Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Key Weapon for Maximising Training Investments

Businesses have a simple, burning question to ask of any training intervention, “How do we know that our investment was profitable?” Key to answering this question is in knowing WHEN to ask it and HOW.

Back to basics
The key to maximising investment in training is to define what results are expected in measurable terms, which is not as easy as it seems.

Whilst “To reduce the error level in XYZ production process by ABC%” might be straightforward, how do we set measurable objectives for soft skills training such as strategic thinking, negotiation, emotional intelligence or self-awareness for example? We know they can be taught, but how can we measure the extent to which a particular intervention has transferred these skills?

The objective of any workplace training intervention is to change the behaviour of the training programme participants. Why? To improve business results by either rectifying substandard performance or by imparting new skills. In either instance a business case would need to have been submitted which includes measurable results, usually expressed in financial terms.

The first step is for the training objectives (what will learners be able to do?) and these measurable, financial objectives to be made known to the provider and those enrolled on the training and their line managers.

What works?
Clearly, those questionnaires at the end of a course will not help to measure how far financial objectives have been met. They determine whether the delivery of the training had a positive impact on the participants and assists providers in improving their delivery.

What more needs to be done if we are to be assured that any training intervention is delivering the goods?

The tools
Valuable insights by one Don Kirkpatrick1 (1924 –2014) have given industry the tools needed.

In addition to determining the immediate impact of the training, further evaluation must be carried out to measure:

What was learnt?
Assessment of participants is vital. If this is not a part of the training programme, then it is edutainment, not training. More will have been achieved by taking the same participants on a team building exercise or to an inspiring movie.

To what extent has behaviour been changed?
At some stage after the training has taken place, we need to determine whether the learning which took place is being applied:

  • Are training participants applying the new skills in their work, or
  • Have the individuals concerned changed their previous practices in line with changes in client needs, legislation, company strategy, or other developments

This is implies that, prior to training taking place, we need to have the tools to measure these results. In practice this can be carried out through interviews, of assessment of observed behaviour against checklists or the evaluation of finished products.

Training providers need to be a part of building these tools and will need to include it in their quotations.

What it the financial impact?
The business case defined financial objectives. After an agreed period (should not be later than six months) the financial results of the areas in the company that were targeted for training need to be measured against these objectives. It may not be easy to gain an accurate result because other factors may intervene which either enhance or detract from the financial impact of the training.

What is the overall ROI?
By collating the financial impacts of all training interventions it becomes possible to calculate a real training ROI as opposed to one built on the Training Manager’s flights of fancy.

To summarise:

There is an argument which says that all this measuring is too time consuming and costly. On the other hand training is becoming an increasingly costly budget item whose value has until now been difficult to quantify.

Does your company think it important to calculate return on training investment?
Is the work involved in objectively assessing worth the effort involved?
What tools other than those which have been suggested do you use to measure training impact?

When organising training interventions, what importance do you place on measuring participants’ ability to apply what they have learnt?