Do you think anyone in the accounting office sits around wondering how they should measure the effectiveness of their work? What about the HR folks? The bean counters don't work overtime at the end of the year creating a report that shows how many books were balanced or how many invoices were paid in an attempt to demonstrate their worth to the organization.
Why, then, do the learning and training folks spend so much time evaluating their own work?
Truth is, we spend far too much time trying to sell what we do to the C-Suite in order to prove our worth. We spend the better part of the last two months of every year compiling and assessing training activity -- for example, how much training was developed and delivered, and how many training hours that people completed. Then we scratch our heads and attempt to link that activity to business results.
I say, let's stop the madness, and here's why:
First of all, in many cases, the CEO isn’t buying what we're selling anyway. Second, we simply don't have the time or resources to compile and analyze all of that data. Stop trying to convince the business that you are valuable -- just be valuable instead. One of the best ways you can "just be valuable" is to decide what training you will evaluate, and what training you will not evaluate. In other words, evaluate only that which matters.
When You Shouldn't Evaluate Training
You may suggest I be thrown out of the profession for saying this, but for most of your training initiatives you should simply drop the effort to evaluate its effectiveness. Here is a matrix that you can use to help you decide whether you should evaluation a training program.
Training that is required or otherwise necessary should not be evaluated. For example new product, compliance, or any other training program that is ongoing or stable. You already know these training programs are required and must happen so there is no need to justify them. You have scarce resources and should use those resources for productive purposes.
When You Should Evaluate Training
You should evaluate training only when you are proposing a new training program or making a significant change to an existing program. For example, let's say you want to add 4 weeks to a new hire training program. You think that you can help people be more productive at their jobs and faster, if you add 4 more weeks to the training to do some more practice in class and even do some real life on the job training.
Obviously, the problem is that adding 4 weeks would be expensive, not to mention the additional month that a new person is not doing a job. Managers love that, don't they? So, to convince the business that that extra month will be "worth it" you have to show them how (convince them) it will be worth it. Estimate how much it will cost to add the additional 4 weeks and then estimate how much will be gained from increased productivity or sales, etc. Compare the numbers and present it to the business.
They will likely bite if the analysis is sound. If they approve, and you implement the additional training time, look at new hire productivity after they complete the training and compare your estimates with what actually happened. That is evaluating training. Was that so hard?
Whatever you do, don't ask the question, "how do we evaluate training?" Ask which programs we should evaluate so we can use our resources most effectively.
Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at well-known companies like E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable. In his leadership role at Knowland University, Bill focuses on helping clients get the most out of the products and services provided through a combination of guided and self-paced learning opportunities. He believes all learning experiences should be grounded in real-world application and designed to improve sales performance.