Is Training a Waste of Time and Money?

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Historically the paradigm has been that ‘of course’ organisations should provide training for their employees. Training creates a safe and effective workforce, some loyalty and it is the socially responsible thing to do.
20th century society accepted that individuals might typically have only one career and a handful of jobs in a lifetime. With such a sedentary workforce it made perfect sense to invest in their essential training. Train today and the employer could expect to gain a return on that investment over the decades through increased productivity and decreased downtime. Measuring return on investment (ROI) was relatively unimportant because eventually the employer would be in credit.

The 21st century workplace however is quite different, being increasingly populated as it is with those born around the turn of the millennium. Today’s generation measures careers in months and years rather than decades and lifetimes. Provide training today and they may be long-gone before you get a return.
It has become critical to measure the short term impact of training if you are to tailor your offerings to deliver a return within a Millennial timescale.

Despite days spent in the classroom, at the cost of millions, few companies measure the return they are getting on their investment. To parody John Wanamaker and William Lever, it is possible that “half of what we spend on training is wasted, the trouble is we don’t know which half”?

Training might be a valuable investment of time and budget, or a waste, but without measurement there is no quantifiable data to prove it either way. It is time to measure the impact of training and you may not have to spend the “10% of your training budget” claimed recently by a specialist supplier of…measurement tools!

Famously Kirkpatrick defined 4 levels of evaluation:

1. Reaction – did the audience enjoy the training, do they think they learned something – this is a poor indicator of ROI but a quick and easy measure of satisfaction
2. Knowledge – did the audience actually learn something – a more complex measure and relevant only if knowledge-transfer is the sole objective of the training
3. Behaviour – is the audience doing something differently – increasingly more challenging to measure however far more indicative of ROI
4. Results – the ultimate measure of ROI which directly demonstrates whether the audience is more productive or profitable as a result of the training

You might be forgiven for thinking that Level 4 evaluation is the only desirable measure however there are so many factors beyond the control of the individual that it makes correlation statistically difficult to demonstrate.  For instance sales people attending a sales training workshop; level 4 evaluation would need to correct for external variations:

• Global growth / recession
• Competitor & media activity
• Supply chain variations
• Pricing strategy

You would also need to correct for internal influences:

• KPI’s and competency frameworks
• Incentive schemes
• HR processes
Management support and coaching

This makes Level 3 Evaluation the most practical and indicative measure as long as you are confident that the behaviours being measured are those that will lead to business success.

Next steps:

1. For your next training event start by specifying what your outcome is
a. If the only outcome required is satisfaction then use a level 1 measure
b. If transfer of knowledge is all that is required then use a level 2 tool
2. Otherwise define specifically what behaviours participants would demonstrate if your outcome were achieved
3. Measure the quality and frequency of those behaviours before and after training, ideally on a numerical scale such as 0 (rarely demonstrates this behaviour well) to 3 (usually demonstrates this behaviour to an exceptional degree)
4. Calculate % shift in relevant behaviours and relate this to your investment in training

Different cohorts of participants, designs of workshops or training providers can now be compared. By prioritising your investment in those that give you the greatest behavioural shifts you can eliminate the 50% of training that might otherwise have been wasted!

Excel Evaluate is an online tool that empowers organisations to easily and cost-effectively measure the behavioural impact of your internal training or the expert training provided by the Excel Communications group of companies.