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Effective evaluation of training


Kimberly Bradshaw looks at why the monitoring and evaluation of training effectiveness is such a key part of the training cycle.

Despite the huge annual investment made in training few organisations are interested in evaluating beyond even the most basic levels. This may be due to confusion about what training evaluation is and what it is designed to do, despite its key role in the training cycle. Despite the many benefits that can arise from applying evaluation, the issues surrounding it far outweigh them.

The key reason for evaluating training is to make sure the billions spent on it each year actually provide the competitive advantage it sets out to achieve. According to recent National Employer Skills Survey, UK companies spent an all time high of £38.6bn on training. The 2010 US training industry report (Training) claims $52.8bn was spent that year.

"Training evaluation ought to provide input into decision-making at the beginning of the training cycle, just as the training needs analysis does."

Training magazine reported that the main priorities for training (Training) are - increasing effectiveness (44%), and reducing costs (29%). Despite this, in 2007 only 28% of organisations had measured the impact of the training as a priority and by the time of the 2010 report this had dropped to 14%.

With so much money at stake, it seems incredible that organisations are not evaluating more and do not even seem interested in doing so beyond the more basic levels of evaluation.

Calls for change are exemplified by the a recent CIPD survey which suggested "sweeping change" was on the agenda over the next five years for learning and development. Of the 900 learning and development managers surveyed, the report found the largest change expected was a closer integration with business strategy to produce more effective results.

Close behind came anticipation of a greater emphasis on the monitoring and evaluation of training effectiveness in order to offer training that has the biggest impact on the bottom line. The expected "sweeping change" hasn’t happened yet, with budgets being squeezed and average spend per head droppING from £300 to £220 (CIPD). In this context, further training evaluation is unlikely to occur in practice, given the cost and time implications involved.

Evaluation and its design are integral parts of the training cycle, but often neglected. Too often, the cycle is seen as linear with evaluation only considered at the end of the process. But training evaluation ought to provide input into decision-making at the beginning of the training cycle, just as the training needs analysis does.

A training model needs quantifiable results and with so little evaluation taking place, it is difficult to see how the results of training can be embedded in organisational performance.

Recently we did some work for a leading commercial television channel. The company undertook an efficiency review, putting 600 individuals at risk of redundancy. Remaining employees felt disengaged, demotivated and staff loyalty was compromised. The company was keen to retain and support identified talent and to help line managers cope with the change programme and staff development issues arising from it.

Diverse programme

A training programme comprising a variety of interventions was designed. Every category of employee was touched: those being made redundant, survivors, talent, and also line managers of those affected, making it a diverse and comprehensive programme. It also resulted in a National Training Award for our client.

In particular there was a need to upskill managers to deliver difficult messages during redundancy and ensure legal requirements and company policies were adhered to. Managers had different levels of ability and the goal was to ensure all had the relevant skills and took a consistent approach. 

Feedback forms and surveys were used to evaluate the success of the training interventions. Workshop feedback demonstrated an average score of 4.5 (out of 5). Success was demonstrated through an engagement survey where commitment to the organisation increased by 25% in a six month period and with demonstrable success in retention and motivation. 

Ongoing behavioural changes are being ensured through coaching the HR team on a one-to-one basis to help them manage individual’s needs and questions as well as additional training.

There are several reasons that I believe this was a particularly effective training programme. A holistic view of the impact of change was taken, which meant that training was targeted at not only those leaving the organisation, but also the survivors of the change, who can often be neglected in situations such as these.

The programme has resulted in tangible benefits for the organisation in the form of increased appraisal completion rates, dignified exits for those leaving and sustained morale for those remaining. In addition we were able to demonstrate an £81,000 cost saving for our client. 

By offering comprehensive support and training to those leaving an organisation, we have facilitated new opportunities for talented people and, therefore, increased the likelihood of retaining valuable skills and experience overall.

Good evaluation methods can indicate how training can be improved or developed. It can show the cost benefit, what people learned and whether this had a positive impact on their performance. Training evaluation helps identify which training approaches are suitable for which types of individuals within your organisation.

We should, of course, consider the idea that evaluation may show the training is not meeting its objectives, thus reflecting negatively on the programme sponsor or designer.

Linking training with results is critical for justifying to management the cost of training and to maintain the training function. If this was achieved, more evaluation would be undertaken and training budgets would not be so subject to the vagaries of economic climates.

Practitioners are failing as a profession by not evaluating more, how organisational needs are met, and also by not identifying how training can be improved and developed.

Kimberly Bradshaw is relationship director at Fairplace Cedar.

One Response

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