Improving Human Resource Management at Great Northern Case Study

Excerpt from Case Study :

Improving Human Resource Management at Great Northern America

Because all organizations are comprised of people, there will always be human resource issues involved and the manner in which these issues are resolved can spell the difference between organizational success and failure. This was the situation facing Joe Salatino, president of Great Northern America as he sought to formulate timely and responsive solutions to his company's human resource problems in order to save his company and achieve a competitive advantage in the future. To gain some fresh insights concerning how the president of this company could approach these problems, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature to explain why employees need to understand the importance of how people form perceptions and make attributions, an evaluation of the applicability of social learning theory to the circumstances, followed by an examination of ways that the president could use social learning theory to improve employee performance. Finally, a discussion concerning ways that the president of this company could leverage the value of self-efficacy to ensure the most successful salespeople are hired is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Importance of Understanding How People Form Perceptions and Make Attributions

Successful business managers intuitively recognize that people develop powerful perceptions about their workplace based on what they actually see and hear (Maher & Maher, 1999). As a result, people tend to form their perceptions of others based on their day-to-day behaviors and how these behaviors translate into different types of outcomes, especially if these outcomes affect them personally (Maher & Maher, 1999). To the extent that behaviors are associated with successful outcomes is likely the extent to which people will form perceptions that people behaving in this fashion will also be successful. In this regard, Maher and Maher (1999) report that, "As traditional attribution theory implies, if people are seen as being more causal in determining favorable outcomes, then the perception that they are leaders is enhanced; if they are seen as being less causal for good performance, their leadership ratings are not as high" (p. 56). In addition, people also tend to form positive perceptions of themselves when they receive positive feedback from their peers and superiors, as well as positive perceptions of those who provide this feedback (Luo, Bippus & Dunbar, 2005). When workers receive negative feedback, though, they are less likely to assign a negative connotation to themselves compared to the negative perception they develop concerning the provider of the feedback (Luo et al., 2005). Notwithstanding these tendencies, though, most people build up such perceptions over time rather than based on isolated observations and experiences (Luo et al., 2005).

Evaluation of Social Learning Theory

Although rewards and punishments in the workplace are frequently founded on operant conditioning theory, social learning theory can help explain the effects of positive and negative sanctions on individuals as well as other group members (O'Reilly & Puffer, 1999). Social learning theory as articulated by Bandura (1986) maintains that "individuals do not need to learn everything directly because they are able to learn lots of things by observing others' experiences" (Demibras & Yagbasan, 2006). The three main components of social learning theory that are believed to facilitate learning in the workplace are: (a) vicarious learning, (b) an individual's ability to utilize symbols (verbal and imaginal), and (c) an individual's self-regulatory capability (Doo, 2005). Just as a company's corporate culture helps new hires "learn the ropes" concerning how things are actually done, vicarious learning can help people learn in the workplace as well. For instance, according to Doo, "Vicarious learning, also referred to as observational learning, indicates that people can learn by observing others' behaviors without direct experience" (p. 19). From Bandura's perspective, people possess the innate ability to process observed behaviors and their outcomes and extrapolate these eventualities to their own situations, and, as a result, "A set of observed behaviors and subsequent results are expected to play the role of references for the individual's actions in the future" (Doo, 2005, p. 19).

Ways that Joe Could Apply Social Learning Theory to Improve Employee Performance

The ability of social learning methods to improve employee performance is well documented, but the efficacy of the theory depends on a number of factors, including the type of leadership that is used to promote it (Mintzberg, 2011). Social learning theory indicates that people learn best in the workplace when they are able to engage in real-world problem-solving activities and when they are expected to share what they learn with their peers (Mintzberg, 2011). In addition, social learning techniques can facilitate collaboration among employees on their own terms in order to share information and solve problems (Silvers, 2012). Leveraging social learning can also "encourage employees to improve the quality of their work and be more self-aware and improve an organization's capability to respond to turbulent market forces and a challenging economy" (Silvers, 2012, p. 39). In addition, Doo (2005) advises that group projects and presentations that are supported by social learning theory can promote collaborative learning and performance in the workplace.

Although every organization is unique in some fashion, there are three general ways that business managers can improve employee participation in social learning activities as follows:

1. Create learning areas in the community,

2. Provide appropriate rewards for participation, and

3. Develop relevant outside content such as websites, social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) and personal and professional blogs that draw on and amplify the learning experience for others to share in the workplace (Three ways to spur employee participation in social learning, 2012).

It is important to point out, though, that any application of social learning theory to the workplace remains a dynamic rather than static enterprise and ongoing surveillance of the effectiveness of any such initiative must be included as part of a comprehensive framework to promote employee motivation (Doo, 2005).

Ways Joe Could Leverage the Value of Self-Efficacy to Ensure the Most Successful Salespeople are Hired

When people are confident that they can achieve certain goals or accomplish a set of given tasks, they are usually better able to do so in reality, especially over time as they gain experience and knowledge (Hughes, Galbraith & White, 2011). These positive expectations are further heightened when people have a proven track record of success and the experience to reinforce their confidence (Hughes et al., 2011). In this regard, Murphy and Riggio (2003) emphasize that, "Independence and self-confidence are interdependent. People cannot make independent decisions if they do not trust their own judgment. People who rely on their own judgment become more confident in the process" (p. 36).

Similarly, business managers who possess the self-efficacy needed to make savvy human resource management decisions stand to benefit -- if they possess the "right stuff." For instance, Murphy and Riggio (2003) point out that good business managers know when to find people who can help them make informed decisions, even if it means conceding they do not know enough about the company's operations. In this regard, Murphy and Riggio note that, "Self-confidence is necessary in the realm of hiring. Great CEOs hire great people, some of whom know more than they do about certain business issues" (p. 36). Rather than being threatened by subordinates who are smarter or more knowledgeable, business leaders with high levels of self-efficacy will recognize when a candidate is right for the job -- and the company. For instance, Murphy and Riggio emphasize that, "If CEOs cannot judge who is great or if they are too insecure to hire smart people, including people who will disagree and argue with them, then any chance for successful growth is stifled" (2003, p. 36). Because even the best business leaders are just human, though, they will inevitably make mistakes. To the extent that business leaders accept the lessons learned from even their worse mistakes and move on will likely be the extent to which their sense of self-efficacy is enhanced rather than diminished (Murphy & Riggio, 2003). In this regard, these authorities suggest that, "The persons at the top stand alone. It is their vision that directs the enterprise. They do not follow orders; they give them. They have the final responsibility for the success of the organization. In the end, no matter how many people they consult, they must rely on themselves" (Murphy & Riggio, 2003, p. 36).

This is not to say, though, that self-efficacious business leaders can afford to substitute rational hiring decisions with decisions that are based on an emotional or personal response to candidates (e.g., people "hit it off" right away). Certainly, this approach may work in the vast majority of hiring situations, especially since this type of personal rapport is conducive to motivating people. This tendency to rely on gut reactions rather than an informed human resources selection process, though, can also result in adverse outcomes if business leaders become overconfident. For instance, Murphy and Riggio also emphasize that, "It is not the…

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