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Bryan Edwards

ABC Training Solutions - off shelf training materials

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Are sweets a way of effectively evaluating training?


One wet Friday a few months ago, I delivered an interpersonal skills training course to a group of staff. The manager who hired me to deliver the training popped into the training room at 5pm whilst I was clearing down (and before I started the long trek home down the M6) and said: “Bryan, good job done. I’ve just had a quick word with some of the participants and they were over the moon about the training. They really enjoyed it and loved the sweets too. Jane, who was on the training, really got where you were coming from.  I’ve got some more training coming up later this year and we’ll definitely be in touch”. 

This is a typical scenario, played out many times over 25 years as a trainer, both as in-house company trainer and whilst self-employed as I am now. As I weaved my way slowly back to the West Midlands, I reflected on that conversation and weighed up the benefits of the day. 

As a freelancer, I felt happy. Repeat business was coming my way as a result of the comments (everybody likes to be stroked even self-motivated people like me). The fact that I liked the audience (not always a done-deal) was also a bonus benefit. The previous night’s disturbed sleep in a budget hotel (I don’t like foreign beds – I wonder too much about who was in the bed last night, and what they were doing) was a distant memory. 

But, of course, my perceived benefits are all good and dandy. But what of the benefits to the company and the manager that hired me, and the attendees? Isn’t that why I came into training in the first place? To make a difference in improving skills to enhance job performance (sounds like a mission statement for a corporate organisation, not a one-man band outfit!). How confident can I feel that the enjoyment of the course (and the sweets) will translate to a measurable business benefit for the client’s investment of £100 per person? 

A glance at the happy sheets during the stop-start (mostly stop) points of the over-crowded M6 indicated that I had scored mostly 8 or 9 out of 10 for effectiveness. This was the best evidence I could muster for the client. I’ve used this sort of information many times in justifying my performance. But it’s a tenuous link. My happy go lucky mentality wants to think I made a difference to job performance, but did I? As a member of the freelance army, very often we never find out (or don’t want to enquire the answer 3 months down the line for fear of no perceived improvement). 

In an age of recession and austerity, value for money and effectiveness should be rigorously measured and squeezed to infinite degree. Yet incredibly in training we can get away with positive judgement of value for money and effectiveness based on the participants having a good time and enjoying the fun sized choccies. I’m don’t think there are many other aspects of that hiring manager’s job which can escape with such crude evaluation, particularly when accounting for the training spend (and loss of a day’s task productivity from participants) to the monthly senior manager’s meeting. 

Of course I could be highly cynical here and pre-judging the outcome. The company may in fact perform thorough evaluation in my absence. Mmm, I’m not convinced. Perhaps I should feel lucky that this hiring manager gives at least a nodding interest to establish the value of the training. The C.I.P.D.’s 2011 Learning and Talent Development survey report suggests that one in six organisations do not evaluate training at all. When they do evaluate, the ‘happy sheet’ is the most commonly used method of evaluating learning (93% of respondents) followed by the use of stories and testimonies of individuals to evaluate learning (56%).As the report puts it: “The nature of evaluation practice is skewed towards post workshop evaluation and anecdotal observations”. 

Perhaps I shouldn’t worry about those strident, interrogative senior managers quizzing the hiring manager about the value of the training at their next meeting. The survey suggests that only a quarter of organisations discuss the progress of learning as an intervention at management meetings anyway. 

What is my role in helping managers get more tangible training evaluation? On one hand I should steer my pre-course conversations towards helping the hiring manager understand the business benefits they should be seeking or suggesting how they can help the attendee set meaningful action plans as a result of the training. On the other hand, perhaps I ought to sell my ability to deliver management skills training which can help them think about these things intuitively. Even more work for me then....

Bryan Edwards is the Managing Director of ABC Training Solutions Ltd (, a training consultancy based in West Midlands, delivering training across the U.K. and marketing course materials.

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Bryan Edwards - off shelf training materials

Read more from Bryan Edwards

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