How does organisational strategy benefit from Work Based Learning?

By: Yvonne Moriarity and Pat Coughlan – Noreside Resource Centre

Every organisation is different. They each adopt a specific structure and a culture that they believe will deliver their objective. The structure and culture can be described as the strategy to be used to achieve the objective. In this article, we are going to refer to all entities as Organisations instead of companies or businesses. The reason is because to refer to companies or business is to exclude state sector, voluntary and community organisations.

The term “Work Based Learning” is often seen as an extension of school or college courses where the learner spends a portion of their learning time within a workplace. In the context of this project and this article Workplace Learning is training that is devised by staff of the organisation, normally Workplace Tutors, and delivered to other staff of the same organisation to meet identified strategic objectives.
Why do we need to know this?
The answer is simple. The structure of the organisation will determine the culture of the organisation to a large extent and the culture that exists will determine the extent to which management and learners are receptive to training suggestions and to the training itself. Understanding Structure, Culture and Strategy allows the Workplace Tutor – Learning Process Guide to intervene in a situation with the greatest possible chance of success.

Structure and Culture
At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, factories were small, often employing less than five people. In those circumstances, the owner made all the decisions. Over time the size of the factory grew and as these were mainly manufacturing facilities some structure was needed to manage the day to day, short term and long-term objectives of the owners. There was very little history to use as a model except the civil service and the army. Both were hierarchical systems where power came from the top and everyone below was expected to carry out the instructions of those above them. This system has its advantages, however, there are two major disadvantages:

The first is that while accurate and important information and instruction flowed down from the top there was no guarantee that accurate information flowed back up the system. After all, who is going to admit to their superior that they made a mistake or that things were going wrong?

The second was that workers when they came to work were expected to leave their brains at home. General workers were not seen as having the ability to notice when things were not quite correct. This is clear from the autobiographical book “Road to Nab End” [1] by William Woodruff where we can see how his family and their fellow workers could see the collapse of their industry and the Industrial Revolution long before the owners of the firms.

Over time various systems of organisation emerged and these are very well described by Charles Handy in his book “Gods of Management” [2] in which he describes four types of structure and he links these to a specific culture. Handy’s combination of structure and culture can be summarised as:
• Hierarchy Structure leads to a Role Culture
• Web Structure leads to a Club Culture
• Project Structure leads to a Task Culture
• Professionals Structure leads to a Person Centred Culture

Hierarchy: In this system instruction flows from the top, but little information flows back up. Usually the biggest section is that controlled by the Production Director and it is here that we also see training of staff. The culture to be found in these type of organisations is “Role” culture where each person has a role or function and there is little or no flexibility. Training is based on the role of the worker.

Web Structure: Is where one person has the power to make all the decisions and others carry out the tasks. For a structure like this to work the culture must be that of a club but all staff must show support for the owner, the source of the power. It is possible to find “Web Structures” within a Hierarchical Structure where a Department Manager might run his/her department as a web with a club culture. This is something that the Workplace Tutor needs to keep in mind.

Job or Project Structure: This is where people are brought together to complete a task or project. They may come from various parts of the organisation and are chosen because of the knowledge or skills they have. Once the task is completed the group disbands. It might be replaced with one or more project groups set up to implement the recommendations of the initial group. The culture of the group is “Task”. There is a job to be done and everyone works together to get it done. Workplace Tutors – Learning Process Guides would be part of one of these project groups. Their function is to advise on training and development or indeed to develop training courses.

Person Structure: The Person Structure is found in organisations like doctors practice, accountants, solicitors. The individual believes they are more important than the organisation and become responsible for their own professional development. It is unlikely that a Workplace Tutor will be involved.

Culture is often described as “the way we do things around here”. Organisational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organisations. These shared values have a strong influence on the people in the organisation and dictate how they dress, act, perform their jobs and are receptive to training and development strategies. As seen above the structure will determine the type of culture. Work Based Trainers need to be aware of this.

Strategic planning is an organisational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals, establish agreement around intended outcomes/results, and assess and adjust the organisation’s direction in response to a changing environment. This includes decisions on training and development of staff.
Structure, Culture and Strategy

As we can see from the above if organisations choose a structure and implement the correct culture then they are most likely to be successful but what specifically is strategy?

The definition of business strategy is a long-term plan of action designed to achieve a goal or set of goals or objectives. Strategy is management’s game plan for strengthening the performance of the enterprise. It states how business should be conducted to achieve the desired goals. Without a strategy management has no roadmap to guide them. [3]

After the Second World War changes in product availability arising from the regeneration of the economies of Japan and Germany together with studies in motivation and organisational behaviour resulted in the creation, in the 1980’s, of the position of Human Resource Manager and later a new position on the board of the company of Human Resource Director. [4]

Now for the first time the training and development of employees became part of organisational strategy. Now workers when they came to work were expected to bring their brains with them.

Strategic Human Resources Planning.
Human resource planning is a process that identifies current and future human resources needs for an organisation to achieve its goals. Human resource planning should serve as a link between human resource management and the overall strategic plan of an organisation. The strategic plan should plan for known changes that will take place such as the launch of a new product or the introduction of new legislation. It should also create a flexibility to deal with unknown changes such as the decision of an employee to leave, maternity and paternity leave etc

How can the Workplace Tutor – Learning Process Guide contribute to strategy?
Training and development is a term covering various kinds of learning in the workplace. Training helps employees learn specific knowledge or skills to improve their performance in their current positions.

Development is broader and focuses on employee growth and on their future performance, rather than an immediate job role. It is often associated with employees enrolling in long term part time courses at Universities and Colleges of Technology to achieve a third level qualification.

Traditionally the Workplace Tutor delivered predetermined training courses. This project sees the expansion of the role to include guidance in the learning process.
Good training and development helps to retain employees and this is good for both the company and the individual themselves. It also helps with succession planning. This is where the Workplace Tutor can help by:

a) Identifying individuals who need training
b) Identifying individuals who have the potential to take on greater responsibility if given the correct training.
c) Well trained staff will perform better, reach full performance level more quickly, are less likely to underperform or have accidents or create waste/poor quality work.
d) An organisation with an active approach to training and development is likely to attract a higher calibre employee and thus give the organisation an edge in the employment market.
e) It can also be motivational for employees to train others – they become aware of the work at another level and it can give longer-serving employees an opportunity to go beyond simply “doing the job”.

1. Road to Nab End. William Woodruff. Abacus (Eland Books), 2000 (first published as Billy Boy, Ryburn Publishing Ltd., 1993)
2. Gods of Management. Charles Handy. Macmillan (12 Oct. 1979)
4. The Workplace Tutor – Professional Training in the Modern Workplace. Patrick Coughlan. 2016.