How will I know that I have actually learned something? If you are proactive about your own professional development, you probably ask yourself that question each time you are considering a training programme. Of course you want to have a return on the investment of your valuable time. If you are responsible for professional development in your organization or if you make your living by helping others develop in their professions (as do I), this is the most critical question of all. How do we know whether the money and time spent on training is worth the outcome?
So we need to evaluate the outcomes and there are some established approaches (the so-called four levels according to Donald Kirkpatrick), each with their pros and cons:
- Self-assessment along the lines of e.g. “Did the course meet your expectations? Did you find the training useful? Would you recommend it to your colleagues?” Pro: Very easy to do with a simple short set of questions. Con: Does not really say much about the impact of the training on how work is being done.
- Formally testing the acquired skills. Pro: Quite easy to do with a quiz. Con: Still does not say whether the new skills are actually transferred to the workplace.
- Looking for changes in behaviour at work along the lines of e.g. “What do we do differently now? How does this benefit our work?” Pro: Measures the actual transfer of knowledge to the workplace. Con: More time-consuming than 1. and 2.
- Measuring impact on e.g. bottom line, quality etc. Pro: Since one of these things was the reason the training was undertaken in the first place, this is the best measurement. Con: Very time-consuming and requires measuring both before and after training.
I prefer no. 3, since it has the best value-for-money-ratio of the four: You get data that is useful without spending a lot of time to gather it. Plus, no. 4 has a substantial drawback: You only measure what you have defined beforehand and thus might overlook unforeseen beneficial effects. So this approach is not really suitable for knowledge workers in a rapidly changing environment.
So we need to look for behaviour changes. But, those are very hard to accomplish, as anyone who has ever tried to break a habit (smoking, biting nails, auto-munching chips while watching TV etc.) will confirm. Also, numerous studies have shown that education does not necessarily lead to behaviour change. Or have you ever met anyone who lost weight by reading diet books or became strong and flexible by watching yoga videos on YouTube?
That´s why we need to create a space for behaviour changes to actually take place, as well as incentives:
- Space can be created by combining training with coaching, which really boosts the impact of the training. A study from 1997 has shown that training increased productivity by 22%, while a combination of training and coaching increased it by a whooping 88%.
- Participants in training can also create this space on their own by reserving time in their schedules for reflection, goal setting, trying out new behaviours and evaluation (also know as self-coaching).
- Incentives provide the fuel for the change process. They can be external on an organizational level (e.g. a bonus for increased client satisfaction ratings) or on a personal level (“After I have had this difficult call aimed at turning this dissatisfied client into a happy client, I will treat myself to a walk in the park and ice-cream after lunch”). Internal incentives, however, are usually more powerful (“If I start off each project with clearly defining its scope, I will provide great client service and that is my main motivator in my profession”).
If you are investing your own time in training, make sure that you also invest time in (self-)coaching and make up some incentives that really get your engines going. If you are buying professional development training for your organization, make sure that training is backed up by coaching and that the organization´s incentive systems are aligned with the training goals.