Making Sure Your Training Program Is On The Right Path

A solid training evaluation program helps assure your training program is on the right path to providing business results.

I Got You [Training Program] (I Feel Good)

Imagine you are a training manager for a large agency. Guess what – you have been commissioned to take on a strategic training program. James Brown never felt any better. Your project sponsors apportion a boatload of money to your training organization to develop and deliver the content, and your manager gives you the thumbs up to invest heavily in the development process. The senior executive in your organization even pats you on the back as she walks to a meeting. Although her parting words (“We’re counting on you!”) make you a tad nervous, you still feel proud.

You spend a little time analyzing the few sparse requirements you received for the program, but mostly you focus on modern learning models and the latest gizmos in cool presentation technologies. You create a dream training program! And you do your research, too: You read Eugene de Ribeaux’s GovLoop blog about Training Evaluation and decide to create some Kirkpatrick Level 1 (Reaction), Level 2 (Learning), and even Level 3 (Behavior/Application/Transfer) instruments and incorporate those into your program. You skip the stuff about Levels 4 (Results/Application) and 5 (ROI) because it appears to be too much of a stretch for your training organization. Getting feedback from the students and assessing how much they learn feels like a good enough insurance policy for a successful program.

Initial pilots of the program are great. You receive stellar reviews. The program is rolled out with much fanfare, and all seems right in the world. You do feel good. However, after about six months, you have a queasy feeling in your stomach. You start to wonder if your training program isn’t providing quite the value that everyone had hoped. The Level 1 survey feedback is excellent; students say they enjoy the blended learning experience. Test results show that they are clearly absorbing the content well. But something is wrong.

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’

A few things make you feel uneasy:

  • Almost nobody responds to your post-course survey (Kirkpatrick Level 3), and the few that do leave very little substantive feedback about how they’ve been able to apply what they learned. Is the training making any difference at all in workplace performance?
  • The program sponsors aren’t returning your phone calls about meeting to discuss other exciting training solutions you have in mind. In fact, they’ve said eerily little about the program you just put together for them. Are those who have invested in my program losing confidence in its value?
  • Reflecting on the program sponsors’ cold shoulder, you now realize that – after significant funding has been spent on developing and delivering the training program – you’re actually not quite sure what criteria will be used to determine whether your program is ultimately successful or not. Did I miss the mark and focus on style over substance?
  • That senior executive who had been “counting on you” just got back from a strategic planning retreat. In a chance encounter in the hallway, she asks you what evidence you have that your training program is working. You quickly tout the number of students that have been trained, the great feedback you got from the participants, and the high test scores. Why do I get the feeling that wasn’t the response she wanted? Did she frown as she turned to go to her meeting?
  • Your boss makes several comments about the need to tighten belts and look more closely at expense line items that aren’t contributing to the bottom line. Is he talking about my training program?! About my job?!!

You anxiety meter goes up and you feel like singing rhythm and blues with The Righteous Brothers.

Blessed Assurance, Not Just Applause

What went wrong? While receiving accolades from our students and our stakeholders early in the training process feels good, it doesn’t guarantee ultimate success. Instead, let’s make sure we develop awesome training programs and stronger confidence of success through – you know me by now – a robust training evaluation program.

A comprehensive training evaluation program is not just an insurance policy or a “check the box” activity. Well constructed, it can provide a roadmap for assuring that we not only produce good training, but that our training produces good for our business. As Jim Kirkpatrick of Kirkpatrick Partners likes to say: focus on training effectiveness, not just effective training.

In future blogs I’ll delve more into what comprises a solid training evaluation program, but for now I’ll simply note that a critical missing element in the case study above is a failure to obtain clear and explicit goals and expectations from stakeholders. If our training is not aligned to business goals, our great programs will flounder and, ultimately, may be shut down.

I’ll leave you to ponder the words of Jenny Dearborn, SAP CLO:

“One of our simplest and yet most powerful guiding principles is: If learning doesn’t have a measurable business impact, we shouldn’t be doing it. Period. This frees up resources while positioning us to deliver far more value.”
(Jenny Dearborn, ATD Website, 1/9/2015, https://www.td.org/Publications/Magazines/TD/TD-Archive/2015/01/Learning-at-the-Speed-of-Business)

Do you have horror stories of fancy training programs that missed the mark? Or, better yet, were you involved in programs that were extremely successful? Either way, please share below the lessons you learned from these failures or successes.

Until next week – keep a song in your heart and the sound of success in your training programs.

Eugene de Ribeaux is president and CEO of PTG International, Inc.