5 Steps to Ensure Your Training Investment Leads to Results

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“We spend money on training but we don’t see any result – is it worth it?”

This is a common reaction at senior level, particularly in times of uncertainty where every discretionary spend is under scrutiny. My response is: make it worth it. The purpose of training is to change something – increase knowledge, improve skills or change behaviour. There is no point in training without paying close attention to the expected results. This is not difficult: there are five steps, four of them have been around since 1959 and the other step is common sense!

Donald Kirkpatrick, Professor Emeritus at the University Of Wisconsin (BBA, MBA and PhD), first published his ideas on training evaluation in 1959. These measures were recommended for “full and meaningful evaluation of learning in organizations”, which leads directly to measuring return on investment (ROI). Kirkpatrick’s four levels of training evaluation are Reaction, Learning, Behaviour and Result.

I’ll skip Step 1 for now and come back to it later (you will see why, so please bear with me).

Step 2: Kirkpatrick Level 1 Evaluate Reaction

You probably already do this part. After students attends training, they are asked to complete an evaluation sheet or feedback form to measure how they felt about the training. Was it relevant? Was it well taught? Was the training style appropriate? Was the level of participation adequate? Did it match the course description? Was it a good use of time? This in itself gives no indication of the effectiveness of training, but it is the easiest evaluation to apply. If the training fails at this point then the following steps are unlikely to be successful either. However, there is no point collecting these “Happy Sheets” unless the feedback is used to improve the training delivery.

Step 3: Kirkpatrick Level 2 Evaluate Learning

Often, this is as far as training evaluation goes. It is simply a test to see if the student retained the information shared during the training – at least as far as the test! An exam at the end of a course is a common process for technical training, and successful students can walk away with a certificate proving they attended the course and remembered enough of the content to pass a test at the end of it. This is a lot easier for knowledge-based courses when a test can be marked for correct answers. It is more difficult to apply consistently for behavioural courses such as developing communication or coaching skills, but an assessment of a student’s capability is still possible.

Step 4: Kirkpatrick Level 3 Evaluate Subsequent Behaviour

A student can fill in a great evaluation form, pass all the tests yet go back to their day job and apply nothing they learned. This stage evaluates how, or whether, the students applied the learning and changed the way they do things (behaviour). This evaluation requires the active involvement of line management and possibly peers as well. This evaluation needs to be carried out over a post-training time period long enough for change to be observed and measured in whatever way is possible. For example, a sales agent goes on a telesales course. The Behaviour evaluation could review the expected increase in number of outbound calls made and Decision-Maker Contact (DMC) conversations. The Behaviour evaluation is often a challenge because it is not practical for it to be carried out by the training team, and is dependent on the involvement of the line manager. See Step 1, and we are not there yet!

Step 5: Kirkpatrick Level 4 Evaluate Results

This is the nub – did the training lead to improvements? In our sales agent example above, the Results evaluation would assess an increase in number of appointments generated, or any increase in telephone sales revenue. Again, this evaluation has to be carried out with the line manager because many Results following training are not as easy to measure as the sales agent’s increase in revenue. There may be some difficulty in attributing the contribution of training to the Result, because many other variables can contribute to a change in Result. This is another reason why the line manager’s local knowledge will be invaluable in this stage of the evaluation.

So what happened to Step 1? Here it is, left to the end so the significance of the line manager’s involvement becomes apparent.

Step 1: Training Needs Evaluation

Before any training takes place, it is fundamentally important that the purpose of the training is understood, acknowledged and agreed. The best parties to do this are the student and their line manager, during their regular one to ones or appraisals. This means starting with the end, or outcome required, and working back. A training course may not be the best or only option. Coaching, buddying or on-the-job training could be an alternative approach. Whatever course is decided upon, the student, manager and if practical the L&D partner must agree the expected outcome and how this can be measured. This also means the line manager knows what involvement is needed during Steps 4 and 5.

When you put these five steps back in sequence, they become immensely valuable in ensuring that investment in training is well considered, planned and evaluated.

  • Step 1: Training Needs Evaluation
  • Step 2: Kirkpatrick Level 1 Evaluate Reaction
  • Step 3: Kirkpatrick Level 2 Evaluate Learning
  • Step 4: Kirkpatrick Level 3 Evaluate Subsequent Behaviour
  • Step 5: Kirkpatrick Level 4 Evaluate Results

Evaluations on Steps 4 and 5 usually have more value if applied in several stages rather than waiting for one final evaluation. If you measure progress towards the level of change required at each stage, then progress will be measured and visible early. If you send someone out to climb a mountain, don’t wait until they reach the summit to see if they are successful; monitor their progress as they climb higher and higher.

When these five steps are applied, Training ROI becomes a real number. If results are not to the required level there is real data to take back to the training delivery. By closing the loop, changes can be made to improve training to deliver the outcomes required. The question we started with becomes a statement:

“We spend money on training and we see results – it is worth it!”

By Neville Merritt, Director, Pure Potential Development Limited