Without an assessment strategy, organizations frequently fail to make the most of their training dollars. For this reason, assessment needs to happen simultaneous to and following training events. After all, without a clear sense of a training event’s short- and long-term impacts, refining training strategies and making a case for training can be a challenge.
To consider why assessment needs to be built into training, consider the case of Mark Lockhart. In early 2014, Mark, who manages a small medical supply company, realized that his sales had been in a slump for the past two years. Although his sales team included many longtime employees, Mark suspected that after a decade or more on the ground, many of his sales representatives were simply going through the motions. To address the problem, Mark decided to bring together his sales team for a weekend training retreat. The goal was to bring his team up to speed on the company’s new products while simultaneously increasingly their commitment to the company and its brand. In short, he recognized that morale, motivation and knowledge were low and that a more well-informed and committed sales team held the potential to increase sales.
Mark’s training retreat was a success. 95% of his sales team participated. They learned about the company’s new products and their competition, discussed ways to reach new customers, and reconnected with each other and the company. Six months later, however, when Mark was asked to report to the company president, he had remarkably little to say about his successful training weekend. Sales had gone up 9% since the training event, but he had no way to prove that the training had in fact increased sales. Like most senior executives, the president of Mark’s company wanted evidence that the $8000 spent on the training weekend was directly connected to the sales increase. The onus was now on Mark to produce this evidence but in many ways, it was already too late. So how does one avoid Mark’s mistakes?
Reaction and Planned Action: First, it is important to assess training at the point of delivery. Did you get employee buy in for the training initiative? More specifically, what percentage of employees participated, and did they take the training seriously? If you had broader goals (e.g., to use the training to boast morale among employees), was there evidence that this happened in the context of the training event? Outgoing interviews and/or a survey distributed at the end of a training event may suffice as a way to capture this data.
Learning: Both during and following a training event, it is important to evaluate changes in knowledge, skills and attitudes among employees. For example, are they able to use programs or engage with systems they were not able to use or engage with prior to the training event? Are they able to assume more roles or greater responsibility in your organization as a result of the training event? Have their attitudes towards their work changed and if so, how? In this case, a range of quantitative and qualitative assessment tools may be needed to accurately measure the effectiveness of the training event.
Application: Third, it’s important to consider whether or not the training impacted how employees behave on the job. While they may have acquired new knowledge or skills during the training event, were they able to apply this knowledge and skills in context? In this case, the assessment needs to consider whether or not there has been an impact on the ground? In this case, you might compare specific measures, such as sales rates or the frequency of errors, before and after the training event.
Business Impact: How has the training impacted the organization? Has it changed what you do or your public image? Has it made your organization more competitive and if so, on what levels?
ROI: What’s the return on investment? Did the training cost more than the return? If you haven’t yet seen a ROI, will you likely see one over time? Could the training have been delivered for less money? What aspects of the training had the biggest pay back?
If you want to answer the above questions, you need to come up with an assessment strategy as you begin to plan a training event. The pay back for planning ahead, however, can be significant. Building assessment into training not only holds the potential to positively impact the event but also its long-term impacts on an organization.