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What Works in Professional Development: The ROI of Training, Part 2

Align training goals with business goals and establish measurements

In the first part of our ROI of Training series, we discussed creating your narrative by developing your training goals, baselining current performance, and creating actionable learning objectives. Now we are going to focus on developing the method and measures for training performance. In our final part, we’ll talk about how to calculate ROI. So now for the task at hand, measuring and evaluating training.

I attended a webinar recently where the speaker was talking about challenges organizations face related to training programs. Out of all of the challenges presented, which included negative perception, lack of buy-in, focus only on compliance, and difficulty engaging, the biggest challenge selected by the group via polling was “out of alignment with business goals.” In my experience, this is the biggest challenge organizations face and the one that is the most important. We must be asking how training ties into overall business or even organizational goals. Or, is that even possible?

Here’s an example: I’ve had customers say to me, “Look we are just teaching how to escalate properly, that’s just a task right? How does that tie into a larger business goal?” Well, escalating is a task, it’s also a task that requires a standard operating procedure that’s built into a larger process of how to handle requests and incidents. What happens if an escalation isn’t handled properly? What are the impacts of this one task to the business? The impact to the business can be potentially huge. Customers have a poor experience, longer time to resolution, increased costs, employee frustration, and decreased overall operational effectiveness. This is how you start to link training to larger business goals; it’s not always easy, but it’s necessary.

So how do you ensure that your training goals are aligned with overall business goals and establish measurements? One of the most utilized processes for measuring and evaluating training effectiveness is the Kirkpatrick Model, developed by Donald Kirkpatrick in the 1950s. This model in the original design has four levelsa fifth ROI was added later and has evolved over time to be utilized across a variety of training programs. The original four levels follow a progression:

Level 1: Reaction. This is where we measure the reaction to training. Did the students like the materials, the instructor? Did it meet their needs for what they need to do in their job? Measure this level with evaluations focused across multiple-levels (instructor, materials, content), post-course interviews, and focus groups.

Level 2: Learning. What did students learn? Did learning transfer, and how do you know? This is where tests, assessments, hands-on sharing, reflection, and train the trainer happens. Can we actually validate that learning takes place? Measure this level with certification tests, assessments, quizzes, projects, case studies, train the trainer, hands-on simulations, and evaluations.

Level 3: Behavior. This is where training is actually applied on the job. Did a student take back and actually apply what they have learned? How are they using their new knowledge, skills, and abilities? Are they using it correctly? Measure this level with quality reviews, customer satisfaction surveys, creation of knowledge-base articles, development of standard operating procedures, and performance reviews.

Level 4: Results. This level focuses on actual results achieved by the training and gauging the impact to the organization. Measure this level through improvements in customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, first contact resolution, and anything related to improving efficiency, effectiveness, and economy overall.

The value of this model is best described by Kirkpatrick in a 2009 interview with Chief Learning Officer:

“We call it the chain of evidence. You get evidence on Level 1 that they liked the program they thought it was practical; Level 2 that they learned the knowledge, skills and attitudes; Level 3 that they changed their behavior; and Level 4 that you’re going to get the results from it.”

This sums up the value of utilizing this method as a process to build in training measurements across the four levels. Start at Level 1 and progress through the levels as you build your program. Take your time, and get it right. The inputs at each level become outputs to the next. In the final part of our series, we’ll discuss the fifth level, Return on Investment, or should we call it Return on Learning? Stay tuned!