Why we need to evaluate training and how to do it

Kevin Lawrence is MD of Odyssey Management Training – on a mission to eradicate mediocrity Odyssey specialises in leadership and management development, change, executive team development and organisational development strategy.

Training matters. It’s important to organisations because it improves the skills of their employees, which in turn improves productivity and company performance. It’s important to employees both for what it offers – the development of skills and knowledge that can improve their career prospects, and, for what it represents: investment in them, by the company.

But for those benefits to accrue, development opportunities have to be effective and well received. The right training has to be offered and organisations need to assess the quality of the training they’re providing.

How to provide the right training

Think about the present and future needs of the company

What skills do you need your employees to have? Are there areas in which you can forecast a skills gap? In what areas do you want your company to grow and what skills will you need to ensure it performs in these new areas? Thinking about these issues will help you to be more effective in creating powerful interventions.

Differentiate between training and development

If somebody needs to learn a practical skill – something that can be demonstrated, practised and mastered – they need training. If someone needs to acquire knowledge or to gain experience of different ways of doing things, they need development. Training and development are different things and need to be approached in different ways. But the starting point is to work out which you want and need to provide for an individual employee.

See ‘training’ as a start, not as an end in itself

There is no point in training an employee in any skill unless they have the opportunity to practise that skill and embed it. Author Malcolm Gladwell argues that it takes people 10,000 hours to become ‘supremely proficient’ in a given skill. Another best-selling author, Josh Kaufman, sets a more easily-achieved target. He argues that it takes 20 hours to pick up a new skill sufficiently well to retain it. That would translate as practising a skill for forty minutes a day, over six working weeks. So, before investing in training, ensure that your employees will have the opportunity to use and develop proficiency in their new skills, don’t expect them, as is often the case, to gain the competency overnight!

Be clear about why you’re offering training

Do you want to train your staff because you have identified skills and attributes that your staff need in order for the company to flourish? Or, are you offering training as a benefit for your employees: eg to boost employee retention? If it’s the former, it will be clear what training you need to provide. If it is the latter, you need to understand at an individual level what motivates your employees and ensure training is contextualized and delivered in ways that will target these motivations.

How to assess training

Look for objective evidence of improvement

A staff member may react positively to a training session without that positive response translating into improved performance. Conversely, an individual may react unfavourably to training, but become better at their job! So, it’s important to find a way of evaluating training in an objective, evidence-based way. Donald Kirkpatrick, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin developed a model for doing this. His Four-Level Training Evaluation Model examines:

  1. How individuals react to the training
  2. What they learn
  3. How the training affects their behaviour in the medium/long term
  4. Whether company performance is affected by the training

The weight given to these different outcomes will depend on the reasons why the training was provided. As a general rule, measuring training against the desired outcomes will allow companies to assess whether the training achieved its objectives.

Have a clearly defined ‘learning objective’

To assess training effectively you have to start with a clear idea of what you want the training to achieve. This objective should be as simple as possible. It should also – wherever possible – be something that can be measured both qualitatively and quantitatively. The learning objective/s has to be decided before the training designed.

Ask your employees what they want to gain from the training

The employee should be aware of the learning objective of the training. They should also be asked what they want to gain from the training. This ensures they think about what they already know and what they need to learn. This will make it easier for them to assess the true impact of the training they receive.

Ask for qualitative feedback two months after the training

 

Tell the employees and their manager that you will be asking for feedback on the training after a period of time has elapsed. That period should be long enough for them to have had the opportunity to practise and use their training; to embed the skills gained and to have reflected on what the training achieved and where it could be improved. It’s important to get employee feedback, and it’s also important to obtain managers feedback about whether they have noticed an improvement in performance.

Look for evidence that company performance is stronger

The end goal of training is to improve contribution to organisational performance. There are many factors that govern this, but, as you adopt a targeted approach to training, look at whether the general trend of performance in the areas the training is targeting, is improving. It should be!

These points do not apply simply to bought-in training. They can also be used to assess the quality of in-house training, mentoring, or, ‘on the job’ development.