It’s been said before, “Start with the end in mind.”
Let’s go out on a limb here and assume that you want your training course to result in a desired change. If so, what is that change? An improved business key performance indicator (KPI)? Better performance? A happy executive? Better morale?
Whatever the desired change is, when facilitating training it’s important to determine what the desired behavior change is and how your training program can help. In this article, we’ll take a look at the steps to effectively measuring and evaluating training needs in an organization.
1. Identify Training Outcomes
The first step is to identify the outcomes you and stakeholders want from your training program. By far the most common training outcome is behavior change. Following training you want your learners to improve their performance. That is, your trainees begin doing things differently after the training, and as a result they are more effective when executing the organizational strategy. Even if your outcome is simply checking some compliance boxes, presumably you also want the trainees to behave compliantly.
Therefore, you need clarity on desired behavioral outcomes that will solve the presenting business problem. This requires a behavioral needs analysis. A BNA starts by identifying tasks relating to the business problem that are currently not being done well and need improvement.
To help identify these tasks, ask stakeholders “If I could wave a magic wand and improve only one task your employees perform, which task would you choose?”. After presenting this question to stakeholders, you will have a list of what they believe are the critical tasks for operational success. Be sure to ask a wide variety of stakeholders both close to and distant from the problem to ensure you get at the truth of the situation. It’s important to be specific about what these tasks are versus using general descriptions, like management, or data entry or equipment repair.
Select a short list of the tasks and start initiatives to improve the required behaviors. Note that these initiatives may or may not be training. As you implement, notice the overall effect. If you chose key tasks, there will be a ripple effect beyond just the selected tasks.
Now you can do the same exercise and select another short list. If you try and do too much at once, you will overwhelm people, or what you deliver will be generic and therefore not directly relevant which will limit learning transfer.
2. Evaluate Performance Goals
Once you have your list of target tasks, ask the stakeholders how they want people to do those tasks in a different way to how they are being done presently. In other words, how do they want people to behave when doing those tasks. They should be able to give you a detailed answer to the question, “How do you want your team members to do that task?”. Build up a written document of the task list and the way that managers want those tasks to be performed.
You will be surprised at how managers can’t answer that seemingly easy question. They will often have a litany of things they don’t want but have seldom turned that around and considered what they want instead. It is much easier to complain than be constructive.
This is where you can help. Coach management on how to focus on learning outcomes. You can start with this question: “How would you know they are doing that task in the way you want?”. You need to understand what evidence criteria they are using to know the task is being underperformed currently, and what evidence they would be looking for to know the task is being performed well in the future.
For them to ask for training, they are using things they see, hear, or feel to arrive at the conclusion that their people need training. What are those things? What ‘measures’ are they using? Even if they say it’s just a gut feel, what informs that feeling?
There are many ways you could measure and then evaluate your training, but ultimately your customers, the stakeholders, will use the same set of measures they have already used to determine that the current set of behaviors is not adequate. You need to be aware of those measures because this is how your stakeholders will judge the effectiveness of your intervention.
3. Design and Deliver
At this point in the process, you should have a list of specific tasks, with a behavioral description of how those tasks should be done, and what stakeholders would see, hear, or feel if those tasks are being done adequately.
Now you need to get that list signed off by those who are asking for training. Focus them on the change they are looking for, and how it will manifest and help the business, rather than on the method that is used to generate the change.
Now that you have clarity of your outcomes, you can design and build your intervention with the end in mind. Given your outcome is a set of behaviors, your question becomes, “How can I deliver these behaviors?”. This will lead you into asking what skills they need to have in their toolbox to accomplish those behaviors when called on to do so, and how you can create those skills by providing some knowledge, and plenty of opportunities to experiment, reflect and practice.
This set of activities spread over time to accomplish a learning outcome such as training and embedding a skillset, is a learning workflow. You need to implement metrics into this process to gain insight on the progression of their skill development and how they’re applying their new skills on the job.
So, remember the admonition “Start with the end in mind” which has been repeated through history from as far back as the Roman philosopher Seneca around 50 AD. Do your Behavioral Needs Analysis first before getting seduced into thinking about design and delivery. If you don’t get started right with an agreed set of behavioral measures, you will never be able to evaluate the effectiveness of your training program.