Many learning organizations rate “evaluating the impact of training” as their greatest challenge.  The implication is that if they could just measure the results of training, they would finally get “a seat at the table” and all would be well.

But is that true?

What if you measure the impact of training and find none?  Or what if you measure the impact of training and find—as one of the speakers at the recent Center for Talent Reporting Conference did—that more than 40% of all your training was scrap (that is, was never put to use)?  You might make training a target for budget-cutting and “right-sizing.”

Measurement is impartial.  It cuts both ways.  It is dangerous to just assume that the results will be positive. 

Yes, training organizations need to do a better job of evaluating and selling the value of what they do.  Simultaneously, they must take steps to ensure that there are positive results to measure.

 Three key areas need attention to improve the probability and magnitude of success:

  1. Stop training when training is not the right answer.
  2. Clarify the criteria for success before designing the learning intervention.
  3. Actively support transfer and application back on the job.

These are covered in more details in our book, The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results and in our 6Ds Workshops, but here are the highlights.

  1. Stop training when training is not the right answer.

When faced with a performance shortfall, many business managers assume that training is the solution.  But training will enhance performance only if the root cause is a lack of skill or knowledge; training people how to do things they already know how to do—but don’t for some other reason—is a waste of time.  Learning professionals in many of our clients estimate that a third to more than have the training they deliver does not really address the problem it was intended to solve.  More information is available here: http://the6ds.com/want-to-improve-your-batting-average-make-sure-training-is-the-right-solution/

  1. Clarify the criteria for success before designing the learning intervention.

You cannot design a convincing evaluation if you do not know how the sponsor defines success.  Getting strategic alignment in advance about the business objectives for the training is one of the most important things you can do to be sure you can demonstrate added value.  Ask the business sponsor “How much of a change in what key performance indicator do you need to see to conclude that the training was a success?” The answers will allow you to design more effective learning interventions and be more confident that the results you collect matter to the business.

  1. Actively support transfer and application back on the job.

The weakest link in most corporate training programs is the post-training period, because it is usually left to chance and individual initiative.  But as Don and Jim Kirkpatrick wrote: “If the trainees do not apply what they learned, the program has been a failure even if learning has taken place.”  It is not the learning that creates business results, it is the application of learning that matters.  Therefore, if you are smart, you will put in place structure, support, and accountability (to use Ken Blanchard’s phrase) to drive learning transfer and improve the results.

Bottom line: To earn greater respect and continued funding, learning and development professionals need to do a better job of evaluating and reporting their results.  But before they do so, they must take steps to ensure that there are results to measure.

In this brief overview we have suggested three key steps to take.  To learn more, attend a 6Ds Workshop and/or read The Six Disciplines which contains more practical advice, case studies, and research.

Andy Jefferson and Roy Pollock