What’s the scariest, yet most important question anyone can ever ask you in the corporate training industry?

“Does your training work?” 

Yes, that’s it!

After all, if training doesn’t work to improve employee performance or the business, then what’s the point? Why should stakeholders care? At the end of the day, if you’re going to keep investors interested in your value proposition — you better show them some value.

So, what exactly do all these skeptical, (and sometimes) demanding stakeholders want? To answer this simply, think about what you implicitly or explicitly promise them any time you present training as a solution to whatever’s ailing them.

Whether you’re an internal learning and development (L&D) partner or an external training vendor, you’re promising that their learners will learn something new and then transfer that new knowledge back to their jobs and ultimately, improve the business. And when you can quantify all of the benefits gained from training, you can show how it outweighs the costs.

And of course, through this measurement, you can find out a few things about how to improve training and its impact in the future. You can hit all of these targets with a simple, yet comprehensive six-level approach to training evaluation:

Level 1 – Did they like it?  Level 1 measures the extent to which training participants react positively to the training experience.  Were they engaged? Was it fun? Were they satisfied with the content and the way it was delivered?  Was it relevant to their role?

Level 2 – Did they learn anything?  Level 2 measures the extent to which new knowledge and skills were acquired during the training.  Are they leaving with critical knowledge and capabilities that will help them do their jobs better?

Level 3 – Are they doing anything differently and better?  Level 3 measures the extent to which participants are returning to their everyday jobs and actually applying what they learned in training. Do they do something better? Do they do something more effectively or more efficiently?  Without this application and transfer of knowledge, the effect of training can never impact the business.

Level 4 – Did it impact the business? Level 4 measures the extent to which training is improving critical business metrics. That is, did the behavioral improvements and applying the new knowledge and skills actually lead to better business metrics and higher performance?  What was the increase in productivity? What was the increase in sales revenue, customer satisfaction or cost saving efficiencies?

Level 5 – Was it worth the investment?  Level 5 measures the return on investment (ROI). That is, the extent to which the benefits of a particular training experience outweigh the costs of that training experience. The final ROI is expressed as a percentage of the original investment.

Level 6 – What factors maximize the ROI? Level 6 is an evaluation of what I call “ROI maximizers.”  This analysis tells you which environmental factors are best at influencing the impact of your training on the job. Are there things going on in the participant’s immediate work environment (e.g., direct manager support, opportunities to practice, etc.) that are either helping or hindering the impact of all your training efforts?

A Case Study

Many cutting edge, learning technology companies understand the value of measuring these levels and have embraced it as a competitive advantage. For instance, one forward-thinking company embeds Level 1-4 measurement and reporting right into their platform and then provides expert measurement consulting for those customers who want to bring their “story of impact” to Level 5-6.  Here’s an example of how it works:

  • Participants attend a manager training program consisting of four classes.
  • Level 1 is captured right after each class.
  • Level 2 is captured after the full completion of the program.
  • Level 3 is captured in a full 180-degree experience, sent 60 days post-training, where both participants and their direct reports are asked about improvement in key manager behaviors.
  • Level 4 data, via performance gains, are also captured in the same 60-day post training assessment.
  • Level 5 is done outside the platform with a more rigorous review of monetized benefits.
  • Level 6, also done outside the platform, measures the added impact of things like post-training practice labs, reinforcement classes, and manager support tools that are launched to participants to maximize the transfer of learning back to the job.

Conclusion

No matter how much the L&D landscape changes and adapts to our new world of work, the single biggest question in our industry remains the same: Does training really work? While most training organizations and vendors shy away from this question due to lack of measurement expertise or just fear of negative returns, some brave, forward-thinking companies are taking it head on and turning it into a competitive advantage.

The bottom line is don’t be afraid of the question, “Does your training work?” Instead, embrace it as a unique opportunity to spotlight the value of your employee training to business leaders and chief executive officers who’ve been historically silent, yet skeptical of training’s impact. And if you choose the right training provider, they can help you measure and tell your valuable story of impact at every level.

Most of us know that training can pack a great ROI, but business leaders and C-suite who invest a real budget in their employee development need to see the numbers.  Whether you’re measuring internally or externally, you must show the results.  It’ll satisfy your stakeholders, make your training more impactful, and increase your spending budget next year — how’s that for a great ROI?

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