Human Resources Q&A: Is training the right solution? Part Four

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Part 1 of this series gives definition to training and development. While these terms are often interchangeably referenced, the two are distinct in purpose. Training builds capacity to perform the current job while development builds capacity for a future job. Additionally, the Needs Analysis was introduced as the foundation on which training decisions are ideally grounded in.

Part 2 of this series introduces you to the first two steps of the Training Design stage. The first, Learning Objectives, is used to define the behavior and/or skill the employee is expected to be better able to perform and/or apply following the training event. The second, Content, refers specifically to the material that will be covered to facilitate, guide and support the desired behavior and/or skill improvements.

Part 3 of this series offers a selection of training methods and learning principles - combining informal and formal can best achieve an enriching learning experience for employees.

And so what of these learning experiences? What's the impact to your fundraising efforts? Or to your service levels? Or to stakeholder satisfaction?

The proof as they say, is always in the pudding!

This last part of the series takes a look at evaluation techniques. Evaluating your training effort is a vital step in determining whether the intended changes in behaviour have occurred or whether the new skills have been acquired. As well, a training evaluation will allow you to identify any improvements needed to strengthen your training programs and, of course, to justify and reinforce the value that training brings to organizational performance.

Pre-training evaluation

With reference to your Needs Analysis as earlier covered in Part 1, the gaps identified will in fact become the basis for your evaluation criteria, while your performance standards are the benchmarks to which you will compare trainee performance levels. In some instances, it may be critical to have a clear and measurable indication of performance levels prior to a training session so that the impact on closing the performance gap can be progressively tracked. For instance, a particular process needs to be followed by a payroll clerk to ensure the right amount of pay is calculated, accounted for and deposited to employee bank accounts with each pay date. A pre-training evaluation to measure current performance will highlight the steps within the payroll process that might need increased attention.

Post-training evaluation

Similarly, and following a training event, you will want to collect relevant data to gauge the extent to which the training has achieved the learning objectives. Kirkpatrick's Hierarchical Model of Evaluation is the industry standard that focuses on four levels of evaluation variables.

Level 1: Reaction measures are used to gauge the extent to which participants liked, disliked and/or perceived the training experience to be useful.

Level 2: Learning measures are used to gauge the extent to which new information has been acquired along with the participant's ability to organize new information into a smooth procedure.

Level 3: Behaviour measures are used to gauge the extent to which new approaches are successfully applied on the job. An evaluation of this nature would typically occur at a reasonable period of time following the training that would allow for on the job application and practice. Measurement vehicles might occur via participant reports, observation or performance indicators (i.e. use of new technology).

Level 4: Results measures are used to gauge the extent to which quantitative (increased revenue) or qualitative (customer satisfaction) performance levels have changed. Results will ideally be specific to organizational objectives. Similar to behaviour measures above, results will be measured at a reasonable point following the training session where there has been time to apply the learning.

And, dependent on the sophistication of evaluation your organization has the capacity for, you may wish to apply varying permutations where you involve and compare against control groups of trained staff versus untrained staff, again to demonstrate and justify the impact and value of training.

Finally, it will be important to be aware of the costs and benefits of your training efforts. You should be able to track and calculate the cost of training, its cost effectiveness (the extent to which the training is enabling increased productivity) and your cost-benefit ratio (the rate at which the benefits outweigh the costs or vice versa).

Evaluation is an often forgotten (or avoided) component of training, but one that you will need to get comfortable with if your organization intends to stay competitive. As the workforce demographics continue to shift, and boomers continue their gradual exit from traditional work, conscious and deliberate investments to train and develop employees is becoming key to both attracting and retaining a vibrant talent pool to meet organizational demands.

And so the next time a random training request lands on your desk, ask yourself, is training the right solution?

To submit a question for a future column please leave a comment below or contact editor@charityvillage.com. No identifying information will appear in this column. For paid professional advice about an urgent or complex situation, contact Veronica directly.

V. Utton & Associates offers boutique-style human resource management services to small and mid-sized organizations with particular expertise in the non-profit sector. For a fresh "VU" on people practices contact us at info@vuttonassociates.ca.

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