How to Secure Training Success

Recently, I’ve had occasion to apply my mind to the question of what constitutes success when it comes to training employees. We are all familiar with the evaluation forms that one gets at the end of a training programme. You know the one I mean the one where they measure your reaction (Kirkpatrick Level 1) to the training by asking you about:

  • The training design: Were the objectives clear? Was the session well organized? Was the pace and content at the right level?
  • The instructor/facilitator: How knowledgeable was she? Did he answer questions to your satisfaction?
  • Logistics: How was the room? How was the food?
  • Application : How will you apply this training?
  • Recommendation : Would you recommend this programme to your colleagues?

Here’s the thing though, if all the participants give you a perfect score on all of those factors, does that mean that the training was successful? Or is there more to it?

As so often happens in life, the answer is It depends? It depends on what the purpose of the training was. Since I doubt very much that very many training programmes are organized purely to give a boost to the trainer/facilitator/designer’s ego, then we probably need to look further for proof of success.

That takes us to Kirkpatrick’s Level 2 evaluation where one measures learning  i.e. acquiring knowledge, developing / improving skills, or changing attitude. So if we ask the right questions and utilize the right pre and post-tests to show that learning has indeed taken place, then can we say that the training was successful?

Importance of Learning Transfer

By now you should know the routine, it depends. In their 2012 ATD article Ensuring Learning Transfer authors Roy Pollock and Andy Jefferson presented the following equation to define the result of training:

Results = Learning x Transfer

So, based on elementary maths (or, should that be algebra?), if you get the maximum score on learning but there is no transfer of the learning to the workplace, then the result is zero / nada / zilch / a waste of time and money. That may sound harsh. However, that’s how the folks who make decisions about how to spend the ever-dwindling budget will see it.  If you cannot show an improvement in job / business performance, you might as well put a bulls-eye on your back (or chest if you prefer to see it coming) and stand out on the firing range.

So, the bottom line is that we have to figure out how to ensure that there is a transfer of learning if we want our training interventions to be perceived as adding value. We have to begin with the end in mind. We have to be clear on the purpose of the training in the first place. Who is the sponsor/champion for the programme, and what are their business objectives? That’s right I said business objectives. Trainers understand and embrace the importance of having learning objectives. What I’m saying here is that we need to be equally attentive to business objectives if we are to improve the likelihood of training success.

Think about the last training programme that you attended or to which you sent your staff. Were you, as well as, the trainer and the participants clear on both the business objective and the learning objectives. Was there an evaluation plan to measure both?

In a survey by McKinsey & Company, only 25 percent of business managers said that training and development contributed measurably to business performance. How do your figures compare to this, and how do we move the needle on that underwhelming statistic?

Create an Enabling Environment

One of the most critical determinants of the level of training success doesn’t actually have anything to do with training. Rather it’s all about the environment within the organisation and how conducive it is to staff’s ability to apply the lessons learnt.

For your investment in training to produce the targeted business impact, your training interventions must be fit for purpose and facilitate learning. That learning must then lead to a change in behaviour or performance, and that change in performance should translate into growth – both on the part of employees and the business.

Here are some of the factors that help to create an enabling environment for learning transfer:

  • Organisational culture – if the culture is resistant to change, any attempts to apply the lessons learnt will be stymied
  • Managerial support – in the absence of active and sustained managerial support for the new way of being and doing, the status quo will prevail.
  • Aligned policies and procedures – if the new way of doing things is not aligned with existing policies and procedures, then employees will adhere to the path of least resistance.
  • Reinforcement measures – both positive and negative reinforcement can be utilized to stimulate desired actions. With consequences or rewards there is no incentive for sustained change in performance.

In summary, to secure training success that goes beyond participants’ reaction, begin with the end in mind and ensure that the training design is informed by both learning and business objectives. Then ensure that the organisational culture and individual managers are supportive of the targeted changes and that relevant policies and procedures align with the new way of doing things. Finally, monitor performance and apply reinforcement measures – whether positive or negative. With these steps, you will be well on your way to clearly establishing the new normal.

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