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Evaluation is not optional!

Despite a recent article suggesting that a third of UK organisations have no formal learning programmes in place at all, every business, large or small, indulges in some employee development at least once in a while. In fact, the chances are you do more of it than you think. Any new procedure, any tiny change to a product, any new legislation that impacts on the services you provide… it doesn’t matter how small, when you inform your people about the change, when you update their knowledge, when you tell them what they need to know in order to do their jobs… that’s learning and development (or L&D) in action. Just because it happens on the hoof and not in a formal workshop or seminar, doesn’t mean it’s not training.

An L&D statistic

So, given how much of this goes on, however informal, it’s a little surprising that a recent CIPD press release stated that only 7% of L&D professionals evaluate the impact of their initiatives on the wider business. But between formal programmes and ad hoc updating, you’re probably putting in a fair portion of time to L&D. And let’s be clear, you’re right to do so. Although many employers say they prefer to buy in missing skills and talent rather than develop it in-house, take a moment to consider how prolonged (and risky) the recruitment process can be and you’ll see that keeping your current staff ‘up-skilled’ is a strategy that has some value.

What’s your return on this investment?

Because it is an investment. It’s taking time, energy, and quite probably money and you need to know if the results are worth it. That’s why some sort of evaluation process is important. It doesn’t have to be a formal or elaborate system, but it does need to happen.

Key tips on keeping evaluation straightforward

A simple and tried and tested evaluation model is Donald Kirkpatrick’s 4-level model. It lays out the different types of evaluation clearly and can be applied as a framework for any kind of training:

  1. reaction – what did the ‘trainee’ think and feel about the training?
  2. learning – did their knowledge +/or skills increase as expected?
  3. behaviour – to what extent did their performance improve in line with expectations?
  4. results – what effect did that improved performance have on business?

Most businesses, if they evaluate at all, tend to focus on levels 1 and 2 because they’re the easiest to do. But let’s face it, levels 3 and 4 are where, as a business owner or manager, you really want to see some impact. The beauty of the model is that it can be adapted to any training activity. The cost and time and effort may dictate how formal you make the process – from elaborate questionnaires, interviews, and computerised number-crunching to a simple chat with the right person – but the framework of Kirkpatrick’s 4 levels will work.

Bottom line evaluation tips

To sum up, here are the key tips for any kind of training in any size of business:

Know the learning objectives – which is a fancy way of saying, be clear and specific about what you expect the person to learn.

Agree beforehand how the training will be implemented – applying the learning to the day-to-day role is the biggest hurdle; if both the individual and their manager are agreed on how that will take place, it is much more likely to actually happen.

Know the practical impact you’re aiming for – in other words, be clear on what success will look like (faster, better, more efficient… whatever success is, think about how you’ll measure it).

Measure it.

Finally, review the results, the degree of success, the impact of that success and then decide… what next? It may be some kind of reward or other acknowledgement of the success, or on the other hand, changes to the training may be needed, or maybe even further training. Whatever, the point is, do something with the information and data that you’ve gone to so much trouble to collect.

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