Firms lament the poor learning that actually takes place in training courses and the poor transfer of learned skills to the workplace. They often in part blame absence of course evaluation. But evaluation involves everyone and it’s not as easy or as cost effective as one might think.
Training for most is a fragmented activity – SMEs don’t have departments looking after staff development. The interested parties – manager, trainee, trainer and shareholder – are likely to be separate entities or well separated departments. So how does a manager proceed and how far can he or she go to evaluate training and decide whether a particular training intervention is worthwhile?
Hierarchy of Evaluation
The first and most basic evaluation, expression of reaction to the course (through ‘happy sheets’ or post-course questionnaires), requires only the trainee. Assessment of the learning achieved by the trainee can be done and only needs trainee and trainer to agree what has been learned perhaps though post-course tests. Ultimately, the manager isn’t interested in reaction or learning though. He or she wants behaviour change in the trainee. Learning does not automatically get converted into changed behaviour. Assessment of behaviour change needs manager, trainer and trainee to view the trainee in the work environment.
But it’s not enough to hear there’s been learning or to see behaviour change. For a true return on investment to be apparent, training must change the key performance indicators of the firm for the better. The ultimate in training evaluation – translation of training into change in the firm’s profits – needs manager and shareholder to agree that there has been an incremental change in business position. Evaluating the effects of training properly is a complex business and if it’s to be done so that return on investment can be determined it needs coordination between manager, trainee, trainer and shareholder. But the more coordination needed, the more energy needed, so most trainers and managers settle at the level that needs least effort – the happy sheet. Anything else is just too much trouble.
The Time It All Takes
To evaluate training the stakeholders also need time. It takes a moment at the end of the intervention for the trainee to give their reaction to the course. Learning takes some hours to measure (if only to complete a questionnaire or test about what the trainee learned). For behaviour one needs to observe the trained employee over time and compare their behaviour before and after training. And to see results on the bottom line takes months if not years and there’s so much more influencing profit that it’s hugely difficult to attribute improvement to some training intervention months before.
Whilst every manager will agree that they sponsor training in order to improve the business position, all would agree that it is difficult ultimately to attribute desired change to any one event. The result is that organisations, and in particular SMEs, will stick to evaluating reaction and maybe learning. Business moves too fast to put time and effort in to evaluate behaviour change and change in business position. Managers have a hunch that training is a good thing but they’re in no way going to spend the effort to prove it.
And in Conclusion
Even if transfer from planned learning-points on a training course to workplace behaviour change and increased profits is only 10% efficient, managers will accept such inefficiency, because to get it to 20% takes just too much energy. Until better methods of evaluation are found, they’ll rest with the idea that because trainees enjoyed the course, learning took place and that naturally this will be applied in the workplace and result in improved profits.