Line and Staff Considerations - Training and Development

The line/staff dichotomy has blurred, and this distinction has grown rather unpopular with organization theorists. Yet the division still exists as a practical reality in most organizations, and we must regard it as a real issue in placing the T&D function.

Assume for just a moment that your organization has never had a specialized training and development department. It has just decided to create such a group, and has asked for your opinion: "Where should we locate this new department on our organization chart? Who should be responsible for what part of the T&D Activity?"

This is where a policy statement would come in handy; however, there is no such statement. It's up to you to decide. On what basis do you make your decision? Two basic issues come to mind:

  1. Is training and development a line function or a staff function?
  2. How do you guarantee sufficient authority for your T&D manager to meet the responsibilities implied in the title?

It's a cliche to say that training is a line responsibility. Yet in actual practice,training has often been placed on the "staff" side of most organizations. Just look at the organization charts. To whom does the T&D Manager report? Such placement often brings an immediate stigma: "They're just staff people, you know!"

In Developing Human Resources, Nadler (1970) says that although training is a line responsibility, education is not. Any kind of employee development is, by its very nature, a support function. In itself, it doesn't result in products such as automobiles or clothing; it doesn't in itself cause customers to buy, or users to be satisfied with a service. T&D supports and enables those results.Yet, if T&D is to be relevant to the main outputs of the organization, it must have proximity to the line operation. It must "speak their language" and share the line (or production) values. There is a constant give-and-take between the T&D specialists and their line clients.

If we examine the processes of a typical training program, we can see the precise nature of this interchange. To do so clarifies the reasons why T&D people and line people must work harmoniously in a common activity having inherent differences in viewpoints, values, and expertise.

Oft entraining activity starts when a line manager says to the T&D manager,"I have a training problem." Astute T&D managers overcome their instinctive reaction: "You may have a training problem—but at the moment we don't know that for sure. Besides, I'm the one who decides when we have training problems. After all, my expertise is to determine when training will work and when it won't." Of course, such arrogance is unpardonable. Yet there are times when the T&D manager must realize that line managers sometimes expect training to be a panacea for all their people problems. Thus nearly all T&D managers must eventually deny a highly motivated customer the very product the customer is so anxious to buy.

At such times professional T&D managers use effective consultative questions. They respond to the manager who mistakenly wants training with words more like these: "I'm glad you came to talk it over. What, exactly, are your employees doing that they shouldn't be doing?" And then, "What aren't your employees doing that they should be doing?"

In this way the proper mental processes are launched. Let's examine the ensuing stepsto see what responsibilities and what resources both elements (line and staff)can offer to effective performance problem solving.

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