High-performing training organizations are process-oriented. They do not assume training is effective; instead, they have a process in place to track and analyze metrics to determine that training is improving the performance of the business.
While many training professionals consider reporting and analysis processes to be important, they are much easier said than done. Only 10% of training professionals rate their training organization’s performance in this area as strong, according to a decade-long research study conducted by Training Industry, Inc. This finding represents a significant opportunity for improvement for the majority of organizations.
Great reporting and analysis means:
- Assessing or measuring learning outcomes.
- Collecting course feedback from learners, managers, instructors and other relevant parties.
- Assessing or measuring application on the job.
Telling a story that matters to the business and calculating the true cost of training and development efforts is a real challenge, says Kathryn Connolly, CPTM, director of global talent development at WEX Inc. “For example, if we implement a new system to a business unit, the true ROI [return on investment] is difficult to calculate based on the length of the implementation. There are many work streams involved in successfully implementing the new system. The training is just one part of the implementation within a much larger project.”
As Connolly points out, crediting training and development as the source for improved performance or profitability can be difficult with so many variables at play. To help simplify this complex process and effectively share the story of training’s impact, let’s examine a few best practices.
Communicating with the leadership team and key stakeholders is critical to ensure training is strategically aligned with the goals of the business. It will also help you to “identify metrics that matter” and determine which areas of improvement they would like to see as a result of the training initiative, says Connolly. Be specific, and determine the amount of detail and frequency with which you should report your metrics back to the business. This approach will help to create a framework that you and your team can use in your data collection efforts.
Don’t Get Lost in the Data
The vast amount of data available creates many challenges for training professionals. It’s easy to “get caught up in all the data and lose sight of what we are really after,” says Steve Couchman, MA, CPTM, CSM, a training and communication manager at Iowa State University. “Learning leaders often want to dig in and find out more,” he says, “where our leaders may only want the top-line numbers.” Aligning with business leaders on the metrics that they would like to see enables training professionals to stay focused and not get lost in the data.
Use a Training Evaluation Framework
A training evaluation model provides training professionals with a framework to measure the results of their training programs. Today, the Kirkpatrick Model is the most common method of evaluating the effectiveness of training programs. It evaluates training along four levels:
- Learner reaction
- Knowledge improvement
- Behavior change
- Business impact
This framework provides structure to the data collection process by breaking down metrics into four levels of reporting. Being able to measure training across all four levels can help learning leaders craft an impactful story to share with company leadership.
When in Doubt, Start Small
If you don’t have a reporting process in place today, Connolly recommends starting small by developing your own reporting and metric framework. “Create the vision of what you want it to look like, and then keep working it,” she says.
When Connolly first started developing her company’s framework, she reported quarterly the total number of training hours, courses and participant completions using a clunky and manual Access database. Today, she uses a customized Salesforce training platform to track, report and communicate more than 15 training metrics to each line of business on a quarterly and yearly basis. “We modify our dashboards yearly to align to business strategy and organization changes,” she says. “We have automated the process and ‘push’ metrics to stakeholders to share our story and support metrics.”
Don’t Neglect Training Program Evaluations
Program evaluations can be a great source of information on the effectiveness of a training course, if thoughtfully created. Be sure you’re tracking more than whether a learner liked the instructor or if the room temperature was adequate. Evaluations need to provide tangible, useful information that you can use to evaluate the effectiveness of the course. Regularly reviewing and modifying the evaluation format and questions can provide you with more targeted information.
Simple updates can improve the quality of the feedback. Couchman and his team wanted to know if learners had enough hands-on practice in the college’s CPR/AED (automated external defibrillator)/first aid training course. Previous evaluations only provided vague comments that offered little information. After updating the questions to collect more specific information, Couchman was able to determine within the first three classes that the first aid section of the course needed more practice. He was then able to take this information to the vendor who provided the training and show it tangible results rather than vague comments.
Focus on Value Versus Volume
Training professionals must showcase the value of training. To business executives, “value” means measuring learning outcomes in financial terms, says C.J. Reed, CPTM, the manager of information technology (IT) training programs at McCarthy Holdings, Inc.
“If your training programs are value-based and not volume-based, you should be able to report results that are business-centric,” he says. “It is very easy to measure learning from a volume perspective: We conducted ‘X’ number of classes and we had ‘X’ number of learners. Challenge yourself to focus on learning from a value perspective. Business executives would like to see from training programs organizational improvements and return on investments.”
Share Your Story of Impact
Through diligent reporting and analysis practices, learning leaders can help tell the story of training’s impact from a business perspective. But don’t simply email your findings and expect to hear from your leadership team, cautions Couchman. “Schedule time to share your results with your leadership,” he says. “This is important to you, so make it important to them.”
Capturing all the data and analytics to share an impactful story is a complex undertaking, but it’s worth the effort. The numbers may not always indicate success, but that’s OK. When the outcomes don’t look promising, “take action,” says Connolly. “Regroup with the stakeholders and team to identify a plan of action to rectify any performance or knowledge gaps by defining a solution together, and then analyze and report again.”
Great training organizations take the time to assess and reassess the impact of training. This commitment to reporting and analysis helps to build an organizational culture that values learning and elevates business performance.