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I am a M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology. Most of my experience has been in human resources and change management. My passion lies in employee assessment, organizational development and employee opinions. Website: www.IanMondrow.com LinkedIn Profile: http://linkd.in/drBYoC

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making Transfer Climate Visible: Utilizing Social Network Analysis to Facilitate the Transfer of Training

Summary & Commentary by Ian B. Mondrow, M.A.

The transfer of training is when current knowledge, skills and abilities have an impact on the learning of new skills or knowledge. There are three main players involved the in the transfer process, including: the learner, the manager and the trainer. The climate of transfer is influenced by the perceived support of managers/peers, the ability to utilize the new knowledge learned, and the perceived outcomes of applying the new training content.  Climate plays a key role in whether or not the transfer of training is successful, and the communication network determines the climate.

The social network theory is the study of how interpersonal relationships within a department or whole organization affect the beliefs and opinions of other individuals. Wasserman and Faust (1994) concluded several assumptions in regards to social networks: (1) actors and their actions within networks are influenced by the actions of others; (2) connections between individuals is can be a formal or informal route for information sharing; (3) network models can identify any barriers in the successful transmission of information. Social networks can be utilized to identify key contributors with an extensive outreach who may have drastic impact on a training transfer's success.

Social networks can be analyzed with either the ego network analysis or complete network analysis. An ego network analysis examines the communications exhibited by one individual. This type of analysis is useful in examining individuals participating in a training in isolation from the rest of the organization. The complete network analysis  examines a group of individuals (whether is a team, department or entire organization) and the communication streams within the group. Collecting information for either analysis can be achieved through observations, interviews, surveys or archival documents. Data can be measured in two ways: (1) Using the numbers 0 and 1 to show the existence of a relationship and (2) using a likert scale to show the degree in which two individuals interact with one another. Once this data is collected, data can be analyzed using UCINET 6 and the network maps can be developed using NetDraw. An example of a social network map is shown below.

The social network data can be extremely useful in the implementation of training. Key actors in the networks can be used to determine what/why training is needed, obtain feedback on training content, determine the best methodology to deliver training, how to increase the transfer of training and encouraging others to use the information learned in training. Additionally, the network results can be used to determine what groups are for or against the new training. Once identified, researchers can examine these groups to determine why the outliers are not supportive. 

Social Network Analysis is a new statistical analysis that has recently been introduced into the business sector. Therefore, its credibility may be questionable to high level executives, especially if only data is presented. Utilizing the visualization of the maps assists in overcoming resistance as it shows all connections and the magnitudes of each individual within a network. Explaining the network is only half the battle. One must be able to explain how these results will be used within the organization.

The results can prove to be especially useful in large organizational changes. The network can identify key individuals that communicate across the organization and have high credibility. Much like a change agent network, these individuals can be used to ensure that the correct messages are being communicated throughout the organization (i.e. killing inaccurate rumors before they begin). The support of these individuals can also assist in proving the value of the change to the rest of the organization. As mentioned earlier, these individuals are also valuable in providing feedback about training and how to improve the facilitation methods. 

This method can be costly and time lengthy therefore it would not be effective for small initiatives but rather large scale changes. In addition, HR professionals should not attempt to conduct the analysis themselves. Instead, it is suggested they hire someone with a background in industrial/organizational psychology or psychometrics. Although costly, the benefits of this analysis can be extremely beneficial in large scale changes. 

Source: Hatala, J.P. & Fleming, P.R. (2007). Making transfer climate visible: utilizing social network analysis to facilitate the transfer of training. Human Resource Development Review, 6 (1), 1-31.

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