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A sitting duck

Training budgets are a sitting duck at times like these. Yet the more thoughtful will know that what might appear to be a short-term saving, medium and long-term damage. John Edmonds, Head of Training and Innovation at pearcemayfield.

But how can we ensure that we are spending our scarce resources wisely? How can we be confident that we are getting a return on our investment? There are a number of approaches which seek to measure and report the value gained from training by gauging the reactions of the participants. One of the most simple and popular approaches is the Kirkpatrick/Phillips model, which measures effectiveness at five levels: Reaction, learning, behaviour, business impact and evaluation.

At the first level, the reaction to, and satisfaction with, the learning is measured. This is where 'happy sheets' are used to find out what delegates thought about the training or learning experience. As you might expect, just because someone provides positive feedback doesn’t necessarily mean that they have actually learnt a new skill or knowledge to help improve their performance at work. However, negative feedback will reveal if the training had little or no value. Happy sheets are an inexpensive and simple tool which provides immediate feedback, although they need to be carefully designed for maximum effectiveness.

Level two moves on from the participants’ learning satisfaction to addressing the changes in their knowledge, learning and attitudes. Analysing this information is more complex than the first level as it involves establishing to what degree the training has provided new skills which can be taken back into the workplace. This can be applied to team or individual assessments and typically uses written or verbal tests before and after a session, to determine how much has been learnt. Other assessment tools such as role play or skill practices can also be useful.

The application of the new skills in the work environment is addressed at level three of the model. Are we seeing outcomes – real world changes and is that then resulting in changes in the business? By looking at a person’s post training behaviour and attitude it is possible to determine to what extent they are using their newly learnt skills and knowledge in their everyday job. It is important to look at this level of the evaluation with a long time view, to assess the relevance and sustainability of behavioural change at different stages, over an agreed period of time. By necessity, the co-operation of a line manager or departmental head is essential for this evaluation exercise to be carried out effectively.

At this point you should be asking the question “are we seeing benefits?” To what extent has training had an impact in terms of production, quality, expenditure and time, or on the organisation’s wider goals and objectives? Level five goes beyond looking at the business benefits, as even if the training results in significant business improvement, it is still important to determine whether the benefits were worth the cost. The final step is to establish whether the business case delivered – did you get a return on your investment?

At this point, it is useful to go right back to the beginning, when you are thinking about the type of training you need. You can measure all you like, but if you haven’t got the right training in place, you will never achieve ROI. At the outset, you need to ensure that you work with a training provider who will listen to what you need and put together a programme tailored specifically to your requirements.

It will be too late if, at any stage of your evaluation, you get negative feedback in terms of poor training delivery or, worse still, discover that new skills may have been learnt but they are completely the wrong ones. While this model does not touch on some of the wider benefits of training, and may miss some of the more difficult to measure, yet very real benefits, it can be used to really challenge how we are spending our training budgets. Good training is a vital differentiator for organisations that are going to prevail in this climate. Let's make it strategic, thought through, and really linked in with business requirements. As well as establishing ROI in training, this evaluation model can determine whether a programme meets its objectives. It will uncover any strength or weaknesses and ultimately help towards making a decision about training investment and establish priorities.