Going beyond ‘What did you learn in training today?’
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Going beyond ‘What did you learn in training today?’

When you send employees for training, how can you determine afterward whether it was worth it?

A lot of employee learning specialists simply ask the trainees themselves. How did you like the material and the trainer, what did you learn, etc. Certainly that’s the easiest way to go about it. Hand out a survey, have people fill it out, and cast an eye over the results. Or, in a smaller workplace or department, just ask around informally.

But once you’ve done these kinds of things, do you actually know whether the training is likely to improve the performance of the trainees and your organization? Maybe not.

A recent survey of 360 training and HR people by the American Management Association found that 73% of respondents used employee feedback to gauge training effectiveness. That method came out ahead of post-training performance measurement (50%), feedback from the employees’ managers (40%), and 360-degree feedback (31%), where co-workers comment on what the employees seem to have learned at the training. (The totals didn’t add up to 100% because many respondents used more than one method.)

Correlation trap
It’s great if you can come up with a way to measure the direct effect of training on performance. But there are many pitfalls in that approach, notably the correlation vs. causation trap: Just because an employee’s performance improves after training doesn’t mean it improved because of the training.

If you want to beef up your training-effectiveness assessment, and creating numerical performance measures seems too hard, you might consider getting the employees’ manager(s)and/or co-workers in on it. After all, they’re the ones who observe the trainees at work day-to-day, and hear what they say. If an employee has been telling co-workers, “This task seems a lot easier since we learned that new way of attacking it,” you want to know. Conversely, if several of the trainees remark on how inapplicable the training seems when they try to use it, you want to know that, too.

This doesn’t have to be a complex or demanding process. Brief interviews with managers and/or co-workers a few weeks — say, 30 days — after the end of the training ought to be enough. Do alert interviewees ahead of time, though, that you’ll be talking to them, so they’re primed to notice changes in the behavior of the trainees.

The search for ROI from training is always going to be somewhat elusive. But just because you can’t necessarily put hard numbers on it doesn’t mean you can’t obtain a broader picture of how any given training has benefited the people who experienced it.

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