You work in learning and development (L&D), and you love your work. Maybe it’s because you:

  • Derive satisfaction from that “aha!” moment when people learn.
  • Know that learning is the key to everything.
  • Think people are the most important resource in the organization.

When you know that learning makes a difference — to individuals and organizations — and you are excited about it, it’s heartbreaking when L&D is one of the first budget cuts during these challenging times.

Maybe the cuts are made by people who don’t understand the positive impact that L&D makes. Maybe decision makers don’t receive the information about L&D in a format that make sense to them.

For example, in an executive team meeting, the sales director complains that they have one excellent salesperson, and the rest of the team isn’t so good. He needs everyone to be great. The L&D director listens.

When the sales director stops speaking, the L&D director says, “I can fix that for you. Do you want me to fix that?” The sales director says:“Of course!” Just like that, the L&D director has the authority to act.

Honestly, most operational directors and managers don’t much care about L&D details. They aren’t interested in competences or the details of a training program. They just want you to fix things. So, tell them that you’ve fixed the challenge they are facing so that they understand how much value L&D brings to the business. And keep doing that — every week, every month.

Evaluation measures your value. It’s proof that you can deliver what they need. Whether you’re a human resources business partner (HRBP) or an L&D professional, you need to speak to your business stakeholders in language they understand.

The key is to start with the end in mind. What is the problem? If you know that, then it’s easier to fix it. Here are some practical steps that can make evaluation work for you:

Step 1: What is the problem?

John needs some management training. Why? What is John not doing or not doing well? Maybe he needs training, maybe not. Drill down with questions to understand the issue.

Step 2: What impact does the problem have?

This is the outcome you need to address. John’s team has poor performance, high turnover or absence. He upsets people. He doesn’t communicate well. What changes need to be made?

Step 3: Will this solution deliver that outcome?

This is a key question to ask internal and external trainers. The L&D solution is good — but only if it delivers the desired outcome.

Step 4: How can we assess the impact?

Finally, plan evaluation. When you are sure of the issues, outcomes and solutions, evaluation is easier.

To better understand, let’s have a quick look at the Kirkpatrick Model:

Level 1: Reaction.

Did John enjoy the program and learn useful things? What does he say he learned and how will he apply it? This level should happen by the end of the course. In the “happy sheet” evaluation, include questions about how he can apply the learning and any help he might need.

Levels 2 and 3: Learning and Behavior.

What is John doing differently? Is he using the tools and techniques he was given in the program? What do his colleagues and manager see him doing differently? Have some of the problems been eliminated?

If you do this about two to four months after the learning ends, you can cover both levels at the same time. Use a short online questionnaire for participants. Maybe assemble others for a 30-minute discussion. Ask learners’ managers and coworkers what differences they see in their performance. It doesn’t have to be a full 360-degree assessment. A quick sample survey is great — whatever works for you, the people and the program. Ask for specific examples. What are you doing now that you didn’t do before the training? What changes are other people seeing?

Level 4: Results.

Return to the original issues. Has there been a change? This is often desk-based evaluation. What are the before and after results from 360-degree feedback, staff engagement surveys, absence or staff turnover data, quality and compliance data. Not all changes will be the result of training, but effective training will have an impact.

In Conclusion

If you’ve already started the program or it’s just finished, don’t worry. You can still do this. Evaluation is always possible. There is some evidence that executive coaching is best assessed three to five years after the program, so look at what’s happened and maybe you can evaluate it now.

L&D is about people developing new skills and habits. If you have ever tried to diet or quit smoking, you know that changing a habit takes time. The L&D from a few months ago is ready to evaluate.

If you are wondering about return on investment (ROI), please don’t. It’s complex and often unnecessary. Focus on return on equity (ROE). Whether it’s a whole company management program or executive team coaching, the expectation is that something will change. Identifying those changes and telling people about them is how you show L&D’s value.

Assemble the data and the stories because that’s what directors and managers want to hear. The sales director can see sales performance is significantly better across the whole team. Operations wants improved customer retention or quality compliance. Everyone wants consistent team performance, and analytics come in many variations.

Don’t fear evaluation. As an L&D leader, be proud of the difference you make. Evaluation is just a fancy way of saying that the work you do makes a difference. It’s important to figure out one new way to show the rest of the organization how much of a difference you make.