Demonstrating the business value of training can be challenging, especially when the impact is on soft skills and behaviors. Much of the easily gathered data (such as Kirkpatrick Level 1 and 2 feedback, attendance numbers and completion rates) If performance has improved, it may not be easy to correlate that to training. With increasing intra-company competition for funding, the learning and development (L&D) function must provide clear evidence that it’s benefiting the business.

Define the Desired Outcomes

Before determining methods to measure a training program’s impact, consider the reason for the training and which behaviors it intends to change. Define the overall current state or issue and create a vision for the future state. For example, if training is implemented to enhance new manager performance, be clear on the manager’s actions that need to change and what a successful transition looks like. State which behaviors should be avoided and those that should be adopted. Once the outcomes are clear, determining what to measure will be easier.

Training program outcomes should also be aligned with organizational strategies, values and goals. Doing so can increase the likelihood of data being available to support learning outcomes because other business areas are pursuing similar goals and presumably need to provide evidence of progress themselves.

Ask the Right Questions

With the desired outcomes identified, pre-training surveys can help clarify learners’ needs in the targeted areas. Using the new manager training example, a pre-training survey may ask about learners’ assumptions regarding the manager role, the frequency of one-on-one meetings with their team members, how they address various challenges and other questions aligned to the programs’ goals.

Using this same survey post training can provide information about training’s effectiveness from the learners’ perspectives and may indicate behavior changes. This is a good starting point for gauging the training’s impact but it’s limited. For example, in a pre-training survey, a learner may have indicated that they have one-on-one meetings less frequently than they should’ve based on company standards. In the post-training survey, the same learner may state that they now have those meetings scheduled per the company’s direction. It can be easy to interpret this to mean that the training had a successful outcome. However, the survey question did not inquire about the value of one-on-ones or their intended use. Perhaps a learner increased the number of one-on-one meetings but used them to discuss project updates rather than focusing on their employees’ development needs. Whereas the change in behavior seemed optimistic, the intent of the meetings was missed, and the outcome was negative instead.

Surveys can provide great insight into learners’ needs and training effectiveness — if the right questions are asked. Ensure that survey questions measure desired outcomes and behaviors, not just specific actions.

Due to the subjectivity of such surveys, more information is needed to accurately determine training’s success. Drawing data from different areas of new manager engagement for those who enrolled in the program can assist in developing a more robust picture of behavioral change triggered by training.

Use Diamond Metrics

Diamonds are multi-faceted and (ideally) crystal clear, just as the data needed to demonstrate behavioral training success should be. Several aspects of engagement across the organization can be measured and combined to give a holistic view of learners’ shifting behavior. Each training program should have its own facets or measurement areas by which success is gauged. Each facet should also be relatively weighted by its importance to the training outcomes. Figure 1 illustrates potential areas of measurement for a new manager training program.

Graphic of diamond metrics.

Engagement survey scores of learners and their direct reports can show the adoption of desired manager behaviors, the correct intent of the behaviors and the reception of those behaviors by others. This can produce a far more accurate understanding of how the manager performs in their new role.

Job satisfaction rates can also give visibility into managerial performance by including questions on employee assistance in career development, opportunities to stretch employee skills, investment in training and of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Getting the new managers and their direct reports’ input on these areas is essential for a balanced view of performance.

Mentorship enrollment rates by managers in the training program can highlight a commitment to their and their employees’ job success. Employee resource group (ERG) involvement and volunteerism can also demonstrate the values and practices at which the new manager training is aimed.

Data regarding internal movement by a new manager’s direct reports may indicate that the manager is open to their employees exploring new opportunities and not holding them back. However, this is not always the case. The internal movement away from a manager may also indicate a gap in managerial skills that must be addressed. Single aspects of managerial behavior and the ease of misinterpretation support the need for multi-faceted and crystal clear “diamond metrics.”

High rates in the facets of managerial behavior described above may also contribute to a valuable business metric: retention. Since turnover can be linked to poor managerial behaviors, increasing retention through targeted training programs for new managers can be a win for the company and a clear demonstration of value for the L&D department. However, increasing retention numbers alone will not demonstrate a training program’s success. Other factors may have been involved in accomplishing that. Having multi-faceted, clear measurements can help tell the whole story of how and why the results were achieved.

Putting It All Together

Training effectiveness for nuanced behaviors such as leadership, empathy and other soft skills can be difficult to prove. A robust data gathering and analysis approach that includes the following steps can provide evidence of learner success and business performance improvement.

  1. Define clear training outcomes. This helps clarify what to measure and the data types needed to demonstrate effectiveness.
  2. Ask targeted questions. Learner surveys can indicate behavior change only if the questions target the intent and value of the behavior, not just if an action has taken place.
  3. Measure multiple aspects of behavior. Measure each key behavioral characteristic that the training targets to get a holistic view of each learner’s performance.
  4. Tie metrics to business performance. Use learner outcomes to demonstrate business outcomes such as improved employee retention. Saving the organization money by reducing turnover clearly indicates the training’s value.

Now, use the data to tell the success story. Create an engaging narrative that takes the audience step by step through defining outcomes to improving business performance. The efforts can pay off in increased training investment.