When every training event is delivered using the same method, it’s easy to standardize the evaluation approach and the tool. Just answer these three questions:
- What did they learn?
- Did it transfer back to job?
- Was the training effective?
In this day and age of personalized learning and engaging experiences, one-size training for all may be efficient for an organizational roll out but not the most effective for organizational impact or even change in behavior. The standard knowledge check can indicate how much they remembered. It might be able to predict what will be used back on the job. But be able to evaluate how effective the training was? That’s asking a lot from a 10 question multiple choice/ true false “quiz”. Given the level of complexity of the task or the significance of improvement for the organization such as addressing a consent decree or closing a warning letter, it would seem that allocating budget for proper training evaluation techniques would not be challenged.
Do you have a procedure for that?
Perhaps the sticking point is explaining to regulators how decisions are made using what criteria. Naturally documentation is expected and this also requires defining the process in a written procedure. It can be done. It means being in tune with training curricula, awareness of the types of training content being delivered and recognizing the implication of the evaluation results. And of course, following the execution plan as described in the SOP. Three central components frame a Training Effectiveness Strategy: Focus, Timing and Tools.
TRAINING EFFECTIVENESS STRATEGY: Focus on Purpose
Our tendency is to look at the scope (the what) first. I ask that you pause long enough to consider your audience, identify your stakeholders; determine who wants to know what. This analysis shapes the span and level of your evaluation policy. For example, C-Suite stakeholders ask very different questions about training effectiveness than participants.
The all purpose standard evaluation tool weakens the results and disappoints most stakeholders. While it can provide interesting statistics, the real question is what will “they” do with the results? What are stakeholders prepared to do except cut training budget or stop sending employees to training? Identify what will be useful to whom by creating a stakeholder matrix.
Will your scope also include the training program (aka Training Quality System) especially if it is not included in the Internal Audit Quality System? Is the quality system designed efficiently to process feedback and make the necessary changes that result from the evaluation results? Assessing how efficiently the function performs is another opportunity to improve the workflow by reducing redundancies thus increasing form completion speed and humanizing the overall user experience. What is not in scope? Is it clearly articulated?
TRAINING EFFECTIVENESS STRATEGY: Timing is of course, everything
Your strategy needs to include when to administer your evaluation studies. With course feedback surveys, we are used to immediately after otherwise, the return rate drops significantly. For knowledge checks we also “test” at the end of the session. Logistically it’s easier to administer because participants are still in the event and we also increase the likelihood of higher “retention” scores.
But when does it make more sense to conduct the evaluation? Again, it depends on what the purpose is.
- Will you be comparing before and after results? Then baseline data needs to be collected before the event begins. I.e. current set of Key Performing Indicators, Performance Metrics
- How much time do the learners need to become proficient enough so that the evaluation is accurate? I.e. immediately after, 3 months or realistically 6 months after?
- When are metrics calculated and reported? Quarterly?
- When will they be expected to perform back on the job?
Measuring Training Transfer: 3, 6 and maybe 9 months later
We can observe whether a behavior occurs and record the number of people who are demonstrating the new set of expected behaviors on the job. We can evaluate the quality of a work product (such as a completed form or executed batch record) by recording the number of people whose work product satisfies the appropriate standard or target criteria. We can record the frequency with which target audience promotes the preferred behaviors in dialogue with peers and supervisors and in their observed actions.
It is possible to do this; however, the time, people and budget to design the tools and capture the incidents are at the core of management support for a more vigorous training effectiveness strategy. How important is it to the organization to determine if your training efforts are effectively transferring back to the job? How critical is it to mitigate the barriers that get in the way when the evaluation results show that performance improved only marginally? It is cheaper to criticize the training event(s) rather than address the real root cause(s). See Training Does Not Stand Alone (Transfer Failure Section).
TRAINING EFFECTIVENESS STRATEGY: Right tool for the right evaluation type
How will success be defined for each “training” event or category of training content? Are you using tools/techniques that meet your stakeholders’ expectations for training effectiveness? If performance improvement is the business goal, how are you going to measure it? What are the performance goals that “training” is supposed to support? Seek confirmation on what will be accepted as proof of learning, evidence of transfer to the workplace, and identification of leading indicators of organizational improvement. These become the criteria by which the evaluation has value for your stakeholders. Ideally, the choice of tool should be decided after the performance analysis is discussed and before content development begins.
Performance Analysis first; then possibly a training needs analysis
Starting with a performance analysis recognizes that performance occurs within organizational systems. The analysis provides a 3-tiered picture of what’s encouraging/blocking performance for the worker, work tasks, and/or the workplace and what must be in place for these same three levels in order to achieve sustained improvement. The “solutions” are tailored to the situation based on the collected data and not on an assumption that training is needed. Otherwise, you have a fragment of the solution with high expectations for solving “the problem” and relying on the evaluation tool to provide effective “training” results. Only when the cause analysis reveals a true lack of knowledge, will training be effective.
Why aren’t more Performance Analyses being conducted?
For starters, most managers want the quick fix of training because it’s a highly visible activity that everyone is familiar and comfortable with. The second possibility lies in the inherent nature of performance improvement work. Very often the recommended solution resides outside of the initiating department and requires the cooperation of others. Would a request to fix someone else’s system go over well where you work? A third and most probable reason is that it takes time, resources, and a performance consulting skill set to identify the behaviors, decisions and “outputs” that are expected as a result of the solution. How important will it be for you to determine training effectiveness for strategic corrective actions?
You need an execution plan
Given the variety of training events and level of strategic importance occurring within your organization, one standard evaluation tool may no longer be suitable. Does every training event need to be evaluated at the same level of rigor? Generally speaking, the more strategic the focus is, the more tedious and timely the data collection will be. Again, review your purpose and scope for the evaluation. Refer to your stakeholder matrix and determine what evaluation tool(s) is better suited to meet their expectations.
For example, completing an after-training survey for every event is laudable; however, executive leadership values this data the least. According to Jack and Patricia Phillips (2010), they want to see business impact the most. Tools like balanced scorecards can be customized to capture and report on key performing indicators and meaningful metrics. Develop your plan wisely, generate a representative sample size initially and seek stakeholder agreement to conduct the evaluation study.
Life after the evaluation: What are you doing with the data collected?
Did performance improve? How will the evaluation results change future behavior and/or influence design decisions? Or perhaps the results will be used for budget justification, support for additional programs or even a corporate case study? Evaluation comes at the end but in reality, it is continuous throughout. Training effectiveness means evaluating the effectiveness of your training: your process, your content and your training quality system. It’s a continuous and cyclical process that doesn’t end when the training is over. – VB
Jack J. Phillips and Patricia P. Phillips, “How Executives View Learning Metrics”, CLO, December 2010.
Jean-Simon Leclerc and Odette Mercier, “How to Make Training Evaluation a Useful Tool for Improving L &D”, Training Industry Quarterly, May-June, 2017.