Kelly stared at the email she had just received from the divisional vice president. It said, “The top training initiatives going forward will be evaluated for effectiveness, with a report being submitted at the conclusion of each event.”

“Great,” Kelly muttered to herself. “How am I going to do that? I don’t even know where to start!”

You may feel the same way Kelly does when you are asked to evaluate your own training programs. Here are some simple ways to create an evaluation plan, with tips for before, during and after the program.

Create a Simple Evaluation Plan During the Design Process

The easiest way to get started with training evaluation is to view it as part of your design process. When you think about goals for the program, how it will be structured and the specific content, think also about what you would want to confirm along the way and report at the end. If possible, have a conversation with stakeholders to find out what information they will want to receive at each of the four levels of training evaluation. The following questions are examples of what you might ask them.

Level 4 Results:  What outcome do you wish to see after this program? What would make this program a success in your eyes? Are there key metrics that should be improved as a result of this program?

Level 3 Behavior: What exactly do you expect training graduates to do on the job as a result of this program? What would be considered “good performance”? What support and accountability resources are available after training? What will we need to do to ensure that training graduates do what they are supposed to do after training? (You might also ask trusted line managers and supervisors these same questions.)

Level 2 Learning: Do you want test scores and/or other types of data related to the learning that was accomplished during the program?

Level 1 Reaction: To what degree are you interested in knowing what participants thought about the training program itself?

In most cases, stakeholders will be most interested in data from levels three and four. Once you are clear on what information they will want to have reported to them, think about what information is useful to you to ensure that the program is of good quality. These are typically items at levels two and one. They do not require as much of your time and attention, but there are probably a few pieces of information you will want to know and track. After you have compiled the list of required data, build the processes and tools to collect it right along with the training content itself.

Build Formative Evaluation into Your Training Modules

An easy and low-resource way to gather evaluation data is to build formative evaluation into your training modules. Formative evaluation is that which occurs during the training itself. Examples of this include:

  • An instructor asking during the program how things are going for participants
  • A question in an asynchronous online module asking participants to document if they are grasping the content
  • A “ticket out” system, in which participants are asked to comment on an aspect of the program as they leave the room for a break

Gathering formative information is beneficial because it does not take additional time and resources, and it provides data that instructors of live programs can react to on the spot, enhancing the experience for participants.

Focus Resources on Supporting On-the-Job Performance After Training

Most of your training evaluation resources should be focused on what happens after the training, when your training graduates are attempting to apply what they learned in their real work. For important initiatives, ensure that all four areas of required drivers are supported:

  1. Monitoring: How will you know that training graduates are doing what they learned? Find out if their supervisors have the time and are willing to monitor and report on their performance. Or, consider if a peer-to-peer or a self-monitoring and reporting system should be put into place. Think about a fun way to share this information, such as a dashboard, to create friendly competition.
  2. Reinforcing: What can you, along with the supervisors and stakeholders, do to send the message that the outcome of this program is important? Can you get a message into the company newsletter, on a bulletin board or in an intranet message? Are you able to launch reminders via email? Is the content complicated, such that refresher courses or roundtables would be beneficial?
  3. Encouraging: Who might be able to help training graduates and keep them going if they get stuck? Would a buddy system assigned during training be appropriate? Are supervisors willing to add this topic to their team meetings and during employee touch bases? Do you have a mentoring culture that would make it comfortable to set up mentor/mentee pairs after training?
  4. Rewarding: If this is a major initiative, can you check to ensure that formal reward systems are in line with what training graduates are being asked to do on the job? For example, if they do what they are supposed to do, will they get a good performance appraisal, and perhaps an annual pay increase? Also consider small, informal methods of reward, such as a pizza lunch or bonus jeans day for the department with the highest compliance scores after training. A note or word of praise from an executive can also be very meaningful.

Putting Your Evaluation Plan Together

The key to all of these ideas is that they are set up prior to the training, during the planning phase. If you wait until after training, you might be too busy, and it may be difficult to gain the support you will need from others.

During the planning process, you will not only create your evaluation plan, but also build the simple tools you need to gather the data and set up the systems required. You will have conversations with stakeholders to determine how much support you can expect, which, when done early, will also give you some time to gather more support, if needed. Such conversations will also clarify what you may need to accomplish on your own.

If you are still intimidated, just pick one program and give it a try. Incorporate this discipline of addressing evaluation during the design process, and you will have a strong start to creating an evaluation methodology in your organization. Each time you use it, you can develop and expand it. Before you know it, you will be systematically evaluating programs, improving outcomes and reporting results to your key stakeholders.