the supervisor to communicate specific concerns about the employee’s performance and to positively reinforce elements of good performance. It may also be used to discuss specific performance rewards, such as a pay increase, or consequences of poor performance, such as a probationary period. Part of the function of performance appraisals for the organization is to document poor performance to bolster decisions to terminate an employee.

Performance appraisals are becoming more complex processes within organizations and are often used to motivate employees to improve performance and expand their areas of competence, in addition to assessing their job performance. In this capacity, performance appraisals can be used to identify opportunities for training or whether a particular training program has been successful. One approach to performance appraisal is called 360-degree feedback appraisal (Figure 2). In this system, the employee’s appraisal derives from a combination of ratings by supervisors, peers, employees supervised by the employee, and from the employee herself. Occasionally, outside observers may be used as well, such as customers. The purpose of 360-degree system is to give the employee (who may be a manager) and supervisor different perspectives of the employee’s job performance; the system should help employees make improvements through their own efforts or through training. The system is also used in a traditional performance-appraisal context, providing the supervisor with more information with which to make decisions about the employee’s position and compensation (Tornow, 1993a).

A diagram depicts a box titled “Self,” which is surrounded on all four sides by four more boxes. The box to the left is titled “Peers.” The box above is titled “Supervisors.” The box to the right is titled “Customers.” The box below is titled “Reports.” Lines connect each of these surrounding boxes to the box titled “Self.” In the space between each of the surrounding boxes, a line with an arrow at each end points to and from the nearest surrounding box.
Figure 2. In a 360-degree performance appraisal, supervisors, customers, direct reports, peers, and the employee himself rate an employee’s performance.

Few studies have assessed the effectiveness of 360-degree methods, but Atkins and Wood (2002) found that the self and peer ratings were unreliable as an assessment of an employee’s performance and that even supervisors tended to underrate employees that gave themselves modest feedback ratings. However, a different perspective sees this variability in ratings as a positive in that it provides for greater learning on the part of the employees as they and their supervisor discuss the reasons for the discrepancies (Tornow, 1993b).

In theory, performance appraisals should be an asset for an organization wishing to achieve its goals, and most employees will actually solicit feedback regarding their jobs if it is not offered (DeNisi & Kluger, 2000). However, in practice, many performance evaluations are disliked by organizations, employees, or both (Fletcher, 2001), and few of them have been adequately tested to see if they do in fact improve performance or motivate employees (DeNisi & Kluger, 2000). One of the reasons evaluations fail to accomplish their purpose in an organization is that performance appraisal systems are often used incorrectly or are of an inappropriate type for an organization’s particular culture (Schraeder, Becton, & Portis, 2007). An organization’s culture is how the organization is run, how it operates, and how it makes decisions. It is based on the collective values, hierarchies, and how individuals within the organization interact. Examining the effectiveness of performance appraisal systems in particular organizations and the effectiveness of training for the implementation of the performance appraisal system is an active area of research in industrial psychology (Fletcher, 2001).

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