How Do You Know If Your Business Training Was Actually Worth Your While?
This article on www.mckinsey.com had some very interesting statistics in the opening paragraphs (the rest of the article is also an excellent case study of a specific example of measuring the effectiveness of training for a specific organisation). The specific examples in their case study are interesting, but perhaps not as interesting as these statistics: that 90% of organisations regard building employee capabilities as a priority, but that only a quarter of respondents to their survey regarded improvements through training as being measurable, and staggeringly only 8% actually attempted to track the return on investment from their training programmes. It might seem a basic precept of business that you don’t spend money unless you know what you’re getting back for that spending, but it seems that in the case of training, more businesses than not don’t take that on board.
Why, then, do so few businesses take practical steps to measure their employee training, upskilling or management development outcomes? It may be that there’s a prejudice at play – that training is inherently airy-fairy, especially when you get past subjects like induction and compliance. Subjects like leadership and selling skills can seem just that bit less concrete in terms of what staff members learn. There’s a number of schools of thought when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of training. Donald Kirkpatrick’s four level model was first published in 1959, and continues to be popular through the intervening decades and several updates. It’s easy to see why, too – it’s a very comprehensive model for measuring training effectiveness. The first level suggests you measure the reaction of the employees (did they enjoy it? Or more importantly did they find it practical and useful?). The second level suggests measuring the learning (how much more do your employees know now than they did before? What potentially useful skills have they acquired?). The third level, according to Kirkpatrick, is behaviours (how have staff behaviours changed as a result of this new knowledge? How is it being applied?) and finally the fourth level is results (to what extent has the training resulted in the achievement of specific goals or targets?). As I say, it’s a very comprehensive model which addresses multiple aspects of the training process.
However, it doesn’t really address many of the prejudices I mentioned; that staff upskilling is a concrete cost for what is at best an amorphous benefit. Here at Seams LMS Ireland we’re primarily a business-focused training and learning management company, part of the Optimum Results group of training companies which has been delivering results-focused business training for over 20 Years. We would, as you might expect, beg to differ with that prejudice. The truth is (especially in these post-credit crunch days) that in order to effectively measure training the goals for that training must be decided in advance, as well as the metrics by which those goals are measured. This means that before training even takes place there must be a statistical base for deciding on improvement. For example, leadership training shouldn’t be undertaken because it’s a nice-to-have (wouldn’t we all like to be more effective leaders?) but because there is a concrete issue being addressed. You need to know what metrics are going to be used to measure the success of that leadership training process – are projects going to come in before schedule or under budget? If so, what’s the bottom-line cost benefit of these things?
Likewise soft skills like effective selling. In fact selling should be a very measurable metric – what were the average sales figures before the training, and what are they after? Again, what’s the bottom line cost benefit to your business? Once you have figures like that, it’s a simple matter to judge the cost of the training against any benefit received to your business. Ultimately, measuring the results of training is not a process you begin after the training has been completed. It has to be something that you’ve considered and gathered metrics for before the training even happens. It may seem that this doesn’t address the key criticism – that the changes are a direct result of the training, and ultimately, it’s true that there must be some element of training that is fundamentally subjective – people are the irreducible element of effective skills development, and two people may not react the same way to a specific e-learning course or classroom presentation – but on a statistical basis, in the absence of other changes, if you’ve spent a dollar on training and gotten two more dollars in sales than you had before, something had an effect.
Ultimately, a pattern like that is fundamentally indicative of training working as it should.
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