Photo: Shironosov/iStock Photo: Shironosov/iStock

Would you make an investment without establishing clear objectives, planning the execution and measuring success? Any dedicated business owner will confidently reject any suggestion that they are wasting money on a project or program by failing to lay out clear expectations and calculate outcomes. But there’s one area in which most businesses are doing just that: training.

A 2014 study by the Conference Board of Canada concluded that organizations that “invest more in learning and development, are the organizations that are being rewarded with higher levels of employee performance, customer satisfaction, and quality products and services compared to their competition.”

MORE SMART STRATEGIES: Subscribe to the PROFIT e-newsletter »

The same study, however observed that investment in training might not always be returned. For example, only one third of organizations rated their important leader development practices as effective.

Do you know whether your training dollars all well spent or not? Here are four simple things you can start doing immediately to make your training plans more effective and provide you with some confidence in that investment.

Explain why it matters

A key principle of adult learning is that adults learn best when they want to learn, and will learn only what they feel they need to learn. In fact, studies have shown that adults may resist learning when they feel that the requirement has been imposed on them.

An effective learning process begins with providing the employee with very clear performance feedback about potential gaps in their skills. Follow this with input about why closing these gaps is important to the employee’s personal success, and to the business. Once you’ve laid this foundation, employees will be much more eager to take advantage of the training opportunities you are offering.

I worked in one operating organization where we followed this model and allowed employees to enrol themselves in the courses they wished to take rather than choosing for them. The result: feedback scores for the courses improved markedly and no-show numbers dropped to almost zero.

MORE NO-SHOWS: The Cost of Absenteeism »

Supervise the process

I attended a workshop some years ago led by a trainer from Disney. Before she started the class, the trainer called out two participants by name and said that she had a message from their supervisor, who she also named. The message was that their supervisor looked forward to a debriefing when they returned to work. Everyone’s focus improved immediately.

Before an employee attends a training course, make it a requirement that they agree on key learning objectives with their direct supervisor. Supervisor and employee should also schedule a post-training review to discuss if the objectives were achieved and how the employee plans to apply the lessons they learned to their work.

MORE EMPLOYEE OBJECTIVES: Does Your Staff Know Your Vision? »

Teach as you’ve been taught

In many school boards, teachers who attend professional development courses are routinely asked to transfer their new skills to their colleagues, a process known as “third-party learning.”

You can apply this to your business by requiring employees who attend development courses to commit to teaching the key lessons to their co-workers. Doing so has several positive “knock-on” impacts: it sharpens the focus of the trainee-turned-trainer, tests and develops their communications and leadership skills, and it helps spread knowledge in a cost effective manner.

MORE NECESSARY TEACHING: The Skill Your Future Employees May Not Be Learning »

A four-step evaluation

Training, especially in the early career years, can represent a significant investment. The late Donald L. Kirkpatrick, a leading professor and theorist in adult education, developed a very clear model for evaluating training effectiveness. The Kirkpatrick model does not require a lot of bureaucracy, but asks four questions:

  1. How did the students react to the training? Reactions can be gauged through simple feedback sheets at the close of the course—nobody wants to attend a poorly run workshop.
  2. Was there an increase in knowledge? This can be assessed through pre- and post-training tests and by observation.
  3. Did the employee’s behaviours change after the training? Behavioural changes are best assessed over a period of time by observation.
  4. What were the effects on the business or work environment based on the improved performance of the trainee? Normal business reporting should provide some data; immediate supervisors should be asked to make links between training and employees’ contributions.

• • • • •

Implementing these concepts will lead to more focussed, measurable and impactful training plans. Your investment in time and money will be clarified and you will have developed feedback processes that will help you continuously improve your training plans and employees performance.

Martin Birt is the president of HRaskme.com. After serving seven years in the Canadian Army as a combat arms officer, he has enjoyed a thirty-five year career as a human resources manager, consultant and sought-after adviser to business executives. He can be contacted here.

MORE TRAINING STRATEGIES:

How do you ensure that you are spending your training dollars effectively? Share your tactics and experiences using the comments section below.

Loading comments, please wait.