A common New Year’s resolution is to exercise more. But where do you start? What type of regimen makes sense to you? If you must spend 30 minutes every other day sweating — what will give you the biggest bang for your buck? What’s going to make you look and feel the best in the shortest amount of time?

It’s all about assessment — evaluating where you are and where you want to be.

The first step is to put together a quick diagnostic of where you are now and then compare that where you want to be in a few months. This “diagnostic” might mean standing in front of a full-length mirror for a few moments, consulting with a trainer or visiting various exercise and nutrition specialists.

No matter what level of diagnostic you choose or what level of insights you want to gain, you need some sort of initial assessment to receive the greatest return on investment (ROI). The better the assessment, the more targeted you can make your development plan — and the faster you can show improvement. And the most crucial part of this initial assessment is it helps you define what improvement should look like over the next couple months.

By now you’ve figured out I’m not really talking about working out, but rather competency assessments and training results. But just like any other type of training, or any human improvement for that matter, the better you assess where you are now — the clearer you can be about what you want to improve — and how to measure the results. If you have a valid and reliable assessment, you can be smarter about the training programs you choose and select only the ones that will fit into your customized plan for development. Without this targeted approach, and without a prescribed development plan, expect more of what our training industry calls “scrap learning.”

To demonstrate this point, I want to share a case study that measured the impact and ROI of using a good pre-training assessment. The study was conducted within a global financial services company over the course of six months. The hypothesis: Leaders who used a pre-training assessment have a more targeted development plan and therefore more of the training they chose would “stick” and increase business impact.

In this study, we measured the training results of a group of 210 frontline team leaders who started their training journey with a formal competency/skills assessment and compared their post-training results to a group of 216 similar managers and team leaders who did not to use any type of assessment to initially diagnose their stand-out strengths and opportunities. This provided a nice control-group design in which our independent variable was simply whether they used an assessment, and the dependent or outcome variable was the ultimate impact of the training they chose to take. Probably the most impressive aspect of this study was the rigor in which we measured the outcome variable — training impact.

Here’s a quick summary of how we measured training impact and a quantitative comparison of the two scenarios:

Results for each scenario at every level of impact:

Conclusion

As evidenced from the above results, both training options were effective, but the impact of training at every level of measurement was stronger when the training was aligned to an initial diagnostic.

They liked the training more because it felt more customized to them (Level 1). They learned more because the content was closing a bigger a gap (Level 2). They had more improvement in their on-the-job behaviors because they knew exactly what improvement should look like over the several months post-training (Level 3). These behaviors helped them increase the engagement and productivity of their direct reports (Level 4). Then these direct reports increased sales, and these sales led to monetary benefits that outweighed the costs (Level 5).

Finally, we found that managers who made the greatest improvements had more robust conversations with their own managers about what should be included in their development plan (Level 6).

Measuring the impact of training can be a daunting task, but just like New Year’s resolutions, if you start today, you’ll be well on your way toward achieving your goals.

Share